Self-inflicted wounds doom Eagles
The Birds were well on their way to beating Miami when everything went wrong.
SEASONS CHANGE fast this time of year. The Eagles' season changed in a flurry of maddening, self-inflicted wounds yesterday afternoon.
In less than two hours, Chip Kelly's team went from rolling toward its fourth victory in five games to wondering if this was the day that proved its hopes and plans were little more than fantasy, after the Eagles coughed up the win with a backup quarterback and a series of farcical errors.
The most grievous wound was thrust home with five minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter of Miami's 20-19 victory, when Dolphins linebacker Chris McCain blasted through right tackle Dennis Kelly and drove Sam Bradford into the turf as Bradford pulled the ball back to throw. Everyone who saw Bradford's left shoulder slam into the ground knew he had probably suffered some damage there. No one knew Bradford also was concussed, until the Eagles announced it.
Later, a league source told the Daily News that Bradford had suffered a Grade II AC sprain. Since it's to his nonthrowing shoulder, it might not require him to miss more than a game or so, though the concussion certainly complicates that. The 4-5 Eagles host Tampa Bay next Sunday, then travel to Detroit for a Thanksgiving game.
Mark Sanchez came in Sunday and did what Eagles fans saw him do several times last season - he made a handful of tough, clutch throws, survived some rough spots, looked like he was on the verge of salvaging the game, then threw a killer end-zone interception, with the Eagles well within range of a go-ahead field goal, 4:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
By the time Chip Kelly met with the media, it was almost hard to remember that his team was blowing out the Dolphins, up 16-3 early and about to add more, when everything went south.
"We didn't play smart," Kelly said. "I think we moved the ball. I think we hurt ourselves, and that's what I told our guys. We ran (84) plays, but we stalled . . . A couple of those penalties were just real big drive-killers for us, and those are on us."
Dennis Kelly, who recovered the ball Bradford fumbled on the injury play, was asked what it feels like, to see your quarterback hit like that.
"It's a (bleepy) feeling," Kelly said. "Especially when it's you that did it. Our job is to protect him and keep him upright. We didn't do a good enough job, me especially, to do that.
"It's an aggressive play-action play, so we wanted to get out there and get on 'em. I got a little piece of (McCain), because he was on the tight end. He darted inside before I could recover, and then it was a straight line to (Bradford). That's one of the, I guess you could say, 'kryptonites' to that type of protection style, is that if they do go inside, you gotta be quick to get back, and I just wasn't quick enough."
This was the second week with Kelly, normally a reserve, at right tackle and regular right tackle Lane Johnson on the left, replacing Jason Peters, who sat again with a back injury. The shuffled line had looked much better a week earlier at Dallas; after the first quarter Sunday, it seemed unable to run or pass block with any consistency, or without taking penalties.
The Eagles, who outgained the now-4-5 Dolphins 436 yards to 289, lost because of Sanchez's pick. And because Caleb Sturgis missed a 32-yard second-quarter field goal that seemed to stall their momentum. And because they allowed their second blocked punt of the season, this one leading directly to a Miami touchdown. And because the secondary didn't realize Connor Barwin had volleyed a Ryan Tannehill pass in the air, on the first snap of the fourth quarter, which should have allowed Malcolm Jenkins to level Jarvis Landry immediately, instead of helplessly bear-hugging him in the end zone as the blocked pass settled in Landry's arms for the winning points. And because the Birds twice seemed to have scored a fourth-quarter touchdown but saw it not count both times - once because Miles Austin didn't seem to make any great effort to get both feet down in the back of the end zone, and again when Riley Cooper turned out not to have been set when the ball was snapped, before Sanchez hit a wide-open Zach Ertz in the end zone.
The confused Dolphins actually had 12 defenders on the field on the Ertz play and gave up the TD anyway, except, thanks to Cooper, they didn't.
"It was completely, completely my fault," Cooper said.
It's hard to score the same touchdown three times, and the Eagles didn't, settling for a 37-yard Sturgis field goal with 10:20 left.
"It's hard enough to score in this league one time," Ertz said. "Scoring multiple times when the field is shrunk, it's really hard . . . We're beating ourselves. The Redskins game, touchdown called back, we lose by three points . . . The details are what really is killing us right now. We've got to be more detail-oriented."
That TD in Washington also was a pass to Ertz, nullified by an illegal-formation penalty.
Overall, Sunday's list was a ridiculous litany of screwups for the ninth game of the season, or for any game played more than a couple weeks into training camp.
"We have to get some things fixed; we can't keep beating ourselves," Jenkins said, yet again, as he has so often this season. He had just made a point about how the Eagles certainly aren't out of it, and they aren't, with the Cowboys (2-7) and the Giants (5-5) both losing Sunday, but if you watched the Eagles play, you might not be taking a lot of solace in that. They aren't going to lose their way into the playoffs.
"Until we get ourselves fixed, nothing else matters," said tight end Brent Celek, who caught four passes for 134 yards, most notably rambling for a 60-yard catch-and-run on the Eagles' first snap, which led to their first touchdown on an initial drive this season.
"We need to do things to not put ourselves in a bind, because when we don't hurt ourselves, we're a pretty good team," Jenkins said. "(Miami) basically just sat back and watched us mess up."
Sanchez, 14-for-23 for 156 yards and that devastating pick in his first action since the preseason, blamed a "miscommunication" between himself and Austin, the intended receiver, who seemed blanketed by safety Reshad Jones when Sanchez threw it into Jones' arms. There seemed to be quite a few miscommunications with Austin by both QBs, and he dropped a perfect long Bradford pass.
Chip Kelly said Sanchez was supposed to "take a peek," then check down, on second-and-9 from the Dolphins' 9.
The Eagles' biggest problem Sunday, after their own ineptitude, was Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Miami's $114 million free-agent signee. Suh has taken a lot of criticism in the course of a season that saw head coach Joe Philbin fired when Miami was 1-3, but he was everything the Dolphins could have hoped for Sunday, dominating Eagles center Jason Kelce and guards Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin over the final three quarters. Suh finished with seven solo tackles, a sack, three tackles for a loss and three hurries.
The Dolphins were 31st in the NFL at stopping the run, but the Eagles gained 40 of their 83 rushing yards in the first quarter. After that, they ran 24 times for 43 yards - 1.79 yards per carry. And they lost running back Ryan Mathews (eight carries, 18 yards) to a concussion in the third quarter.
Kelce was flagged three times, one of those nullified by a Miami penalty. He also snapped the ball over Bradford's head, again.
"(Bleeping) bad snap, and a (bleeping) terrible blocking performance," Kelce told reporters.
Johnson said Suh "is one of those guys who just takes it light when he wants to, (but) when he wants to turn it on, he does. Pretty much, they kicked us in the teeth. That goes for everybody up front."