Good morning. That wasn't a nightmare. The Eagles lost a 17-point fourth-quarter lead for the first time since 2006 in Sunday's 21-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference today. The players return to work Tuesday leading up to the Week 8 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
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— Zach Berman
Late in the third quarter on Sunday, after the Eagles went on a 17-play, 94-yard touchdown drive, I thought the Eagles were back to the team that was atop the NFL one year ago. They controlled the game against a good team and were showing signs of what made them dangerous.
Then came the epic collapse, one that will long be remembered in Philadelphia and could plague the Eagles come December and January. It was an inexcusable loss.
The Eagles have played worse games, but this was the worst loss I've seen from the Eagles since I started covering them in 2012. To lose a three-score lead in the fourth quarter and then fail to score with the ball in the franchise quarterback's hands while in striking distance in the final minute? That's a bad combination, and it's become an alarming trend. The Eagles have now lost two double-digit, second-half leads in the past month. They've also lost two games at home. That didn't happen last year. All the cliches have been said after previous losses this season, too. There have been a few turning points already this season, only to turn right back to where they were.
"We're going to find out what we're made of now going forward," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "I feel like we said that two weeks ago, saying it again. We're at make-or-break time, almost. It's hard to say exactly what it's going to take. Again, we know what we can do, we do it here and there some weeks, but we just have to put it all together."
The meltdown was a collective effort. The defense, which shut out the Panthers through three quarters, allowed three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. They had the Panthers pinned back into a fourth-and-10 and allowed a conversion. This was not an anomaly, considering Tennessee converted a fourth-and-15 against the defense in Week 4. It's not "one play here, one play there." This was 226 yards and 21 points.
The offense didn't help. When it was 17-14 with four-plus minutes to go, the offense could have run the clock out. Instead, they went three-and-out. And they had a first down at the Carolina's 22-yard line with a chance to win. They couldn't reach the end zone, just like the fourth quarter in the last two losses. The defense shouldn't have surrendered the late lead, but the offense had its chances, too.
"We had chances to win there at the end," Wentz said. "Offensively, we had a chance to seal the deal with the drive before, really the two drives before. We just didn't do it. When you're on the field at the end like that, with a shot, ball is in your hand and you don't win, it's frustrating."
I was surprised by the message Doug Pederson conveyed after the game. He tried explaining how the "pressure" is off the Eagles, that "nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything,"and "no one has given us … much credit going into games." Never mind that they've been favored to win every week, that they've been viewed as a contender even while struggling early this season, and that they're the defending Super Bowl champions. It counters the offseason message of embracing "the target" and the "new normal." It seemed a reach at trying to hit the note that worked last year, embracing the underdog mentality. But remember how Pederson wanted them to rip off the dog masks?
Pederson has spent more than two decades in NFL locker rooms, so he knows what works. But I thought the opposite message would be more accurate – if he came out and put pressure on the team, suggesting that perhaps they've been given too much credit and haven't accomplished anything yet this season.
Pederson was correct that there's a lot of football left to be played, and the week-to-week pendulum this season shows just how much can change. They travel to London this week to play the struggling Jaguars, then comes the bye week. They return with three of four games at home, all against NFC East foes. That stretch will ultimately determine their season. They need to move past Sunday's fourth quarter – and avoid playing like that again.
It's too soon for panic mode about the season, because the Eagles still have five NFC East games and the division is wide open. But it's getting close to panicking about the way they're playing, because they're still not scoring on a consistent basis or closing out games. Plus, they're not as tough as home. So the way they're playing is a cause for concern more than their record. They can recover from 3-4. But they must play better.
Big picture, the Eagles' path to the postseason remains within reach. They have three home games against division opponents in the four games after the bye. That stretch will determine their season. However, it will look quite different if the Eagles can go 4-4 into the bye than it would if they are 3-5 entering the bye.
Good question. It's a fine line, because a football player can get old quickly. I don't think regression has been the problem so much with the veteran players, although I imagine fans are looking at Jason Peters and don't see the Jason Peters of past years. More of a concern is is the amount of older players who are injured. The Eagles have five players 33 or older on the roster. Three have missed games and one – Peters – has missed time in games. Injured players on the active roster are tough for teams because those spots are precious. The Eagles only had one healthy scratch today because of injured players. So that's the problem with the older players more than regression. Still, it's worth watching.
I don't think the Eagles change their approach at the deadline because they still view themselves as a contending team, and even if they lose next week, they should still have a shot in the NFC East. But it's becoming more clear what they need. I don't think running back is as high on their list as fans might think. Rather, defensive tackle, secondary and a deep threat are the spots I think they'll prioritize. I also don't think they'll sacrifice a valuable pick because they know the importance of next year's draft. My guess is it would be mid-to-late Day 3 picks that they'll move. So be careful about how you view "game-changer." It will more like be a complementary piece.