MINNEAPOLIS - Maybe it wasn't so much the yardage the Eagles allowed, kicking short five times, to avoid the NFL's leading returner, Cordarrelle Patterson. It was more the attitude conveyed by all those trickly kicks, which the Vikings returned better than the Birds had expected.
It was not an aggressive attitude. It felt kind of like surrender, and it matched perfectly the overall tone of the Eagles' stumbling, 48-30 loss to a previously 3-9-1 team inside a muted, condemned dome that feels like the interior of a container of Jiffy Pop.
"We hit it a lot better during the week, and covered it a lot better during the week," Eagles coach Chip Kelly glumly concluded, after explaining that since Patterson has taken a kickoff 109 yards for a TD, anything short of the back line would be a gamble.
The Eagles kicked off five times before their final (failed) onside kick. The Vikings' average starting point was just outside their 34. Assuming Alex Henery could put the ball at least a few yards deep in the end zone in a dome, Patterson would have had to average more than 35 yards a return to make that strategy pay off. Patterson averages 33.3 yards a return.
"We start with the ball at the 35-yard line, and it helps our offense," Patterson said. "If they keep doing that each game, we'll let them continue to do that."
Typifying the day for the Eagles, Henery seemed mystified that reporters thought the kickoffs didn't work.
"Yeah, I thought I hit 'em all pretty well, actually . . . That was what we worked on all week," he said. "We didn't want [Patterson or punt returner Marcus Sherels] to take over the game that way. That was the game plan we had going in, and we stuck with it."
Wouldn't Henery have rather just booted out of the end zone, indoors, as Vikings kicker Blair Walsh did over and over? "Of course I would, but that's not what we worked on all week," said Henery, whose last effort before the onside attempt ended up at the Minnesota 46, setting up a Vikings touchdown, just after back-to-back touchdowns brought the Eagles back from 27-9 to 27-22 early in the fourth quarter.
"It's not the ones where you get the touchback, it's the one where you miss it a tiny bit, it gets 9 1/2 [yards deep in the end zone], it's in his hands . . . he's an explosive guy. That's what our coaches wanted to do."
"I think we executed the plan. We kept it out of [Patterson's] hands. We knew we were going to give our defense a short field," special teamer Roc Carmichael said. "We just lost the game . . . Even if a tight end or a fullback breaks [containment], I'm going to catch him. If [Patterson] goes, I'm not going to catch him."
For a team that seemed willing to do anything to avoid risk on a kickoff return, going for it on fourth-and-1 from its 24 with more than 6 minutes left in the third quarter, down 24-9, seemed a bit incongruous.
The Eagles did not challenge the spot when LeSean McCoy tried to bounce a third-and-1 run outside and was ruled down inches short. Then, they ran McCoy just to the left of center Jason Kelce. He disappeared into a pile, seemed to have leaned forward enough to get the first down, but was marked short. The Eagles challenged that spot, but there was no video evidence to overturn it.
"I thought that we could have made it, and I also thought that if we don't make it, we're in trouble," Kelly said, meaning the Eagles ought to be able to get the NFL's leading rusher a few inches anywhere on the field. "If we can't get half a yard, it tells you what the day's all about . . . they didn't blitz, it wasn't like there was an all-out coming at us. We needed to come off the ball and get some movement at the point of attack and dig ourselves out of that hole, right there."
Kelce said that on the fourth-down play, "we started with a combination block between me and [left guard Evan Mathis]. The 'backers were flowing hard to their gaps, so you can't stay on the double-team very long. When he left, I started pushing my guy to the left, and Shady tried to hit that hole. It looked like he just dove forward.
"I'm not sure why we didn't get it; I'd have to go back and watch the film. But it wasn't very good. In all honesty, we shouldn't have even been in that situation, if we do a better job on third down, where we had a pretty good play called, I thought, then we're not in that situation."
On third down, Kelce said, "I was pulling and got picked by one of the down blocks outside. That made LeSean bounce it outside. It was really designed to come up inside to Brent [Celek]. He tried to make something happen, and couldn't quite get there."
Bryce Brown was listed as not getting onto the field, even as a special-teamer, which probably is not a positive development for the second-year running back . . . As usual, there was no word afterward on the "head injury" suffered by Brandon Boykin or the Kurt Coleman hamstring, or the Colt Anderson knee injury.