MINNEAPOLIS — It was a balmy 42 degrees here Sunday, shirtsleeve weather for the hardy locals, but when the Eagles left the climate-controlled confines of U.S. Bank Stadium in late afternoon, they had been plunged into the deadest winter of their football souls.
Professional football players are nothing if not aware of how things are going, and the Eagles exited the 38-20 loss to the Vikings knowing their season is hanging by a frayed thread.
Judging by how they responded to the challenge Sunday, that thread can’t hold very long unless the play improves rapidly. They are on the road each of the next two weekends, against other teams with legitimate postseason chances, and repeats of what happened against Minnesota would leave them at 3-5 before November gets a chance to howl.
“Right now, it seems like we can’t get the [expletive] out of our own way,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “That’s the truth. We’re in our own way. Until we get out of our own way, we’re going to keep getting blown out. We have to fix it and fix it right now.”
Well, there’s a lot to fix. It didn’t appear that way after the Eagles humbled the New York Jets the week before, but the Vikings put the situation in better perspective. Not only are the Eagles patching together their lineups because of injuries — which lowers the talent level on the field — they are not executing their assignments properly, or beating themselves with penalties.
“We didn’t play mentally tough football today,” linebacker Nathan Gerry said. “We were out of our spots a couple of times. We got beat in some of our coverages, in the front end and the back end. Overall, we played a physical game, but we weren’t in the right spots all the time. We just got our asses kicked.”
The defense was the biggest problem, but the offense, which perhaps did enough to win an average game, certainly didn’t pick things up enough against the Vikings. Carson Wentz wasn’t all that sharp, and they had to nearly abandon the run game after falling behind by 21 points in the first half.
“We know the talent we have. We know the ability we have, and we’re going to turn the page quickly,” Wentz said.
Apparent also is the talent they don’t have, most important DeSean Jackson on offense, and starting cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby on defense. If you want to add in defensive tackles Tim Jernigan and Malik Jackson, that could help account for an inconsistent pass rush.
The news may have gotten worse Sunday when offensive tackle Jason Peters left the game with a knee injury and middle linebacker Nigel Bradham went out with an ankle injury.
Is there a solution, or is this season so star-crossed that nothing will fix it? The front office finds itself where the Phillies were in midsummer: aware of the problem but not convinced one or two costly trades can solve it. They might decide to hold tight to their draft picks — because they do so well with those — rather than try to salvage a building that is already aflame.
That won’t please the fans calling for the Eagles to trade for Jalen Ramsey, who would be a costly addition to a team nearing a salary-cap crunch, but it would be logical. As bad as Rasul Douglas looked Sunday (pretty bad), he was exposed by the line’s inability to contain Kirk Cousins as he set up on bootlegs, and also exposed, according to Malcolm Jenkins, by the missed assignments of others.
Jenkins took responsibility for the long touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs that made it 24-3, the second time Douglas was left chasing Diggs. Jenkins said he should have been back to help on that play, but wasn’t. Maybe he’s covering for his teammate, but there’s no guarantee he could have prevented the score, either.
Douglas is playing only because Darby and Mills are out. There is the possibility both are back within a couple of weeks, but for how long? And what other injury leaks will spring forth by then? That’s where the Eagles are. The players on the field aren’t talented enough to win unless they play without mistakes, and that certainly didn’t happen Sunday.
“We just have to coach ‘em up, and show ‘em, and teach ‘em,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Penalties and mistakes are hard to overcome.”
He pushed as hard as he could, including the fake field goal call at the end of the first half that was a desperate attempt to inject life into his team. The pass attempt by Jake Elliott, his first ever, wasn’t all that well-conceived as a call — there was one way it could succeed and a dozen ways it could fail — but Pederson was trying anything.
By the end of the next half, however, the Eagles were reduced to running out the clock in order to get out of there as fast as they could. They will be eager, as Wentz suggested, to turn the page quickly on this one. The fear is that the next page won’t tell a different story.
“We’re going to show what type of team we are,” Cox said.
And hope, as autumn drifts toward actual winter, that they haven’t already.