Good morning. I'm writing this from my Sunday night flight back from Nashville, and most of the seats are filled by Eagles fans who would be more jovial if not for the agony of a 26-23 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference to rehash what happened, and the players return to work Tuesday to begin preparing for the Minnesota Vikings.
This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
There’s no rationalizing this loss: The Eagles let the game slip away
This is going to be a tough one to digest in Philadelphia. If you were left wondering how the Eagles lost a game that they led by two touchdowns in the second half, when Carson Wentz threw for 348 yards, when they had the ball in the red zone during the last drive of regulation and the first drive of overtime, you're not alone.
This was not a loss to rationalize. It was a bad loss. It was not the type of game that can be chalked up to a bad afternoon or playing a hot team. The Tampa Bay game was like that. Not Sunday's 26-23 loss to the Titans. This was the type of loss that could be lamented during the first week of January when playoff seeding is determined, because it was a game the Eagles let slip away.
The Eagles became used to celebrating a dramatic ending, to touting their resiliency while their opponents wondered what happened. This is what the other side feels like.
There's enough blame to go around. You can be frustrated at Corey Graham for letting Taywan Taylor behind him on a fourth-and-15, but what about the two other fourth-down conversions in overtime? Or Marcus Mariota's 17-yard scramble on third-and-19? Every level of the defense will wear this loss.
You can question Doug Pederson for calling a running play while in the red zone at the end of the first half, but what about the red-zone visits at the end of the fourth quarter and the beginning of overtime? The whole offense has a share in it. The Eagles left points on the board.
The pass protection and penalties continue to be problem areas, but those fourth downs and red-zone trips will cause the most angst. Spend time in the NovaCare Complex, and you hear often about "situational football." The Eagles take pride in third downs (and fourth downs) and the red zone. That was their undoing on Sunday.
When talking to the defensive players in the locker room after the game, one sentiment I heard was that the Eagles would welcome that situation again. Brandon Graham said the Eagles make the fourth-down stop "nine times out of 10." Malcolm Jenkins said "if that's the situation you're in at the end of the game, we'll take that every time." And they're both right. These are the defending Super Bowl champions. They've won these games before. They built some equity. Then again, last year's success doesn't get Mariota off the field.
Pederson told his players that they must "hate this feeling" more than they enjoy winning. That's an interesting way to look at it. It certainly left a sour taste in their mouths. But Jenkins wouldn't necessarily phrase it that way.
"We love winning. I really don't care for losing," Jenkins said. "Nor am I going to play not to lose. I play to win. I think we all do. And I think we put ourselves in an opportunity to win and gave ourselves a chance to win, and we didn't. … Obviously, this one hurts. We feel like we gave it away. Nobody enjoys losing. But I love winning way more than I hate losing."
And they'll win more than they lose. This is a good team with good players. But there are only 16 games in the NFL regular season, and the margin for error is thin. These are the types of losses that will hurt.
The first quarter of the season is finished. The Eagles are 2-2. This next quarter is a critical stretch: vs. Minnesota, at the New York Giants, vs. Carolina, at Jacksonville in London. Those are three playoff teams from last year, including two that reached a conference championship game, plus an NFC East rival. If the Eagles want to carry a winning record into the bye week, they have to win at least one on the road.
So they must digest this game, however tough it might be, and prepare for a big month ahead. By the end of October, much more will be known about this team.
What you need to know about the Eagles
The Eagles let chances slip away in a 26-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans to drop to 2-2.
There were problems in the secondary, and those problems were more than Jalen Mills, Jeff McLane writes.
Carson Wentz looked better, Les Bowen writes. It didn't matter in the end.
The offensive line struggled to protect Carson Wentz, Paul Domowitch writes.
This is Doug Pederson's first crisis as a head coach, Bob Ford writes.
Alshon Jeffery returned on Sunday and had his best game in an Eagles uniform.
Who was up and who was down? McLane tells you.
How did Domo grade the Week 4 loss?
Check out the best photos from the sidelines.
Ed Barkowitz catches you up on what happened elsewhere in the NFL.
From the mailbag
I hear you. It was an error by Corey Graham, who didn't play deep enough. To his credit, he owned the mistake. Here's what he said after the game (my colleague Jeff McLane spoke to him; I was elsewhere in the locker room):
"You just got to play smart football," Graham said. "You got to know to line up deeper. You got to be smarter than that. It's just one of those things, playing normal when it's not a normal situation. You got to line up a lot deeper, play the situation. To me, it was just a dumb play by me."
Graham is the Eagles' new starting safety. He's a solid player. But what's concerning here is he's a 12-year veteran whose value in the lineup includes his experience. At 33, he's supposed to be a steady player who doesn't make those mental mistakes. It was a bad mistake by a player who should know better.
Fair question, and it's something the Eagles must look closely at this week. Teams are going to continue to challenge the Eagles deep. The Titans weren't a big-play offense, yet they clearly were not afraid to take shots against the Eagles. It seems to be a weakness with these cornerbacks, even when they play off coverage. The Eagles often play with a deep safety, but that's supposed to be Rodney McLeod. He's out for the year, so they might be more susceptible. It's a combination of factors — the pass rush needs to get home, the cornerbacks need to play with better technique, the help must be where it's supposed to be. But it's a problem area. Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, a former Eagles assistant, knows the Eagles personnel well. He's going to do the same next week.
I thought the Eagles were moving the ball well. They had 432 total yards. Carson Wentz threw for 348 yards while completing 66 percent of his passes. They ran well, too, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, but I don't think the Eagles ever got away from the run in a concerning way. Maybe on the first drive of overtime, they could have called a second-down run after running so well earlier in the drive, but that wasn't egregious. The big issue for the offense was the red zone and the pass protection. They were 1 of 4 in the red zone. That means they left 12 points on the board, when looking at three field goals that could have been touchdowns. And Wentz was sacked four times and hit 11 times. That stood out to me more than only 20 carries.
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