CINCINNATI - Catching four passes for 23 yards in a 32-14 loss isn't going to attract a gaggle of reporters to your locker stall very often, but if you're Nelson Agholor, even those modest numbers represent progress.
Agholor started for the Eagles Sunday after sitting out the Green Bay game to refresh his perspective, and his confidence. Agholor dropped a big gainer and lined up off the line in Seattle two weeks back, negating a 57-yard Zach Ertz touchdown.
So, the fact that Agholor didn't drop a pass or incur a penalty Sunday was encouraging. He even made two fourth-down conversions in a futile, too-little-too-late comeback bid.
Of course, the saga of the Eagles' 2015 first-round pick is never a simple one. Fans will note that undrafted rookie Paul Turner, who has spent most of the season on the practice squad, caught six passes for a team-high 80 yards in his first game being targeted. (He played against Green Bay but saw no passes.) That would be more catches for more yards than Agholor has ever achieved, in 24 NFL games.
Of course, just about all of Turner's production came after the Bengals built a 29-0 lead and started playing deep. But, still.
Agholor actually saw the first ball thrown to him pop out of his grasp, and who knows what would have happened had it fallen to the turf? But he caught it again, albeit for a 2-yard gain.
"Had an opportunity to catch it the first time, took a hit, ball popped in the air and I was like, 'I need this one,' " Agholor said.
"I was blessed, to put the shoulder pads on, the helmet on again," Agholor said. "The lesson that I truly felt I learned from last week is that something I truly loved so much, I didn't have an opportunity to do. So now, I didn't care if I just ran 'go' routes every play and the ball just didn't come my way, as long as I got to put my cleats on and play with my teammates . . . I was happy about it."
Agholor said he practiced all week with the regulars, not on the scout team, as before. Though Doug Pederson for some reason tried to make it a mystery, it seems Agholor was going to play Sunday all along.
"Now it's just about finding a way to take the next step," Agholor said.
The Eagles were without top receiver Jordan Matthews, who suffered a right ankle injury against the Packers. They lost Dorial Green-Beckham (four catches on 10 targets, 29 yards) early in the fourth quarter, to a rib injury.
DeSean returning? It's a longshot
ESPN's Adam Schefter enlivened Sunday morning for Eagles fans with a report that the team is "expected" to pursue wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency next spring.
If you read the report and not just the Twitter headline, and then listened to Schefter on the pregame show, it seems this was based on stuff he's hearing from other teams and what Schefter thinks is logical.
So, gossip and speculation, really.
Here are the pluses and minuses of such a move:
Why the report could make sense: Howie Roseman does have a very strong resentment of the things Chip Kelly did to deplete talent gathered by the previous regime. And right now, the potential list of free-agent wide receivers doesn't look imposing. Jackson is still better than most of the guys the Eagles have, by leaps and bounds.
Why the report might not make sense: Jackson is 30 and wide receivers 30 and older tend to be guys who really take care of their bodies, spend a lot of time at the facility in the offseason, etc. This has never been DeSean. He has been limited by injury quite a bit since leaving the Eagles, hasn't come close to another Pro Bowl season. Last year, he played in 10 games and caught 30 passes. He is doing better this season, 39 catches for 644 yards. But his yards per catch seem destined to decline for the third season in a row. He does not return punts anymore.
Ultimately, a lot might depend on what else is available and the price tag. There doesn't seem to be any good reason to take this report as anything more than speculation about something that, from a distance, might make sense. It's a long, long, long way from actually happening.
But it would be fun.
Kenyon Barner's 61-yard kickoff return set up the Eagles' first touchdown . . . If you add Zach Ertz's (nine catches, 79 yards, a TD) and Trey Burton's (five catches, 53 yards) production, the Eagles got 14 catches for 132 yards from the tight end position . . . Carson Wentz got his first NFL reception, fielding a batted pass and plowing forward 7 yards with it. Finally, a receiver he can depend on . . . Bengals coach Marvin Lewis mentioned the lack of Ryan Mathews (MCL) the past two games as a reason for the Eagles' offensive struggles. "He's a good runner, and a different style of runner than their other backs are," Lewis said.