Beating the New Orleans Saints wasn't ever about Kevin Kolb.

Nobody expected the third-year quarterback making his first start to outduel Saints Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees.

Kolb's primary responsibility was to avoid imploding and make it impossible for the Birds to win. He accomplished that.

This game was on the Eagles' defense.

This was a game the defense needed to step up from a stellar performance in the season opener and contain New Orleans' high-powered attack.

It didn't.

"We didn't plan for it," said Eagles safety Quintin Mikell. "It happens sometimes. , I feel bad. He had a really good game and we put him in a bad position.

"I just think that as a defense, we've got to keep the points down."

To be fair to defensive coordinator Sean McDermott' s unit, the Eagles' atrocious play on special teams and a key interception by Kolb put the defense in some tough spots.

Still, when the opponent hangs up 48 points and the only nonoffensive touchdown was a 97-yard interception return in the final minute, your defense didn't have a good day.

Granted, the game-breaking touchdowns by the Saints came at the start of the third quarter, when Ellis Hobbs fumbled the kickoff and Kolb threw an interception deep in his own territory in the next series.

New Orleans needed just seven plays, 46 total yards and 2 minutes to turn a four-point game into a 31-13 advantage.

But isn't that when a defense with aspirations of making a Super Bowl holds a team to a field goal, maybe two?

How about creating a turnover to snatch momentum back?

"We put ourselves in a bad position, but as a defense it really doesn't matter," Mikell said. "We've been in that position before and we held people to field goals.

"That's something that we've got to get better at."

I think we all knew that the Eagles' defense wasn't going to get five sacks and force five turnovers, the way it did against Carolina, but it barely made any big plays against the Saints.

McDermott had challenged his unit to be a different defense from Week 1, a better defense.

Well, it was definitely different.

A week ago, after giving up a long touchdown drive to start the game, the defense buckled up and stifled Carolina the rest of the way.

New Orleans drove 74 yards for a score to open the game and kept on rolling.

Working on short fields or not, the Saints still rolled up 421 yards of total offense.

The Eagles failed to get consistent pressure on Brees and he dissected them by completing 25 of 34 passes for 311 yards with three touchdowns. He had a 118.6 quarterback rating.

The Saints also rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a smack back to reality for a defense that was feeling pretty good about itself after its devastating shutdown of Carolina.

"Last week against the Panthers, we saw what kind of defense we can be, and this week we saw what kind of defense we can be," defensive end Darren Howard said. "We can be the best one week and the worst the next week. We're going to take lesson from this, look at ourselves, see what we can do better, and just know who we are."

Continually giving Brees and the Saints a short field to work on were time bombs waiting to explode.

This Eagle defense, however, also came up small at some critical moments. Only a couple of times did they make plays to stop New Orleans' momentum.

Besides surrendering touchdowns on both turnovers to start the second half, the defense let Reggie Bush scamper for a 19-yard touchdown run with 9:36 left in the game, after the Eagles had cut the score to 34-20 on a touchdown pass to Jason Avant.

Sure, a comeback victory was still a longshot, but it became impossible once New Orleans pushed the advantage back to 21.

I'm not sure exactly how much the defense would have had to do against the Saints to have pulled out a win.

What I do know is that the defensive performance today fell way short of what was necessary and what was expected.

"I look at is as we lost by 26 points with a whole bunch of giveaways," Howard said. "Not covering guys up, not getting enough pressure, not executing. Every way you can lose a game, I think we did that.

"You can't define yourself without going on the field. You can't define yourselves on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It's always on Sundays."

After two Sundays, the Eagles' defense has reached both ends of the spectrum.

The truth is somewhere in between. The Eagles just hope it's a closer to their performance in Week 1 than it is to today's.

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.