Why did the Eagles lose to the Patriots, 17-10, on Sunday?
Let’s start with these five reasons.
The field-position battle
The Eagles’ average drive start on their 13 possessions Sunday was the 17.2-yard line, which was their worst of the season. Their previous low was the 18.8-yard line in their 27-point, Week 7 loss to the Cowboys.
None of their drives started at better than their 28. Five started at their 12 or worse.
The Eagles needed some short fields against a defense as good as New England’s, and couldn’t get them. Their lone touchdown came on a 16-play, 95-yard, 9½-minute drive. But you’re not going to get many of those against the Patriots.
The Patriots, who went into the game ranked first in the league in average drive start (33.4), averaged 31.0 on their 13 possessions. Four of their drives started at their 48 or better, including two in Eagles territory, one of which was the result of a Carson Wentz fumble.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Eagles had a chance to finally swing field position in their favor and possibly get a short field for a potential game-tying scoring drive.
A 59-yard Cam Johnston punt pinned the Patriots on their 2-yard line. But they were able to get it out to their 39 before having to punt.
The Eagles’ Boston Scott returned Jake Bailey’s 55-yard punt to the 12, but an illegal block in the back by penalty-prone Rudy Ford forced the Eagles to start at their 6.
The trick play
The Patriots managed to get a small measure of revenge for the “Philly Special’’ Sunday. What turned out to be the game-winning touchdown came on a trick play on the Patriots’ first possession of the second half.
The Patriots came out playing tempo and drove from their 16 to the Philadelphia 15. On third-and-11, Tom Brady threw a lateral pass behind the line of scrimmage to wide receiver — and former Kent State quarterback — Julian Edelman. The Eagles, including safety Rodney McLeod, read it as a bubble screen to Edelman.
McLeod vacated his spot in the middle of the field and came up to make a play on Edelman. Just as he did that, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett came across the field from the left side and was wide-open in the end zone. Edelman hit him for an easy touchdown.
The Patriots had tried a trick play earlier in the game: a toss back to Brady, who then threw deep to Dorsett. But cornerback Ronald Darby broke up that play. The second time, though, turned out to be the charm.
Carson comes up short
This was a big game for the Eagles. A chance to prove to the rest of the NFL — and, more important, to themselves — that they are a good football team.
They needed Wentz to step up and have a big game and show why the organization gave him that huge contract extension.
And he didn’t.
Wentz completed a season-low 50% of his passes and averaged just 5.35 yards per attempt. He had a costly fumble late in the second quarter that set up the last of Nick Folk’s three first-half field goals.
He completed seven of eight passes for 53 yards and a touchdown on the Eagles’ 16-play, 95-yard scoring drive in the first half, and was 11-for-16 in the first half. But in the second half, he had just nine completions in 24 attempts.
He overthrew an open Mack Hollins on a third-and-9 on the Eagles’ second possession. On his fumble, he was too slow going through his progressions, staying too long with tight end Zach Ertz as the other tight end, Dallas Goedert, was open coming across the middle.
In the third quarter, he forced a second-and-14 pass to a covered Jordan Matthews when he had Ertz open underneath for what would have been a shorter gain, but would have put them in a manageable third-down situation.
One of his best throws of the game was a tight-window pass to Ertz with 10 minutes left for a 25-yard gain. But he immediately followed it with a poor decision to throw a pass in traffic to Goedert that was nearly intercepted.
Wentz did a nice job of escaping the rush in his own end zone and hitting rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for 29 yards on the Eagles’ last-gasp drive in the fourth quarter. But after they got down to the New England 26 with a minute left, he had four straight incompletions, including an overthrow to an open Ertz on first down, and an underthrow to an open Ertz on third down.
The wideout problem
The Eagles continue to get virtually nothing from their wide receivers. The situation got only worse Sunday with Alshon Jeffery missing the game with an ankle injury.
Wentz targeted his four wideouts -- Agholor, Matthews, Arcega-Whiteside, and Hollins -- 17 times. They caught just six passes for 75 yards and three first downs.
Matthews, signed last week after DeSean Jackson was placed on injured reserve, was targeted six times and had just one catch for 6 yards.
Agholor, who was good enough to catch 62 passes and eight touchdowns during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run two years ago and 64 passes last season, was targeted nine times and had four catches for 40 yards. In the Eagles’ last seven games, he has 18 receptions for 154 yards, no touchdowns, eight receiving first downs and just five third-down catches.
He had an opportunity to make what would have been a very difficult touchdown catch on fourth-and-10 late in the game when Wentz went to him in the end zone against a zero blitz, but he couldn’t hang on to it.
The Eagles had their worst third-down performance of the season Sunday, converting just three of 13 third-down opportunities. In their defense, it came against the league’s best third-down defense. The Patriots had held their first nine opponents to an unheard-of 18.9% success rate on third down.
Just four of the Eagles’ third-down situations were 7 yards or shorter. Wentz completed just four of 11 third-down passes, though his 5-yard touchdown pass to Goedert did come on third down.
Tight end Zach Ertz had a team-high nine catches for 94 yards. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick took him away from Wentz on third down. Ertz, who leads the Eagles in third-down receptions (13), didn’t have any Sunday.