GONNA LEAD with the final score here. Rarely do that, generally figure you either were at the game or were watching on TV, but there's a very good chance you'd found other stuff to do by 11:46 p.m. Thursday, when the curtain mercifully rang down on the Eagles' 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Yup, watched it so you wouldn't have to. Please hold your applause.
The shame of the whole mess - other than that you might have spent money for a ticket - was that the Eagles' defense played a really good game, sacking Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton six times and forcing turnovers on back-to-back Cincinnati series. But the offense and the special teams turned the ball over on three successive third-quarter snaps, four out of five snaps overall, making a mockery of everything the defense had fought to achieve.
All 34 Cincinnati points came off Eagles screwups, 31 points off the Birds' five turnovers and three more off a comical blocked punt, rookie Marvin McNutt's first (only?) adventure in trying to protect the punter.
The game turned the Bengals' way for good when Nick Foles lofted a balloon that corner Leon Hall settled under, then ran back to the Birds' 44 with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter. Suddenly, a Cincinnati offense that hadn't come close to scoring a point in more than 27 minutes was back in the swing. Dalton ran 11 yards, faking out Mychal Kendricks, to give the Bengals the lead for good, 17-13, with 1:16 remaining in the third.
Eagles coach Andy Reid seemed to say afterward that Foles looked off his receiver, which is a good thing, but that maybe he looked too long and didn't get his feet and body turned back toward intended target Jeremy Maclin.
After that, the follies really got rolling. Twenty-one-year-old running back Bryce Brown braced for contact instead of securing a handoff and Wallace Gilberry ran back Brown's fourth fumble in four starts 25 yards for a touchdown.
"I'm getting hit at the exchange, so that's a tough one there," said Brown, who didn't seem to be beating himself up over it. He finished with 34 yards on 16 carries, giving him 40 yards on 28 carries his last two games, after running for 347 in his first two starts.
The Eagles got the ball back. First play, Foles hit Clay Harbor for 16 yards, except Harbor fumbled the ball away, and safety Chris Crocker ran it back to the Eagles' 13. The defense held for a field goal; it was only 27-13, maybe Foles had some fourth-quarter magic, like the turnaround he engineered Sunday at Tampa.
We'll never know. The Bengals kicked it short, defensive tackle Cedric Thornton tried to catch it, and, um, that didn't go well. The ball went right through Thornton's hands, recovered by Cincinnati's Taylor Mays. Dalton eventually hit A.J. Green for a 5-yard TD, the Eagles' defense exhausted by then.
"It caught me off guard," Thornton said. "I should have been more focused. Next time it'll be a fair catch and we won't have to talk about this."
Thornton was moving forward when he whiffed on the ball; presumably he might have caught it had he been standing still.
"This was on the offense and special teams today," Maclin said.
This time, Foles did nothing to excite you for next season. His final numbers were 16-for-33 for 182 yards, a touchdown and a killer pick. His passer rating was 62.9.
"There were some things early that were good," Reid said of Foles, who managed only 46 yards of offense in the second half.
"I have to make better throws when we do take shots," Foles said. "Each game, you learn more and more. I'm gonna learn a lot" from this loss.
Brown looked really green, not just on the fumble. He really has not played a lot of high-level football, a point Reid made afterward.
It was a good night for Eagles fans with Brandon Graham jerseys; he had 2.5 sacks and drew a couple holding calls. Everybody else, not so much.
"It hurts when you go out there and you give it your all and turnovers happen," Graham said after the Eagles slid to 4-10, pushing Cincinnati to 8-6. "I know that the person that [committed the turnovers] didn't want it to happen. It's just part of the game, and they made more plays than we did.
"It just sucks that it's just the same story over and over, and we gotta keep repeatin' ourselves and sayin' it's going to get better. I don't know. I don't know what to say after that."
You could say this game was ugly both early and late, with some teaser material in between.
In the annals of really awful starts, the Eagles' first four minutes Thursday night is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Second snap, Maclin has a first down on a flanker screen, except he doesn't sense Carlos Dunlap behind him and gets stripped, the Eagles' 30th turnover of the season, when Domata Peko recovers for the Bengals at the Birds' 44.
First Bengals snap, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rambles 29 yards through a bulldozed right side, all the way to the Eagles' 15. Next play, Dalton throws what should have been a pick-six through Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's hands, complete to Green at the 7. Three plays later, Green-Ellis scores.
It got much worse when Foles couldn't connect on a third-and-3 bomb to Harbor (nothing like an easy pitch-and-catch to build some rhythm), and the Eagles had to punt. There was confusion; rookie Ryan Rau. Playing his second NFL game, failed to take the field, and Harbor ran on late. McNutt, also playing in his second NFL game, somehow was assigned to protect Mat McBriar, and McNutt got driven back into McBriar by Daniel Herron, who recovered the blocked punt. McBriar kicked it off McNutt's rear end.
This time the defense rose to the occasion, though. Graham, who needed to see both Jason Babin and Jim Washburn exiled before he really got the room to blossom, sacked Dalton and the Bengals had to settle for a field goal.
So it was 10-0, not 14-0, midway through the first quarter, a subtle difference that maybe let the Eagles find some traction.
Second quarter, Foles found Maclin wide open for 46 yards, setting up an 11-yard TD pass to Riley Cooper. After Foles and Brown, Cooper might be the offensive player who has done the most for his cause during this stretch drive to nowhere. Cooper, who missed the first six games after breaking his collarbone early in training camp, now has touchdown catches in two of the last three games, and has broken his career high of 16 catches. He had 19 through the first half of last night's game.
Then the defense really started hitting its stride. Graham forced a Dalton fumble, Trent Cole recovered, the Eagles' first forced turnover since they played at New Orleans Nov. 5. But the offense, in a foreshadowing of struggles to come, got a first down at the Cincinnati 3 but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
Next series, Cullen Jenkins forced a Dalton fumble, Darryl Tapp recovered at the Bengals' 12. And the offense gained first down at the 2. Again, the Eagles didn't score a touchdown, after center Dallas Reynolds moved the ball without snapping it on first down and pushed them to the 7. But they led 13-10 going into halftime and their defense was in control.
The offense blew that all to smithereens in the second half.
Left guard Evan Mathis left the game with an ankle injury, replaced by Danny Watkins...Emil Igwenagu made his NFL debut ...The Eagles tried a tackle-eligible pass to Matt Tennant on the goal line that didn't work...Todd Bowles on his head-coaching interview at Temple: "It was good. It's my alma mater. We had a good talk. We had a good conversation. We kind of went from there. We'll see how it goes...I think anybody would like to go back and see what their alma mater looks like and at least talk to them. So no matter what happens, I'll still be a full Temple supporter."