SEATTLE - Offsides turned a punt into a touchdown.
Illegal formation turned a touchdown into a punt.
In a span of 2 minutes, 33 seconds in the second quarter, this delightfully bumbling Eagles team short-circuited its best chances to win against the best home team in the NFL.
The Eagles were sloppy and overmatched in their 26-15 loss to the Seahawks. Now 5-5, the Birds need to play nearly perfectly to hope to compete with top teams, especially on the road. They dash those hopes when they make silly, presnap mistakes against a team such as Seattle's; one steeped in the mechanics of winning.
Certainly, the Eagles have some intriguing pieces: their head coach and his coordinators; a quarterback; a few linemen on either side of the ball; a linebacker; a couple of defensive backs; a runner or two; a tight end; and, most of the time, a dependable receiver. All of this makes them a viable club.
The Eagles drop passes and throw interceptions and make all sorts of physical mistakes, but other teams do, too. The difference: The Eagles lack the top-to-bottom professionalism needed to be a serious threat to top-flight teams. And they know it.
"We're not there yet," said tight end Zach Ertz. "Against that team in this stadium, if you blow little stuff like that, it's extremely hard to win."
It happens to the best of them.
The Eagles had taken a 7-6 lead in the second quarter, claimed momentum and quieted the 12th Man, Seattle's notoriously loud crowd at CenturyLink Field. Then defensive end Brandon Graham, the team's best player this seaosn, jumped offsides on third-and-16 at the Eagles' 40 on a failed pass play that would have forced a punt. Instead, the Seahawks got another chance to convert third-and-long, and Russell Wilson found tight end Jimmy Graham for a 35-yard touchdown and a 13-7 lead.
It happens to the worst of them, too. On the ensuing Eagles drive, second-year receiver Nelson Agholor, who is having a terrible season, did not line up on the line of scrimmage on a play that resulted in a brilliant, 57-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by Ertz.
"That's just discipline. Attention to detail is the basics of football. Get lined up," fumed safety Malcolm Jenkins. "On third-and-15, don't jump offsides. Get off the field. Those things are signs of being undisciplined.
"It's not just this game. It's other games. You take away one or two plays that are self-inflicted, all of a sudden you've given yourself a chance to win. That's the kind of thing we're trying to fix, especially on the road. We're just taking turns messing things up."
Running back Ryan Mathews fumbled away a win at Detroit when he carried the ball in the wrong arm. Defensive back Ron Brooks had a facemask penalty and running back Wendell Smallwood had an illegal block in the third quarter at Washington. Smallwood's fourth-quarter fumble at Dallas helped the Cowboys erase a 10-point deficit, force overtime and win.
What to make, then, of wins against the Steelers, Vikings and Falcons? All led their divisions when the Eagles beat them. As it turns out, the Steelers and Vikings weren't as good as they appeared when they visited Philadelphia - they have combined to go 4-7 since - and the Falcons, who were off this weekend, had stumbled plenty by the time they hit Philly. These were flawed teams that allowed the Eagles a margin of error.
"Even in some of our wins," admitted quarterback Carson Wentz, "we have so many mistakes . . . ''
Mistakes should be expected from a rebuilt team with a rookie head coach that has glaring deficiencies at wide receiver and defensive back as well as depth issues at virtually every position. It takes a while to streamline a new operation.
That becomes glaringly obvious when you consider the Eagles' losses. When the Birds get beat on the road, they get beat by pretty good teams: the Cowboys, Giants, Washington and even the Lions, who were 1-3 when the Eagles met them but are 5-1 since and now sit atop the NFC North.
Way out here, the Seahawks are on top, too; on top and getting better. Established, successful teams like the Seahawks ripen as the season progresses. They are 35-9 after their sixth game of the season since they rose to relevance in 2012, and they beat the Patriots in New England last week.
They also are now 32-5 at home since 2012.
"These are benchmark games," Pederson said.
Seattle is a benchmark team. They won the Super Bowl three years ago, lost it two years ago and won a playoff game last season. Lately, they have been the class of the NFC.
That's because the Seahawks generally line up at the correct spots on the field and they start the play when it's supposed to be started. They practice the Basics of Football, as Jenkins said.
"We're heading in the right direction, too," Pederson insisted.
They've got a long way to go.
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