New low: Buccaneers embarrass Eagles
Only faint boos could be heard at the end of the Eagles' 45-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. There weren't many devotees left to voice displeasure.
The Eagles are 10 games into their schedule, and whenever it seems they have reached their nadir, there are performances like the one Sunday to reveal that, yes, it can get worse.
By the time Mark Sanchez threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter for the game's final points, wide swaths of the stands at Lincoln Financial Field were unfilled. Fans had enough chances earlier to express their feelings about a team that dropped to 4-6.
"I apologize for how we played football today," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "These fans deserve to see better football."
There was no sensible explanation for the way the Eagles performed _ not from coach Chip Kelly, not from the players. The defense allowed 521 yards, including 235 rushing yards by Doug Martin. Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns. And Sanchez threw three interceptions in his first start replacing Sam Bradford.
"I don't think anybody played well today," Kelly said. "There's no excuse for it."
The players were not shy about admitting embarrassment after the game. It was a word heard around the locker room, although it's been said before. There are only so many times a team can be embarrassed before the embarrassing play becomes its identity.
"We are who our record says we are," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "You are what you put on tape every week. A lot of us are going to have to turn on the tape, watch that, and swallow that pill."
The biggest problem was a run defense that has suddenly become leaky. The Eagles built their defense around the idea of stopping the run. Yet Martin, whose longest rush this year had been for 25 yards, tallied rushes of 58 yards in the first quarter and 84 yards in the second quarter. Both set up easy touchdowns.
Those runs spoiled the Eagles' early 7-0 lead, which came from Sanchez's 39-yard touchdown pass to Josh Huff. The Bucs tied the game on a 4-yard pass from Winston to Mike Evans after Martin's 58-yard run, and the scoring snowballed from there. Winston passed for three second-quarter touchdowns and finished with 246 passing yards.
Other than a 35-yard touchdown catch by Sproles on a screen pass, the Eagles had no answer. The Bucs entered halftime with a 28-14 lead. They possessed the ball for more than 18 minutes of the half. When the Eagles threatened at the end of the second quarter, Sanchez threw his first of three interceptions at the Bucs' 33-yard line to keep the Eagles from scoring.
"We really needed to get points at the end of the first half there," Kelly said. "We had the ball at the end of the first half to give ourselves an opportunity to at least get something there where we are close in field-goal range. ... The offense didn't do anything to bail [the defense] out of it."
In the third quarter, the offense barely had an opportunity to do so. The Bucs opened the half with a backbreaking 15-play, 80-yard drive that chewed off nearly 10 minutes. They converted four third downs on the drive. One came by a penalty when the Eagles had 12 players on the field. The final conversion was an 8-yard touchdown pass to take a three-score lead.
The Bucs added a field goal in the fourth quarter, and Sanchez threw two interceptions, including the one returned for a score, but the game was already out of reach.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis called the performance the worst he's been a part of as a coach. It's certainly the Eagles' worst defensive effort of the year. Kelly receives the blame because he's the head coach, but the players did not put the loss on Kelly.
"With games like this, I never look at Chip," Jenkins said. "He never steps into a defensive meeting, and he has nothing to do with stopping the run. We'll never put Chip Kelly in three-technique and ask him to two-gap. This is completely on us as a defense."
The frustration was apparent on the field. Sanchez and Sproles bickered following the final interception. Jenkins screamed at teammates after the costly third-quarter penalty. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans called the mood in the locker room after the game "terrible."
"I think everybody understands how bad that was," Barwin said. "Just look at the score. We played them at home, and they beat us by . It was bad all around."
The glimmer of remaining optimism is that even at 4-6, the Eagles are only one game out of first place in the dreadful NFC East standings. But they've provided little reason to believe that they can go on a late-season run.
Their first chance is Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions. That will determine whether they can at least play meaningful football in December or whether the season can get worse than it seemed Sunday.
"We all want to write a narrative of, `How does this game affect that game?' " Kelly said. "We beat Dallas and that was the, `We are going to win the rest of our games.' It doesn't work that way. ... If we allow this game to affect us on Thursday, then shame on us."