To put the play of the Eagles defense in perspective after Sunday's 45-17 crash-and-burn against Tampa Bay, consider that quarterback Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions, and he wasn't even in the conversation as the team's biggest failing in the game.
"We kind of [soiled] the bed everywhere," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I think everybody understands that. Look at the score. We're home, and they beat us by 30. That's bad all around."
The loss to the Bucs flipped the accepted narrative that the defense isn't perfect but is a lot better and more reliable than the offense. Up until this point of the season, that has been the case. The defense didn't necessarily win any games, but it kept the Eagles in them, allowing an average of 20 points and doing it despite playing the most defensive snaps in the NFL.
Well, it's hard to know what to think now, after a Tampa Bay team that was averaging 354 net yards rolled up 521 net yards against the Eagles, with 283 of those coming from the running game. The line was porous, the linebackers were not a factor, and the defensive backs were unable to keep track of the receivers. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston didn't face much pressure, and he was poised as he delivered passes from the pocket or rolled out to find an open man. It all looked so easy for the Bucs, a team that struggled to score 10 points against Dallas last week.
"Didn't see this one coming," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "The whole thing was awful. We didn't stop the run, didn't stop the pass. There's not a guy to point at or a position. It's all of us collectively. We got a whupping. We took it and have to move on."
They have to move on pretty quickly, with a festive Thanksgiving game awaiting them in Detroit. There really isn't much that can be fixed. The starters were out there, and they were healthy. All the Eagles can hope is this was a bad day. As Davis said, they all took turns looking lost. Cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll were targeted equally by Winston. There was no second-level tackling when running back Doug Martin got through the line. (Kiko Alonso had the same number of tackles as offensive tackle Jason Peters, who made the stop after the first Sanchez interception.)
They have to hope it was just a bad day, and not an indication of things to come, or that resignation is replacing resolve in the locker room. If the defense has stopped believing the offense is good enough to contend, this is what can happen.
"A game like that will shake your confidence, and that's our biggest enemy right now," Davis said. "We have to make sure that it doesn't destroy us. We have to make sure this thing gets fixed and that this is a one-game thing. That's the challenge right now."
Winston had been sacked just 16 times coming into the game, and the Eagles respected his mobility by not blitzing much, preferring a "mush rush" to keep him contained. The rookie looked very content in that containment, and Tampa Bay used draw plays, screens, and misdirections to keep the Eagles off balance.
In the first half, as the Bucs went up by 28-14, Davis played mostly nickel defense in passing situations, using E.J. Biggers in the slot and moving Malcolm Jenkins back to safety, where Chris Maragos had previously been in special packages this season. In the second half, Davis went to dime coverage with six defensive backs, adding rookie Eric Rowe to the mix, but that didn't keep Winston from locating his targets, either. Plus, whenever it was necessary, Martin would grind out another couple of first downs, and the field position would tilt against the Eagles.
"Today, we were not a good football team," Barwin said. "Some weeks we've been good, some weeks we've been OK. Today, we were a bad football team. I don't think this team has lost confidence. No one is pointing fingers. Everyone makes mistakes and didn't make plays when there were plays to be made. This is what happens when you don't do that."
So, after that encouraging win in Dallas - which got the Eagles back to .500 with three supposed pushovers coming up against Miami, Tampa Bay, and Detroit - the team has now drifted to 4-6 and could be left by the roadside before the turkey is carved on Thursday. No team is ever left for dead in the NFC East, but the Eagles would be pushing it at 4-7 with the 5-5 Giants heading into a stretch against the Redskins, Jets, and Dolphins.
"We are what our record says we are," said safety Malcolm Jenkins. "Who we believe we are as individuals and as a team [won't] be defined until the season is over. But you are what you put on tape every week. A lot of us are going to have to turn on the tape and watch that and swallow that pill."
It was a pill none of them expected to take, and it won't go down easy. The defense was supposed to be the team's saving grace. If Sunday was an indication of things to come, it could be the last rites instead.