The slow parade of fans filing out of Lincoln Financial Field deflated and disappointed early in the fourth quarter Monday night might be able to start considering January plans, because the Eagles' hopes for a postseason bid became bleaker after a 27-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The Eagles fell to 5-6 and spoiled an opportunity to generate momentum for the final month of the season. They lost to a team that came to Philadelphia with a losing record and a four-game losing streak, but Green Bay looked superior. The Eagles have lost six of eight games and they appear closer to the rebuilding team expected when the season started than the playoff contender from midseason.
"You might look at wins and losses, I've got to look at the potential of the football team," coach Doug Pederson said. "Are we there yet? No. Are we heading in the right direction? Yes. And it may not show up right now in wins and losses, but I see that potential."
It helped that the Packers have future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who dissected a defense that had previously dominated opposing passers who visited Philadelphia. The Eagles were held without a sack and lost their first home game this season.
"You're not going to be in a position to win many games without the pass rush," Pederson said.
They won't win many games scoring 13 points, either. The Eagles did not have enough firepower from quarterback Carson Wentz to match Rodgers, mustering just one touchdown against a defense that had allowed more than 30 points in each of the last four games and more than 40 points in each of the last two.
"We've just go to stay the course," Wentz said. "We can't dwell on it. . . . Can't throw in the towel."
Pederson did not play wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who sat after a crisis of confidence came to a head last week against Seattle. The Eagles' receivers looked even worse without Agholor - and it didn't help that Jordan Matthews exited early in the third quarter with an ankle injury. The Eagles were left with Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, and Paul Turner. That's no way to support a rookie quarterback. If you didn't notice Treggs or Turner, it's because they combined for one catch.
Green-Beckham led all receivers with six catches for 82 yards. Wentz finished 23 of 35 for 240 yards, with one interception, 33 rushing yards, and one rushing touchdown. Rookie Wendell Smallwood was the Eagles' leading rusher with 37 yards.
Rodgers went 30 of 39 for 313 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers went 10 of 14 on third downs, a telling statistic and the most egregious part of the defense's performance.
"Our inability to get off the field really turned this game," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who heaped much of the credit on Green Bay's offense.
Any discussion of Rodgers' down year was quieted on the first drive, when he looked every part of a two-time MVP. He led the Packers on a 10-play, 75-yard march, completing 5 of 6 passes for 47 yards and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams. He also rushed twice for 25 yards.
Wentz responded with his finest drive in weeks. He brought the Eagles 81 yards on 11 plays, completing all six of his passes for 70 yards and rushing for a 1-yard score. Green-Beckham caught four passes of the drive and showed what Wentz could do when his wide receivers get open - and catch the ball.
Not to be outdone by a rookie, Rodgers finished a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Adams that likely impressed even the staunchest of Eagles supporters. Rodgers fit the ball into the space of a drive-through window to take the 14-7 lead, and it appeared for a moment that a shootout could develop between the quarterbacks.
Wentz's big mistake came at the start of the third quarter. With the Eagles driving into Green Bay territory, Wentz overthrew tight end Zach Ertz down the middle of the field. He was under pressure on the play, but he lofted the throw - a problem since the summer - and it was the type of risky pass that the Eagles could not afford in a close game. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made the easy interception.
"Just sailed on me," said Wentz, who later added: "Bad throw."
The Packers were able to convert the turnover into a field goal and a 17-10 lead. The teams traded field goals at that point, and the Eagles needed a big defensive stop in a one-possession game.
They were in position to force a three-and-out, but Fletcher Cox was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty after stopping Green Bay on a third-and-4 play from the Packers' 34-yard line. It was a devastating setback for the Eagles, and one that's too common for Cox. He was twice flagged with similar penalties earlier this season to lead to points, and the Packers made the Eagles pay.
"If it's close," Cox said, "they're going to call it."
Rodgers took the extra life and drove the Packers to the 1-yard line, where fullback Aaron Ripkowski rushed for a 1-yard score and a 24-13 lead.
The Eagles were down by two scores, and they couldn't even get one. Penalties continued to haunt Pederson's team, including an offensive pass interference on Dorial Green-Beckham that took a 41-yard gain off the board, and a neutral zone infraction on Brandon Graham that gave the Packers a first down when they were backed up for a third and 5 on their own 13.
If this were the only week that these costly penalties came up, they could be excused as a bad night. By this point of the season, they're the sign of an undisciplined team. But the lack of discipline is only a symptom of the problem: The Eagles are not a good enough team. With a losing record and five games remaining, they might not be good enough to play past Jan. 1.
"We'll see what guys are made of," Jenkins said. "I think Doug did a good job of relaying that message of in the next five weeks, we'll see who really wants to be here."