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Eagles suffer plunderful loss

Birds make it easy for Buccaneers to pillage

Malcolm Jenkins can't hang onto the ball intended for Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson.
Malcolm Jenkins can't hang onto the ball intended for Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson.Read more(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

JOSH HUFF was the first Eagle down the tunnel, followed by Darren Sproles, who completed a brisk trot into the locker room with his helmet still in place, minutes after an angry onfield confrontation with quarterback Mark Sanchez in the waning moments of a 45-17 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Bucs.

Next came deposed general manager Howie Roseman, flanked by Eagles president Don Smolenski, both looking straight ahead, jaws clenched.

From around the corner, maybe 200 feet away, the ragged sound of angry, booing fans clustered above the Eagles' exit portal echoed into the Lincoln Financial Field corridor. It was the only sound, aside from the whisper of shuffling feet.

Mychal Kendricks passed, then DeMarco Murray, then Chip Kelly, then a large clump of players. No words, no murmured assurances, no exhortations. Their way was illuminated by the huge backlit sign on the corridor wall that reads "HABITS REFLECT THE MISSION."

Wonder how quickly that sign comes down when the Kelly era ends?

It's tempting to overreact after victory and defeat, as Kelly is fond of reminding us. We don't really know that the 2015 team is doomed, let alone Kelly's tenure. But we can say the Eagles did not respond to the previous week's upset loss to Miami with a save-the-season effort Sunday.

We can say that somehow, a clearly talented defensive front seven, which a month ago ranked second in the NFL against the rush, got overwhelmed, to the tune of 283 rushing yards, by a pretty nondescript Tampa offensive line.

We can say that Sanchez again showed why he is the backup to concussed Sam Bradford, Sanchez throwing three interceptions, within what once again was a severely limited offensive framework.

We can say that watching this epic beating, it was hard not to question if everyone out there in green really believes in the team's direction, its strategies, its systems.

"I don't think anybody played well today and I don't think we're talking about belief," Kelly said, when asked that, after his team fell to 4-6. It was the most lopsided home loss of Kelly's three-year tenure. "We didn't play well as a football team in any facet of the game. I don't know exactly why not."

Kelly then narrated a few of the disturbing events we had all just witnessed, without explaining them. As if anyone could.

"We didn't stop them all day long," Kelly said after Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston tied an NFL rookie record with five touchdown passes. "I don't have an explanation for it, but I know we weren't ready to play on defense."

Kelly was asked if he felt some of his players quit in the second half.

"No, I don't," he said.

"I think we couldn't have played much better today," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said, as his team moved to 5-5. Tampa Bay, which came in tied for 23rd in NFL scoring, at 21.2 points per game - nine spots below the Eagles - more than doubled that average in establishing a season high. Doug Martin ran for 235 yards on 27 carries (8.7 yards per carry), and at one point had eclipsed the shared record by Emmitt Smith (1993) and Jim Brown (1961) of 237 rushing yards by an Eagles opponent, until a couple of meaningless losses on run-the-clock out runs.

"Awful. All day. Starting with me. The whole thing was awful," said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "That's not news to anybody out there. We didn't stop the run. We didn't stop the pass. We will get it fixed, but we've got to move on from it . . . Credit goes to them. They outplayed the hell out of us today."

The narrative has flipped on that Thanksgiving game in Detroit, from tough turnaround to blessed diversion from having to dwell on what happened Sunday. But the 3-7 Lions have won two in a row after clawing past the Raiders Sunday, 18-13.

"It was technique issues, it was fit issues, I could have put us in better calls," Davis said. "But the guys did not quit. They did not get down about it. They fought all the way to the end . . . We got a whupping, we took it, and we gotta move on."

It's hard to find turning points in 28-point losses, but one seemed to occur early, the Eagles holding a 7-0 lead, the Bucs driving. Third-and-6, Winston threw incomplete, time for a punt. But Brandon Graham, trying to read a head bob by Tampa Bay center Joe Hawley, had jumped into the neutral zone. Third-and-6 became third-and-1. Winston pitched to Martin, and he motored 58 yards, setting up the tying touchdown.

Graham was among those on the right side of the defense caught inside on the pitch.

"We were off the field. I felt bad, because I'm like, 'Man, I cost us seven points.' That was a momentum swing. They just started scoring . . . I'm just sick. I don't jump offside," Graham said.

From the scouting report, the head bob was supposed to be a tell that the ball was being snapped, Graham said, but it didn't always prove to be an accurate one.

"We don't want to look like that anymore, because that wasn't fun. That really wasn't fun. That wasn't fun for anybody watching, it wasn't fun for us playing. I know we're better than that," Graham said.

"Big plays in the run game," inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "I'm not exactly sure what it was, to put a finger on it."

Two hundred and eighty-three rushing yards against, DeMeco?

"I never would have thought that, but it happened," Ryans said.

"It's terrible. It's a bad feeling. To get beat like that, it's a horrible feeling . . . you got to suck it up and take it. They outplayed us today. The only good part is we have a short week. We get to go out and try to redeem ourselves on Thursday."

After falling behind 21-7, the Eagles got back within a touchdown on the first touchdown catch of Sproles' Eagles career. Then, again, the defense faltered.

A 27-yard pass to Adam Humphries put the Bucs on the Eagles' 14. Third-and-10 from there, Byron Maxwell and Kendricks had running back Charles Sims bracketed at the goal line, but Kendricks, in front, failed to make a play on the ball, and Maxwell, behind, missed it as well. It was 28-14. Winston would throw each of his touchdown passes to a different receiver, and convert nine of his first 12 third-down situations.

"I'm not going to cry, but this was definitely a dream come true for me to play here," said Winston, who grew up a fan of the Eagles. "I've always wanted to play here, my whole life, since I was a little boy. I always wanted to be an Eagle. I was even singing the fight song out there on the field. I was singing. You better believe I was."

Later, the Bucs drove for a touchdown on the first possession of the second half, eating up 9 minutes and 47 seconds. The Eagles' defense had several chances to stop the bleeding, including a third-and-4 on which the Birds were whistled for having too many men on the field. Davis said there were two dime linebackers instead of the mandated one, when one failed to get the message to leave. In the 10th game of the season.

"You just have no clue as to what you're doing" if you have 12 players on the field, safety Malcolm Jenkins concluded. "It looks bad on the coaching staff and it looks bad on the players as individuals, especially at that time, because you're holding onto every ounce of enthusiasm and momentum that you have, and you just give it back by having a really elementary brain (cramp). It's tough."

The Eagles kicked a field goal down 38-14 in the fourth quarter and generally played the second half as if they were trying to limit the damage. Sanchez's third pick, run back 20 yards for a touchdown by Lavonte David, set the final score and gave the few remaining fans a good view of Sanchez and Sproles angrily gesturing at one another. Sanchez, whose uninspiring play was pretty much beside the point on a day when the defense showed no pulse, said the dispute was quickly resolved.

This is what happens when you are getting run out of your stadium in a game you were favored to win.

"We're in the middle of a game where we're getting beat pretty good and I'm pissed that he stopped and he's mad that I didn't throw it right to him," Sanchez said.

"A game like this 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 get back and fix it, and we will."