MINNEAPOLIS - One loss after five wins in a row shouldn't lead you to question nearly everything about a football team.
But the Eagles fell so grotesquely yesterday, 48-30, to the Minnesota Vikings, did so many things wrong, against such an unassuming opponent - if it isn't time to panic, it surely is time to question a lot of what we thought we'd learned since the previous day like this one, Sept. 29 at Denver.
There was a lot of tiptoeing around the "letdown" or "trap game" concept in the postgame locker room, but left tackle Jason Peters kept both feet firmly planted on the tape-strewn carpet.
"It's a big-time letdown, for me. The Vikings? C'mon. They ain't supposed to beat us. There's a bunch of stuff we did that I just didn't understand," Peters said, on a day when the Eagles' kickoff team intentionally ceded the home team excellent field position over and over and over, and Bill Davis' defense found no traction, against an opponent missing not only superstar runner Adrian Peterson but also his backup, Toby Gerhart. "At the end of the day, we've got to regroup and get ready for Chicago."
That does indeed become the focus, very quickly, especially since the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead against Green Bay to stay a game in back of the Birds in the NFC East. There was that, for solace, though the team charter was nearing Philly airspace when Green Bay completed its rally. The Eagles can't be eliminated now before they travel to Dallas Dec. 29. And if they beat the Bears and the Redskins beat Dallas, the Birds are in, with a week to spare. But had the Eagles won yesterday, they would have needed only to beat Chicago to wrap up the division.
Peters, beaten twice for sacks by Jared Allen, indicated pass protection is a bit of a challenge when you throw the ball 51 times (including three sacks) and run it 13, especially when five of those runs are from Nick Foles. (Peters probably thought the Andy Reid era was safely in the rearview mirror, but Chip Kelly seemed to be channeling Andy yesterday at Mall of America Field, right down to running onto the field to call a timeout because somehow the extra-point team went out in a clear two-point-conversion situation late.)
"It felt like we were down two scores all the time," Kelly said after the Eagles saw journeyman backup quarterback Matt Cassel throw for 382 yards, completing 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns, an interception and a 116.6 passer rating.
The fact that the Vikings were starting two backup corners led Kelly to build his game plan around Nick Foles throwing the ball, despite LeSean McCoy's status as the NFL's leading rusher. Foles ended up with stats (30-for-48 for a career-high 428 yards, three touchdowns, a pick and a 103.5 passer rating) that were much better than his play during the crucial part of the game; the second-year quarterback was serially indecisive and threw high and wide over open receivers more than a handful of times.
"Nick, everybody, I don't think we played well on the offensive side of the ball," Kelly said.
"I think it's just the game of football. You're not going to always play at an extremely high level. I'm going to keep fighting . . . I will make mistakes, but I am going to guarantee you that I will keep fighting," said Foles, who lauded the way his teammates persevered, even though DeSean Jackson made no effort to tackle former Eagles corner Shaun Prater after Foles underthew Jackson and Prater picked off the pass, with 10:10 left in the third quarter and the Birds trailing, 24-9.
In fact, video shot by Comcast SportsNet indicated receivers coach Bob Bicknell saying something to Jackson as he came off the field. Teammates and staffers took turns restraining Jackson, until he calmed down during a confab with Jason Avant.
"I understand DeSean. I understand the frustration," said Foles. "He has so much heart and so much passion. He wanted to make a play. I didn't put him in a good position. But the one thing I said to him was, 'Just stay with me. I'm gonna keep firing.' He stayed with me the whole game," later catching a TD pass. "We have a better relationship because of things like that."
Kelly said he wasn't sure what happened but promised "we'll get to the bottom of it."
"Heat of battle, man," Jackson said afterward. Earlier, he told reporters: "It was just part of the game, with a lot of emotions involved . . . We lost, and no one likes to lose. Being frustrated is part of playing this game. We have to try to control our emotions. I have a lot of frustration, honestly, because I thought as a team and an offense we should have had a lot more success."
Jackson did end up catching a career-high 10 passes, for 195 yards and a touchdown.
Davis did a great job of minimizing shortcomings and playing to his unit's strengths during the nine successive games the Eagles held an opponent to 21 points or less. His secondary also did not face an opponent that had the time and the receiving weapons to pick apart its press coverage with double moves, however. The Vikings protected Cassel, and he seemed laser-sharp, especially in the early going, as Minnesota took a 17-6 lead in the first half.
"Didn't see that one coming. I don't think anybody did," Davis said. "It was just a bad day for us, all the way around." Davis said the Vikings might have done some things differently, with no running back available who had carried the ball this season, but "the reason is, we didn't execute our defenses well enough. Credit goes to them. They executed on all levels. They were throwing the ball all over the field on us. We had too many big plays we gave up. We had penalties in crucial situations. Lost our cool at the end. We just - I don't know. It was a bad day all the way around. There's nothing good to say."
Davis benched Patrick Chung in favor of Kurt Coleman following Greg Jennings' 57-yard touchdown catch that made it 7-0, then had to go back to Chung after Coleman suffered a hamstring injury. He sat corner Cary Williams near the end, after Williams took a taunting penalty and became upset. Davis said he put Roc Carmichael in for Williams "to settle him down a little bit." It was just a week ago that Kelly was lauding Williams for helping him with strategy in the snow against Detroit.
"I wish I had an answer right now" about what happened to the Eagles' secondary, Davis said. The 52-20 loss to Denver was inflated by 14 special-teams points. All 48 of these were on the defense, with the only mitigating factor being the dubious decision not to kick to Cordarrelle Patterson, which ensured the Vikings would start with a short field most of the time. "I've gotta watch the tape. But we just weren't playing tight enough coverage. That's attached to the rush, too - it's all attached together."
There were any number of plays you could single out to exemplify the Eagles' futility. Kelly chose the second-down sack Foles took on the first possession of the second half. They'd kicked a field goal at the end of the first half, were down only 17-9 despite being outplayed, could have tied the game with a TD drive and a two-point conversion. Instead, on second-and-4, Foles dropped back, surveyed the field, sensed pressure - prematurely, actually - changed his spot, eschewed the run, reset and stood statue-like while being swarmed for a 12-yard loss. Kelly often lauds Foles' judgment, but that was a terrible series of decisions.
"I'm not going to let this game defeat me. I'm going to make this game make me better," Foles said. "I'm going to learn from it, and our whole team is going to learn from it."
Davis said he told someone during the week: " 'We're going to see how we respond to being the favorites' . . . We didn't respond well."