The last time the Eagles failed to convert a single third down in a game they wound up at the Super Bowl.
Don’t expect a similar outcome from the Eagles team that lost to the Giants, 27-17.
On Nov. 7, 2004, at Heinz Field, the Steelers shut down Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens & Co. by snuffing all eight third-down attempts, according to the Eagles' website. On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, 16 years later, the Eagles went 0-for-9 against the Giants. How? Specious play-calling, mistakes of inexperience, and, of course, Carson Wentz.
“I knew we struggled on third down, I didn’t realize we were that poor,” said Wentz. That seems impossible.
Wentz was 0-for-6 and was sacked twice on third down. He personally was involved in minus-10 yards of offense on those eight third-down plays. Third down was his personal Waterloo, and he wasn’t exactly facing the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers.
That defense dominated. It led the NFL in total yards, rushing yards, and points allowed; featured Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, and James Harrison, who shared 15 Pro Bowl appearances; finished 15-1; and advanced to the AFC championship game.
The Giants defense of 2020 lacks those sorts of players and that pedigree, but it’s not bad: 16th in total yards, seventh in rushing, and 13th in scoring. At 3-7, this defense won’t be seeing a championship game, but, like the Steelers and Eagles of 16 years ago, the Giants match evenly with the Eagles, who stand atop the atrocious NFC East at 3-5-1.
Third down killed the Birds on Sunday in the same way they’ve been victimized all season. They botched third-and-short three times early in the game. Coach Doug Pederson blamed later failures on the Eagles' facing too many third-and-long situations. Fine. How did they find themselves in so many difficult third downs?
By failing on first- and second-down, of course.
And, while Miles Sanders erred three times, and Travis Fulgham, Jason Kelce, and Pederson erred twice apiece, Wentz made nine of the 22 identifiable mistakes on the plays that either happened on third down or led to third-and-long situations.
It wasn’t always Wentz’s fault.
Too often, though, it was.
Tale of the tape
Third-and-1, Eagles' 47: A deep pattern to John Hightower was covered so Wentz, unmolested, fired high to Dallas Goedert, who was open 11 yards downfield.
Third-and-3, Giants' 22: Wentz fires late to Jalen Reagor, who was briefly open at the first-down line thanks to a mediocre pick by Travis Fulgham. As coach Doug Pederson noted, Giants cornerback James Bradberry knocked the pass down -- when it eventually arrived.
Third-and-1, Giants' 41: Wentz stumbled after receiving the snap from under center; center Jason Kelce appeared to step on Wentz’s foot.
Third-and-11, 50-yard line: Wentz couldn’t connect on a bomb to Fulgham, who wasn’t really open, but Wentz didn’t have time to hit Greg Ward underneath. That’s because Sanders, a second-year running back who missed the previous three games with an ankle injury, blew an elementary blocking assignment on blitzing safety Logan Ryan. How did they get to third-and-11? Right guard Matt Pryor, in his fifth career start, missed a block on a first-down passing play that forced Wentz to throw the ball away early, and then either Pryor, Reagor (who is a rookie), or both, missed a block on the same player, who dropped Sanders for a 1-yard loss.
Third-and-14, Eagles' 7: Wentz fired deep and incomplete to Reagor, who was double-covered; so it goes. How did they get there? Good coverage on a first-down pass play, but on second down, Wentz fumbled a low, poor shotgun snap from Kelce when Wentz didn’t look the ball into his hands. Third-and-9 then became third-and-14 when Fulgham, in his ninth NFL game, committed a false-start penalty, one of a season-high 11 penalties the Eagles committed Sunday.
Third-and-11, Eagles' 39: Wentz threw incomplete to Ward for what would have been a 1-yard gain — a useless pattern, frankly. How did they get there? Excellent coverage on a first-down passing play — the Giants have a good secondary — and then a completely unimaginative run-pass option by gadget backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, which lost a yard. Blame this calamity completely on Pederson the Predictable.
Third-and-18, Eagles' 10: Sanders gained a yard on a play designed to set up a punt. How did they get there? Well, on first down, Kelce fired a low snap that Wentz again failed to handle cleanly, which, again, Wentz should have handled. On the same play Wentz then, inexplicably, did not pass to Reagor, who was open in the flat. Finally, Sua Opeta, a second-year player making his second career start, whiffed on a block, which resulted in an 8-yard sack. On second down, Wentz threw high to Goedert, who would have had a first down; tough pass and catch but feasible. Lots of blame to share on this one.
Third-and-10, Giants' 36: Fulgham failed to stop at the proper spot on a first-down route, so Wentz threw behind him. How did they get there? The Giants stuffed a run on first down, then Sanders dropped a low throw from Wentz on second down — a bad play by both passer and receiver.
Third-and-10, Eagles' 37: Wentz took a coverage sack. How did they get there? Sanders, wide open, dropped a pass on first down. Wentz then threw low on a deep out route to Fulgham.
It was a fitting final third-down failure.