Talk about turnarounds. It took Andy Reid's new defensive coordinator only one game to figure out how to keep the Eagles from blowing a fourth-quarter lead.
That progress was a bit obscured on Sunday, however, when the defense also made sure there was no chance of a fourth-quarter lead. The Eagles trailed by two touchdowns after the first quarter, on the way to allowing the Atlanta Falcons to score on each of their first six possessions.
By the time Atlanta finally had to punt - for lack of interest in moving the ball more than anything else - barely five minutes remained in the game and the 30-17 final score already was tattooed on the foreheads of the Eagles.
"It was definitely embarrassing," defensive end Jason Babin said. "It wasn't like it was a close game."
As uplifting beginnings go, this wasn't a great one for Todd Bowles, who became defensive coordinator when Reid decided that the whole Juan Castillo thing wasn't working out, after all. After the Eagles were taken apart by the Falcons, the question isn't whether Castillo was a poor coordinator but whether he was trying to win the Kentucky Derby with a stable of mules.
"We had the same stuff in place we've always had," Bowles said. "We ran the same things. It's stuff we've been running every week, so there's no excuse."
The handy excuse is that Atlanta is a great football team - and the Eagles had better hope so. The reality, however, is that the Falcons are a pretty good football team with a great record. They have been cutting the corners on some recent wins and cruising toward a big loss one of these weeks, but the Eagles made sure it didn't happen at Lincoln Financial Field.
Overall, Atlanta went into the game ranked 13th in the league for total offense (and 22d for total defense). That's top half of the class, but nothing remarkable. The Falcons hadn't run the ball very well and Matt Ryan, while having an excellent year, had averaged an interception every game.
In their three previous games - against Carolina, Washington and Oakland, teams with a combined 7-15 record - the Falcons had won by a total of 12 points. That's narrow footwork, but they didn't need to worry about falling off the ledge against the Eagles.
Instead, it was the Eagles who fell. They fell below .500. They fell to 1-3 in conference games. And they fell even further out of favor with 69,000 fans who sat in the rain (although not for very long) to watch this mess.
"It's unexplainable," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "There's a little disbelief the game went the way it did."
Maybe for them, but for most of the afternoon, it didn't seem as if the game could go any other way. They committed stupid penalties. They botched assignments. They also were outplayed physically. When Julio Jones flew past Asomugha to pull in a 63-yard pass for Atlanta's third touchdown, that was just a guy getting beaten. Bowles, asked whether Asomugha was supposed to get more safety help on the coverage, gave a terse "no."
As much as the Eagles still cling to their "this-thing's-fixable" mantra, that often doesn't appear to be the case. There isn't any way to fix a secondary that isn't good enough physically even on those sporadic occasions when the players are in the right place. There isn't any way to make the linebackers better in coverage, particularly against a paper-cuts attack that targeted the running backs and tight ends on 18 of Ryan's 29 pass attempts. There isn't any way to take advantage of the defensive line when it is spread so wide that a so-so rushing team such as Atlanta can gash the holes for 146 yards.
"They ran everything we practiced and we still couldn't get off the field," Bowles said. "[They ran] nothing that we didn't know was coming. But we didn't tackle it and we didn't make plays."
Where do they go from here? That would be New Orleans, and if it comforts you to remember that Reid, Marty Mornhinweg, and Bowles have an extra day to prepare for the Monday night game against the Saints, try not to focus on the two weeks they had to get ready for the Falcons.
"This is an up-and-down business," Bowles said. "You can go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one week. Right now, we're in the damn outhouse."
With the product they are producing at the moment, that seems about right.