With just under two minutes left, it started to happen. All game, the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field had waited for the universe to right itself, for the Eagles to become the Eagles and for the Lions to become the Lions, and as Malcolm Jenkins burst through the line of scrimmage and got his hands on the kick, the sold-out stadium swelled with the understanding that the correction had arrived.
Yet there Jenkins was, an hour or so later, standing in front of his locker, his face a complicated mixture of frustration and resolve, looking back on his fourth-quarter blocked field goal as just another play that was not made.
The veteran safety’s block-in-the-back penalty on Rasul Douglas’ return of the blocked field goal did not rank near the top of the preventable wounds that the Eagles inflicted upon themselves in a 27-24 loss, but it did knock them out of range for a potential game-tying field goal and help to thwart their attempt at salvaging an afternoon that had already seen them lose two fumbles and allow a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown.
“It’s really hard to win a game if you end up minus-two in turnovers and give up a return for a touchdown -- the statistics of winning that game is like less than one percent," Jenkins said. “For us, its just about cleaning up those things, not beating ourselves, and then allowing us to just go play. That’s kind of where we are right now. Just trying to figure out how to eliminate the self-inflicted mistakes.”
That’s a frustrating position in which to find themselves, both for the Eagles and for their fans. In different circumstances, a loss of this magnitude might open the door for the sort of cathartic reckoning that a Phillies fan might have experienced this season whenever it became clear that the team simply was not as good as advertised.
While there’s certainly an argument to be made that this Eagles team is not nearly the juggernaut that many envisioned during training camp, Sunday’s loss was hardly an implosion. The Lions gained a total of 51 yards from scrimmage in scoring 13 of their 27 points, with fumbles by Nelson Agholor and Miles Sanders on back-to-back possessions setting Detroit up with a short field that resulted in a couple of field goals to go with Jamal Agnew’s 100-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
The turnovers also killed promising drives by an Eagles offense that had little trouble moving the ball, with Carson Wentz completing 19 of 36 passes for 259 yards and rushing for another 33 yards on four carries. The Eagles outgained the Lions, 373-287. They converted seven of their 13 third down attempts. They held a four-minute edge in time of possession, and a 22-16 edge in first downs.
“We played the Lions,” left tackle Lane Johnson said, “but we beat ourselves.”
They also came up short in a number of instances where a play was there to be made. Second-year tight end Dallas Goedert and rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside both had opportunities to make huge catches that would have put the Eagles in a better position to eke out a win.
Goedert’s drop was more egregious. Wentz hit him in the hands in the end zone with a perfectly thrown pass that would have gone for a 26-yard touchdown with 9 minutes, 7 seconds remaining. The Eagles ended up scoring a touchdown later in the drive, but the 2:08 that elapsed between those two plays would have come in handy at the end of the game.
Meanwhile, Arcega-Whiteside’s attempt at a contested catch deep down the field with 2:36 remaining wasn’t any more difficult than Lions receiver Danny Amendola’s sideline toe tap on third-and-long on the previous drive, the latter of which allowed Detroit to kill an additional minute-and-a-half of clock.
“I mean, no other assessment than I got to go get it,” the rookie second-round pick said. “It was tight coverage, I was going to elevate, expected some contact, really wasn’t no contact, and the ball just kind of ended up right there. I have to make the play.”
Along with the Eagles’ continued inability to cover outside receivers -- Marvin Jones became the fourth receiver to eclipse the 100-yard mark against them in three games this season -- their lackluster production at the skill positions is perhaps the biggest structural concern that their 1-2 start has raised.
Against the Lions, the absences of DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery were as conspicuous as anybody could have feared. With a trip to Lambeau Field looming in four days and a stretch of games that features contenders such as Minnesota, Dallas, and New England, the Eagles face an imminent need for their young guys to improve or their old guys to get healthy.
That, more than anything, is the reason a loss like Sunday’s was so detrimental. Last week, they lost a game they could have had. Against the Lions, they lost one that they should have had, on a number of different levels.
The veterans of this league will tell you that you cannot take any week for granted, that the line of demarcation between the haves and the have-nots is much thinner than point and yardage totals might suggest.