Good morning, although my guess is it's not a good morning for Eagles fans throughout the region. The Eagles took another step back with an ugly and costly 27-20 loss to the rival Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night to fall to 4-5. It was an inexcusable performance for a team coming off the bye week and one that viewed itself as a contender for the second half of the season. That season is not finished, but the Eagles are an inconsistent, mediocre team that's running out of time.
— Zach Berman
In the minutes after a devastating loss that put the Eagles' postseason hopes in a precarious position, Doug Pederson told his underachieving team that it must "look at ourselves in the mirror." The problem for the Eagles is that message has been said before. There's been ample opportunity this season for self-reflection after a bad loss – whether it was losing fourth-quarter leads to Tennessee or Carolina, or dropping a home game to Minnesota, or failing to stop big plays against Tampa Bay, the Eagles have lost more than they won in a season that's already in November. It's close to reaching a point at which the season is no longer salvageable.
"Sometimes I feel like this press conference is a broken record," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "We've been here a couple times. … We've let a handful get away from us that we're really just kicking ourselves. We've said it before, so it's really, are we going to step up?"
Wentz is right. They might have reached a point at which what they see in the mirror is exactly what they are: a flawed team that lacks offensive potency and makes critical errors on defense.
"We have to change who we are then," Pederson said.
In the locker room after the game, the players were not in denial. They were not deceiving themselves. They knew it was a bad loss.
There's enough blame to go around. On my way down to the postgame locker room, I was stopped by a disgruntled fan whose ire was directed at the defense. I can understand that, to an extent. The Eagles couldn't stop Dallas in the second half. They had the Cowboys in a third-and-15 late in the second quarter and allowed the Cowboys to convert to score a critical end-of-half touchdown.
The third-and-long (and fourth-and-long) conversions have happened too often this season. They pride themselves on stopping the run, and Ezekiel Elliott ran through the defense. So there's no defending the defense. In fact, if the Eagles had scored late in the fourth quarter, I would have gone for a two-point conversion because there was little reason to believe the Eagles would stop a Cowboys offense that entered the game with little firepower.
But there's no reason this offense is not scoring in the high 20s. They failed to score more than 23 points for the seventh time this season. That's pathetic. There's no excuse for this team to go into halftime with only three points, to keep going three-and-out on opening drives. There's no excuse to start the game 0-for-5 on third downs, especially after they just sacrificed a third-round pick to acquire Golden Tate. There's no excuse for a five-yard loss on a third-and-2 on a potential game-tying (or game-winning) drive late in the fourth quarter.
The Super Bowl-winning coach must call a better game. The franchise quarterback must deliver in key moments. And the Eagles need more from those protecting Wentz and those helping Wentz. The biggest problem on this team was and is the offense. But that's been said before. It hasn't changed.
"We've just got to believe, despite the evidence," tight end Zach Ertz said. "That's the only message I think we can come up with. … The evidence says we're 4-5 and we're not as good as we thought we were going to be. But we can't lose the faith. … If we're able to put a full game together for 60 minutes – offense plays well; defense plays well – I feel we're one of the better teams in the NFC. But it hasn't happened yet."
Ertz is right. The evidence isn't there. They're not as good as they thought they would be. And no matter what potential they might have, it hasn't been fulfilled. They're entering Week 11, and by this point, it often starts to become clear who the contenders are in a season. It doesn't look as if the Eagles are one of them. The 8-1 New Orleans Saints, who will host the Eagles next week, are one of them.
"The month of November, teams start to separate themselves," Pederson said. "And we did take a step back tonight, and that's the disappointing thing. … We're not going to make excuses for anything. We're just going to come to work and get ready for New Orleans."
So the Eagles can look at themselves in the mirror, as they've said they would before this season. What they see hasn't changed. And they're running out of time to change it.
Golden Tate played only 29 percent of the snaps. I know it was his first game, but that's not enough. The Eagles traded for a 30-year-old Pro Bowler in the final year of his contract; there's no waiting until next year. It was an eight-game purchase. They can't wait until December. I was surprised by how little they used him. After having the bye week to work him into the offense, there needed to be a bigger role and a better plan. I thought he was going to have a greater effect on the game than he did, and I don't put the blame on him. I put it on the coaching staff.
The offense is the biggest problem this season. They Eagles have pointed to "situational football," and they were 4-for-10 on third downs Sunday. But the problem is more than third downs and red zone. They lack rhythm, the play-calling has left much to be desired at times, they don't block or run well enough, and Carson Wentz had another turnover.
I think the biggest problem on offense is the start of games. The Eagles have scored on the opening drive of only two games this season. They script those plays, and that script isn't working. They're too often playing from behind and don't get going until the second half. The lackluster starts to games are a concerning pattern.
I don't think the problem this year was high expectations. The Eagles won the Super Bowl last season and returned many of their core players and added veterans. The Super Bowl was a realistic expectation. The playoffs should be the standard. A 4-5 start to the season is inexcusable. There have been seasons when the expectations were ill-conceived, but I don't see it that way this year. And they didn't need to win the Super Bowl, but they should be better through nine games than they are.