If you focus on the fourth quarter, on the toughness, resilience, and determination that almost paid off, on Carson Wentz’s heaving long completions while being leveled, are you fooling yourself?
Or is there still hope for an Eagles team that fell to 1-4-1 Sunday in a 30-28 loss to the much healthier Baltimore Ravens, prime Super Bowl contenders at 5-1?
With the Giants, Cowboys, and Giants next up, hope doesn’t seem outlandish. It might be a matter of how much hope is reasonable, for a team that finished Sunday’s game with two original offensive starters still standing -- Wentz and center Jason Kelce.
A group that wasn’t extraordinarily talented to begin with ended Sunday with its third left tackle, its second left guard, its third right guard, and its third right tackle out there trying to keep Wentz from getting killed. Top running back Miles Sanders (knee) and top tight and Zach Ertz (ankle) were out, along with defensive tackle Malik Jackson (quad) and rookie right tackle Jack Driscoll (ankle).
The Eagles declared Friday that right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (foot) and DeSean Jackson wouldn’t play. The team also is missing tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle), starting corner Avonte Maddox (ankle), and first-round rookie receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb), among others.
“Every healthy body we had played in this football game,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. (Third quarterback Nate Sudfeld didn’t, but that didn’t really detract from Pederson’s point.) “You guys know exactly where we’re at healthwise, and these guys battled their tails off today, and still had a chance to tie this football game, really had a chance to win this football game against a healthy, healthy football team.”
For three quarters, it might have been the Eagles' ugliest game of the season, and when you’re 1-4-1, there are a few contenders.
The fourth quarter showed the Eagles haven’t quit on Pederson, and it showed Wentz’s toughness and heart. But it also showed that there are too many holes in this team to beat a prime contender such as the Ravens, who narrowly prevailed after building leads of 17-0 and 30-14. The Eagles’ holes only got bigger.
The Ravens had to stop an Eagles two-point conversion play just after the two-minute warning to avoid overtime, because Wentz led a pair of touchdown drives while taking a terrible beating. He was sacked six times and hit 16 times. But when Wentz burrowed into the end zone with 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining, he made a miracle ending possible, after seeing two possible TD passes dropped.
On the two-point play, the bumbling Eagles of the first three quarters returned: The snap was rushed because the play clock was expiring, and Wentz and Boston Scott were swallowed whole by a defense that came into the game averaging a league-low 15.2 points per game allowed. There was no discernible blocking. Then the Eagles couldn’t recover Jake Elliott’s onside kick attempt, and that was that.
“Last week [at Pittsburgh], this week, obviously the ending’s not what we want, but to see the way guys have fought, being down in both games, and rallied back -- the resiliency of this team is something I don’t think you can question,” Wentz said after completing 21 of 40 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He also took off on a 40-yard ramble but had the ball punched out for the game’s only turnover on another run. ″The toughness of these guys; you’ve got injuries all over the place, and you’ve got guys stepping up who maybe just got here this week."
Wentz talked of having a “backs-against the wall mentality,” and deciding it was “time to just cut it loose and play. You’re giving guys chances down the field, you’re giving guys chances to make plays. The Ravens did a lot of things late in that game. They just said, ‘We’re going to bring the house.' They kept blitzing and blitzing, and so that gave me the chance to kind of just retreat and give my playmakers the ability to make plays. Our guys stepped up and did a great job.”
Pederson said that Wentz “played tough, played smart. ... Rallied his troops. Made some tough throws against a really, really good defense.”
If you stopped watching after the first series by each team, and only returned for the fourth quarter, you did yourself a favor.
The Eagles' first series, played in front of fans (5,500 to 6,000 of them) for the first time this season, began with a sack given up by new right guard Jamon Brown; Overall, Brown’s first action of 2020 brought into question whether it was really Jordan Mailata who’d never played football until recently.
The next play, Wentz got hit again, but he managed to dump the ball to Sanders, who was tackled immediately for a 6-yard loss. On third-and-23, Wentz somehow launched a perfect bomb to rookie wideout John Hightower, wide open behind the defense. The ball found Hightower around the Ravens' 40, no one in front of him, and it should have been an 88-yard touchdown.
Hightower dropped the ball.
The Ravens got it at the Eagles' 47 after a short punt. Then they converted third-and-10 and third-and-11 en route to scoring the day’s first touchdown.
If you kept watching, it was 14-0 after Wentz, desperately trying to breathe life into a stunningly helpless offense, checked to a read-option, kept the ball, gained 5 yards, was stood up, and had the ball ripped out for a fumble. Wentz’s knee was down — but it was down on a defender’s foot. It was that kind of day. Five plays later, the Ravens scored.
Late in the first half, the Eagles mounted a drive, fueled by the addition of Jalen Hurts to the backfield. An amazing Wentz-Greg Ward completion gave them a first down at the Ravens' 29, but on second-and-2, Wentz’s pass to Sanders, wide-open in the end zone, was dropped, and the Eagles failed to move the sticks on a Sanders run, then a Wentz fourth-down sneak.
The Eagles got a break on a roughing-the-passer call on the final play from scrimmage of the half, and Jake Elliott lined up for a 52-yard-field goal, kicking with the wind, well within the range of a specialist who has 11 50-yard-plus field goals to his credit in a little less than 3½ seasons. He missed it, wide right, just like the 57-yarder a week before at Pittsburgh. At the time, it was salt on a mortal wound of a first half. By the end of the game, though, those were difference-making points.
“To be down the way we were at halftime, to put that performance out there, in the first half, we’ve got to be better,” Wentz said. “Plain and simple, we’ve got to be better.”
Pederson ran through the list of big drops and the missed field goal. “It’s self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “It’s things we’ve been talking to our team all week about.”
Pederson concluded that with the 1-5 Giants coming to town Thursday, despite the comeback and the effort and so on, the Eagles are “right where we should be, 1-4-1.”
The Eagles eventually converted a third down on a 50-yard Hightower catch in the final minute of the third quarter. (They’d been 0-for-7). That play led to a Wentz touchdown pass to activated practice squad tight end Jason Croom, and the subsequent two-point conversion got the home team within 24-14. Croom joined the practice squad Sept. 29.
Before that, Miles Sanders ran 74 yards on a draw, just like last week, but this time the ball got punched out at the opponent’s 7, and Sanders suffered a knee injury that ended his day. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside fell on the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
Kelce, in his 10th season, said that the Eagles “have had some injuries before, but obviously, this is on another level.” He noted that COVID-19 and the abbreviated offseason has led to increased injuries across the league. “I haven’t really been a part of anything this drastic in my career,” he said.