MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It might take a while for the mathematics to catch up with the reality of the Eagles’ 2019 season, but whatever still mattered came to end on Sunday afternoon against a 2-9 team that wanted the game more badly and outworked them in order to win it.
The Miami Dolphins were playing for exactly nothing on Sunday. You could say it was for pride, but when a season has gone as far south — no geographical pun intended — that’s just a word. Open the season with 49-point and 43-point losses, follow those with five more consecutive losses, and pride has pretty much gone out the window. After that, it is just a long slog to the end of December.
Alternately, the Eagles were still in position to salvage their pride despite two straight losses and a losing record as the final month of the season began. They had the Dallas Cowboys to thank for that, but, regardless, everything possible in an NFL season was possible for them. All they had to do was play better than the Dolphins. Failing that, playing harder might have gotten the job done.
They did neither in the 37-31 loss inside Hard Rock Stadium amid the aqua-and-orange decor that makes the place look like a 1970s suburban kitchen. They couldn’t even stir themselves to make the effort despite an overwhelming contingent of their fans who seemed to outnumber the disaffected Miami faithful, many of whom were eager to sell their tickets and spend the day happily communing with the palmetto bugs.
This is a game the Eagles led by 10 points before five minutes had been played, and by 14 points early in the third quarter. All they needed to do was contain Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his patched-together offense, and then control the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That plan didn’t go so well. The Dolphins outscored them 24-3 to the finish.
Not that the defense was great until then, either. In fact, in a stretch that began late in the first quarter and extended into the fourth quarter, Miami scored touchdowns on five straight possessions (not counting a kneel-down to end the half), on drives of 84 yards, 75 yards, 75 yards, 61 yards, and 96 yards. And then the Dolphins added a field goal on the next drive.
Suffice it to say there was scant opportunity for the defense to gather as a unit and pose for pictures in the end zone as they did the week before while the team was losing to the Seahawks. If that was a way of saying, “Hey, it’s not our fault,” as a comparison with the faltering offense, then karma bit them badly on Sunday, and karma apparently really had it in for Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills.
It is a subjective measure, but this loss — easily the worst of Doug Pederson’s tenure — is probably the worst for the team in general since being paddled 45-14 in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as Chip Kelly’s parade was hitting the curb. Maybe that actually wasn’t as bad since the Lions were 7-9 that season, world-beaters compared to the 2019 Miami Dolphins, an organization that is conspicuously tanking its roster and has an additional 13 players on injured reserve.
The Dolphins had three former Eagles in their defensive backfield on Sunday: Ryan Lewis, Eric Rowe, and Jomal Wiltz, an undrafted free agent who spent the spring and summer of 2017 on the roster. Of course, the Eagles themselves had guys in their defensive backfield Sunday playing as if they would like to become former Eagles. Ba-da-boom.
This was the kind of performance that gets coaches fired. When the job is to prepare a team that should already have plenty of motivation, a stunning failure to do so is not good for job security.
There’s nothing to indicate that the organization, specifically owner Jeff Lurie, is contemplating a change, however, and perhaps no reason one should be contemplated. The Eagles have been beset by injuries, and kept their head above water for the most part. If Lurie wants to locate the problem areas, there is plenty of blame to go around. Howie Roseman made some roster decisions that have proved questionable in hindsight, to be kind, and, after Sunday, few are still handicapping Jim Schwartz’s prospects for another shot at being a head coach.
That stuff will be sorted out after the season. For the moment, the Eagles still have a week, maybe more, to pretend before the mathematics shuts the door on them. The reality is there are four games left and they are a game behind a team that also holds the tiebreaker on them. They do get another shot at that team, but the first shot was the worst loss of the year. Until Sunday.
It will be years until there is a worse loss, in a worse set of circumstances, than this one against the Dolphins. At the least, for Pederson, and his assistants, and the players, and everyone in the front office, and the medical staff, and the analytics geniuses, and the kid getting coffee, they all better hope so.