EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The lighting on the Zoom news conference made it seem as if Carson Wentz had retreated to an underground bunker. Still, it was possible to read surprise on the face of the Eagles quarterback when a questioner mentioned that his team had just gone 0-for-9 on third down in its dreary 27-17 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
“I knew we struggled on third down. I didn’t realize we were that poor,” Wentz said, after the Eagles fell to 3-5-1 but remained in first place in the NFC East, despite being outplayed by the 3-7 Giants, who lost their first five games of the season but have improved steadily.
"Anytime you’re 0-for-9, you’re obviously not doing something very well. Hats off to them; they had a good game plan, that’s a good defense over there, they made it hard on us, but we definitely made it tough on ourselves, left some plays out there, didn’t execute enough.
“0-for-9 on third down is extremely frustrating. I think that’s something we pride ourselves on, is staying on the field on third down, and we didn’t do it today."
Actually, the Eagles got off to a decent start on third downs this season, but they’d converted only 10 of 33 over the three games leading into Sunday’s loss.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson opined that the problem was “too many third-and-longs; it’s hard to overcome. We’ve got to do better on first and second down.”
But the first three third downs the Eagles faced were third-and-1, third-and-3, and third-and-1 again. On the first one, they converted the fourth-down play and ended up kicking a field goal.
But the third attempt, from the Giants' 41 yard-line, really typified the Eagles' day. Either left guard Sua Opeta or center Jason Kelce tripped Wentz as he pulled away from center. The QB went down and lost 4 yards.
Overall, the Eagles came out of their bye week stumbling and bumbling, awoke briefly, but generally were outplayed along both lines and at quarterback. Their final possession featured a drop and a sack and didn’t come close to generating any points.
Despite getting some key veterans back, they seem to be a worse team than they were on Oct. 22, when they edged past the Giants, 22-21, in Philadelphia. And oh yeah, they now enter a stretch of five games in a row against teams with winning records, starting next Sunday at Cleveland.
For the first time this season, Wentz suffered no turnovers, but he finished 21-for-37 for 208 yards and no touchdowns.
Alshon Jeffery’s season debut was of no consequence. He was targeted once, on the first possession, and the pass was over his head. Travis Fulgham finally looked like a former practice squad guy, catching one pass on five targets, for 8 yards.
This was the tight-end-intensive Eagles passing game of midseason 2019, with Dallas Goedert catching four passes for 33 yards on six targets, and Richard Rodgers catching four for 60, on five targets. Rodgers' 22-yard catch was the longest Eagles passing gain of the day.
The Giants' Daniel Jones, behind a much better offensive line, helped his team break an eight-game losing streak to the Eagles. Jones finished an efficient 21-for-28 for 244 yards, and also avoided turnovers.
On the next-to-last possession, Pederson went for it on fourth-and-10 from the Giants' 36, but we are a long way from the days when the Eagles converted such fourth downs with laser throws, out of excellent play designs. Wentz floated a sideline pass to a well-covered Jalen Reagor. It fell incomplete, the Giants drove far enough to pick their third field goal of the afternoon, and their double-digit lead was restored, at 27-17.
“It is part of the progression,” Pederson said, when asked about the throw to a rookie receiver covered by the Giants' best corner, James Bradberry. “It’s also based on the decision of the quarterback to go there, too, so I’ve just got to get the film and take a look.”
Pederson went into a gloomy, windy Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium with a 1-3 record coming off the bye, so maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that his team looked sluggish and inept. The Giants scored 14 points on their first two drives, Jones mixing a slashing ground game with effective short passing. The Giants ran for 92 yards on 12 carries in the first quarter, and though they gained just 59 yards on their final 24 carries, the early success helped put the Eagles in a double-digit hole for the sixth time in nine games.
“I felt like the guys were ready to go,” Pederson said. “I’m obviously disappointed. It’s on me, to play the way we did today, quite honestly. But I felt the energy was good. ... We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s the bottom line. All three phases had a hand in this loss today, with penalties [11, for 74 yards]. Not good enough.”
When Jones zipped 34 yards for a touchdown on a first-series read-option, it capped an eight-play, 85-yard drive against the same defense that saw him run the same play to the other side for 80 yards on Oct. 22. Obviously, the Eagles learned a lot from that debacle. This time, defensive end Josh Sweat misread the play and linebacker T.J. Edwards couldn’t get off a wide receiver’s block.
The Eagles drove for a 40-yard Jake Elliott field goal between the Giants' touchdowns. The Giants then powered 75 yards in 13 plays, Wayne Gallman diving over the top on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles' 2.
The Eagles' attempts to come back were hampered by the fact that they took the game’s first six penalties, and by Reagor’s decision to let a 71-yard punt roll instead of fielding it and attempting a return.
The Eagles never began a drive with better field position than their own 25. Four of their 10 possessions started at no better than their 11. That was a big part of why they ran for 156 yards and threw for 208 but scored just 17 points.
“It’s a field-position game,” Wentz said.
Pederson was asked why the team came out of the chute so poorly.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “You go into the game feeling really good. We’re getting some guys back, feeling fresh and ready, had a good week of preparation. It came down to execution, it came down to some decision-making on my part. We all had a hand in this one.”
The Eagles did not have the reasonably healthy offensive line observers thought they’d have, when they were installed as 3.5-point favorites. It turned out that left guard Isaac Seumalo, coming back from a six-game knee-injury absence, needed another week of practice and didn’t get activated from injured reserve. And starting right guard Nate Herbig, listed as limited in practice all week with a finger injury, was active but played only on special teams.
Both offenses picked up in the third quarter. Wentz led a pair of TD drives, the first punctuated by a 56-yard touchdown run by the Giants' nemesis, Boston Scott. Wentz handled pressure and made plays; when the plays weren’t there, he threw the ball away. But after Wentz and the offense got the Eagles within 14-11 early in the third quarter, the defense couldn’t stop the Giants from driving 75 yards in six plays for an almost effortless touchdown.
“We’re just not playing smart football,” Miles Sanders said after gaining 85 yards on 15 carries, in his first action since he suffered a knee injury Oct. 18 against the Ravens. Sanders managed just two catches, for 10 yards, on five targets. He said he was responsible for two drops.
“They made a lot more plays than us, and we didn’t deserve to win,” Wentz said.