WHEN DOUG PEDERSON decided to start Carson Wentz at quarterback, he made it clear he didn't want Wentz to have to be spectacular for the Eagles to win, for the game to always be riding on the rookie's shoulders.
Yet, that is where the Eagles find themselves after Monday night's loss, at 5-6, having dropped six of their last eight games. All six of their losses are within the NFC, so do yourself a favor and don't even bother trying to come up with silly playoff scenarios.
The Eagles' offense is getting only what Wentz makes happen, through force of will. Their defense, which was supposed to keep games manageable for him, is a shell of its early-season self.
"The guys getting open for him, the protection - it's not just one guy. It takes a full 11 . . . With so many pieces in different spots, it's hard to get that continuity going," Pederson said afterward, when asked if too much is required of Wentz now.
The Green Bay Packers, losers of four in a row and pretty much unable to stop anyone until they encountered the Eagles, gave their season life Monday night behind a flawless, vintage Aaron Rodgers performance, winning 27-13. They never trailed.
The Packers are 5-6, just like the Eagles now, and just like the Eagles, they probably aren't going anywhere, but Rodgers wasn't ready to concede that yet, and Jim Schwartz's defense certainly didn't force the issue as the Eagles, allowing an average of 9.5 points per game at the Linc coming in, lost at home for the first time this season.
Two weeks in a row, the Eagles have lost by their largest margin of the season. This is a team stumbling in the wrong direction, unlikely to find a way to break its fall.
"A lot of self-inflicted wounds tonight, all facets of the game," Pederson said. "Penalties hurt us . . . Too many little detail things that caused us not to score more points."
Given the general lack of weapons, a last-minute offensive line shuffle Monday, and Jordan Matthews leaving early with an ankle injury, it wasn't really astonishing that Wentz and the offense could only manage 13 points. Though they were playing a group that gave up 47 to the Titans a couple weeks back.
The bigger problem, as it was in Seattle, was the Eagles' supposedly dominant front seven, which didn't dominate a patchwork Packers offensive line. Rodgers easily escaped pressure early, as Russell Wilson had done in Seattle. As the game wore on, Rodgers didn't really have to escape, he just stood patiently in the pocket until a receiver came free. One almost always did. If Leodis McKelvin was on the field, Rodgers targeted him. Otherwise, it was Jaylen Watkins, who is starting to look a lot like the guy Chip Kelly cut last year. Rodgers was not sacked, which was the key stat of the game.
Or maybe the key stat of the game was that Green Bay was a ridiculous 10-for-12 converting third downs going into the final few series, not counting two conversions awarded by penalty.
One of those came when Fletcher Cox drew his third crucial, drive-extending roughing-the-passer flag of the season. Each time the opposition has gone on to score a touchdown.
"We are better than that. We can be better than that," Cox said, after recording one assisted tackle, and no other stats. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks was just about the only Eagles defender you noticed, in a positive way.
"(Rodgers) was getting rid of the ball quick,'' Cox said. "When he's not holding the ball, you can't get to him."
The evening began on a jarring note, when the Eagles announced that starting right guard Brandon Brooks had been hospitalized with an illness Monday, giving rookie Isaac Seumalo his first NFL start. Allen Barbre was already moving from left guard to right tackle, with Halapoulivaati Vaitai injured, and Stefen Wisniewski was replacing Barbre. You could tell the group hadn't played or practiced together.
For a while, it seemed the Eagles had a puncher's chance. Rodgers and Wentz dueled up and down the South Philadelphia turf in the first half, Rodgers and the Packers going to the locker room with a 14-10 lead. Both defenses went to the locker room desperately seeking answers. Green Bay found some, the Eagles did not.
Rodgers, his team's season on the line, his focus questioned in the media, completed 17 of 21 first-half passes, for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, after going public last week with the contention that the Packers could still run the table and save their season. He also ran three times for 29 yards in the first half, each time picking up a first down.
For the evening, Rodgers completed 30 of 39 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
Wentz, the rookie who aspires to be for this city what Rodgers is for Green Bay, completed 13 of 17 first-half passes for 147 yards. He ran three times for 26 yards, diving for his first NFL rushing touchdown and then keeping a drive alive that ended in a 48-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal just before halftime. Wentz finished the night 24-for-36 for 254 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He was sacked four times.
"You're not going to be in position to win many games without the pass rush, and on the same side, the pass protection," Pederson said. "You can't let a guy like Aaron Rodgers stand back there, he's just going to pick you apart. You just can't hold up in the back end that long. It's something we've got to look at hard and get it fixed."
The most ominous development for the Eagles was the ankle injury Matthews suffered in the final drive before the half. Matthews went to the locker room for X-rays, came out and participated in the initial drive of the second half, then left the game for good. Pederson did not have a postgame update.
Each team mounted a crisp touchdown drive the first time it had the ball - first the Packers, 75 yards in 10 plays, including two Rodgers scrambles that gained 25 yards, with the Eagles playing man-to-man defense and nobody watching out for the QB. They got the TD on a 12-yard slant to Davante Adams.
The Eagles came right back, 81 yards in eight plays, Wentz finding Dorial Green-Beckham four times for 53 yards before scrambling in from the 1.
Green Bay was even more efficient with its second drive, 75 yards in nine plays, a beautiful, 20-yard pass finding Adams in the back of the end zone.
The Eagles were driving toward more points after taking the second-half kickoff, but Wentz was crunched hard on an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz - Ertz felt he was tripped - then Wentz went deep down the middle to Ertz on the very next snap. Wentz either couldn't or didn't step into the throw, which sailed, flying over Ertz into the arms of Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He's a guy the Eagles would have liked to have drafted in the first round in 2014, but the Packers jumped in front of them and took him. The Eagles then traded back and drafted defensive end Marcus Smith, who left Monday's game with a shoulder injury, having made no impact, as is his wont.
"Bad throw" was Wentz's only explanation.
"I think the Packers did a good job mixing up their coverages" after the first series, Wentz said. He said he thought he failed to see some receivers he should have found.
"We can't throw in the towel," Wentz said. "I know the guys in our locker room. That's not going to happen."
Maybe it matters that the Eagles can still mount a winning campaign, which no one was predicting when the season began, but given that they started 3-0, and that they now seem destined to finish last in the NFC East, that seems a little hollow.
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor was inactive, but Green-Beckham carried on his legacy by blocking too early on a screen to Darren Sproles that would have gained more than 40 yards, early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles desperately trying to get back in the game. Offensive pass interference killed the play and the drive.
Pederson said he wanted Agholor to "see the game through a little bit calmer eyes. Letting him (get) just a different perspective on the game. He handled it extremely well . . . Just to let him take a step back, breathe a little bit and see exactly how he can help this football team moving forward."