The Eagles committed five turnovers in their first game of the season. They committed five turnovers in their 14th game of the season. In between, this habit was rarely interrupted.
The Eagles were leading the NFL with 34 turnovers before Sunday's games. Their 12 takeaways were among the fewest in the league. The minus-22 turnover margin was tied for the worst in the NFL. The list of reasons the Eagles are 4-10 could stretch from Franklin Field to Lincoln Financial Field, but there is little question about what would be at the top of the list.
"Turnovers destroy you in this league. There's one thing that if we didn't know it before the season, we surely know it now that we're sitting there at minus-22 in the giveaway/takeaway area," coach Andy Reid said. "You have 123 points scored on 34 turnovers, and you're only getting 33 points on your 12 takeaways. That's a bad stat."
Some teams have bad weeks. The Eagles have had a bad season.
In Thursday's 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they committed turnovers on three consecutive plays, and had four in five plays. Yet the players within the locker room do not concede that the Eagles are undisciplined.
When middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans was asked if they were, he responded by wondering why such an idea would even be suggested. Told about the team's turnovers and penalties, Ryans remained unconvinced.
"We've got to hold onto the ball, but I don't think that's discipline," Ryans said. "Discipline is being where you're supposed to be, doing what you're supposed to do. Now when it comes to execution, that's up to that player. Holding onto the ball, catching the ball, being in the right gap."
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said the Eagles lacked discipline earlier in the season, but their problems in recent weeks have been about a lack of execution. As injuries started to accumulate, the composition of the team changed, and there have been players with little experience in game situations.
"The lack of execution was more after the bye week," Asomugha said. "It was kind of a mix at different times."
The youth on the roster is not the only excuse for the team's record, but it at least helps explain why there are so many turnovers. Bryce Brown's fumbling habit is partly the by-product of so few years playing football. Cedric Thornton, who is in his first year on the active roster, muffed a short kickoff on Thursday when he should have called for a fair catch. Punt returner Damaris Johnson and kick returner Brandon Boykin have both committed costly penalties this season; both are rookies.
The Eagles want their young players to play, and they are getting a chance in a season in which the playoffs are impossible and the front office must make evaluations about many players on the roster. So Reid isn't banishing a turnover-prone player such as Brown to the bench. Instead, he's getting a chance to develop. But players need to to understand the importance of protecting the ball - especially repeat offenders.
"When you're carrying the football, you're representing the Eagles' fans, Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie, and the coaching staff," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "I think it has to become more than just about you, and when you carry that football, you represent a whole bunch of people, and I don't think that we have that mind-set all of the time."
Reid said the Eagles will continue to emphasize holding the ball high and tight in practice. He discusses turnovers with the team and individually with players. When Michael Vick had a fumbling problem earlier this season, he carried a football around the practice facility while teammates tried to knock it loose, even joking there was a "bounty" on the ball. Brown has endured more hits during practice to try to eradicate the habit.
Still, the turnover issue has been widespread, and it has not yet been solved. It's too late to save the season and likely too late to save Reid's job, but it's not too late for players to realize the harm it's caused.
"The coaches can say it until they're red in the face," Avant said, "but if the players don't take it seriously enough, it's going to keep happening."