Wentz's first interception seals Eagles' first loss
The Eagles turned the ball over twice in the final three minutes, spoiling a fourth-quarter lead and a chance to remain undefeated.
DETROIT — With the game clock dipping below three minutes on Sunday, the Eagles still had not committed a turnover this season and they appeared about 180 seconds away from remaining undefeated. Then it unraveled — the perfect record, the comeback in Detroit, and the mistake-free month from rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.
In 77 seconds, the Eagles twice turned the ball over and watched a two-point lead become a 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. The Eagles dropped to 3-1 after Ryan Mathews fumbled away a chance to run out the clock on a victory, and Wentz spoiled a potential game-winning drive by throwing his first interception.
"We just didn't finish," said Wentz, who finished 25 of 33 for 238 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
That's a polite lament for what took place on Sunday. The Eagles rallied back from a 21-10 halftime deficit only to choke away a 23-21 fourth-quarter lead.
That was the score when the Lions exhausted their final timeout with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the game. The Eagles faced a third and 2 from their 45-yard line. A first down would almost seal the victory. Even a rush short of the marker would tick the clock to the two-minute warning.
Coach Doug Pederson called a pitch to Mathews around the right side. Pederson anticipated the Lions would be aggressive in the middle and thought a run to the outside offered the best chance for a first down. But as Mathews tried cutting, Lions cornerback Darius Slay knocked the ball from Mathews' grasp with his helmet and Lions defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker recovered at the 45-yard line. A safe run went awry, leaving Detroit with possession a few yards away from field-goal range.
"I just can't let my teammates down, especially when my number's called like that," said Mathews, who rushed for 42 yards and caught a touchdown pass. "I've got to be able to make a play and be smart. It's a long season, but it hurts a little bit. Just got to move forward."
The Eagles defense, which surrendered more first-half touchdowns (three) than it did in the first three games (two), needed to make a stop. The Lions were a "half-step ahead" of the Eagles in the first half, according to Pederson, who watched Matthew Stafford throw three touchdown passes against defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit.
During that half, the Eagles also curiously sidelined Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham in nickel situations, choosing instead to play Mychal Kendricks and Stephen Tulloch for the stated purpose of having a linebacker rotation. They returned to their normal lineup in the second half, and the Lions stayed out of the end zone.
But when the Lions regained possession late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles defense could not stop them on third and 4 from the 39-yard line. Stafford found Golden Tate for a 27-yard gain that was brought closer to the goal line with the 13th of 14 penalties the Eagles committed on Sunday. A long field was made a chip shot by the conversion. The Lions needed to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Matt Prater with 1:28 remaining after forcing the Eagles to call of all their timeouts, but those three points were enough to give the Lions the lead.
That's when Wentz and the offense came back on the field. They had 78 seconds and no timeouts, but they needed only a field goal to win. Kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on a 50-yarder earlier in the game, one of three field goals he hit Sunday. That meant Wentz needed about 40-45 yards to reach Sturgis' range.
"We looked around, everyone in the huddle was real confident," Wentz said. "We've done it before. In practice, we repped it time and time again. We knew we had to make some plays."
Wentz lined up in the shotgun with three wide receivers and one tight end. When the Eagles broke the huddle, Wentz observed the coverage on Nelson Agholor on the outside and alignment of the safeties in the middle of the field, and had an alert to go deep. But that was the third progression on the play. His first two were covered. Wentz, who had not thrown an interception all season, hurled a pass 52 yards downfield, intended for Agholor. Slay couldn't believe Wentz made that decision, intercepting the pass as if he were the target.
"I was surprised he even threw that," said Slay, who also praised the rookie quarterback. "I was in great position, so I'm like, 'OK.' But then I looked in the air and I said, 'Oh, the ball is coming for real. He's really throwing this. Oh well, it's time for his first career pick.'"
Pederson said the play call was "not necessarily designed" to go deep, but the opportunity was present. He hoped if it wasn't caught, it would at least result in a pass-interference call or an incomplete pass. Wentz arrived in the Philadelphia with a gunslinger reputation, and the interception was the first time the Eagles experienced the downside of that playing style. A few safe passes could have at least improved field position, but Wentz tried for a momentous play.
"You always want to get the drive started on the right foot," Wentz said. "But the coverage dictated it, and we didn't make the play. They made a great play."
With no timeouts, the Eagles had no options but to watch Stafford take a knee and begin thinking about next week's game against the Washington Redskins. The Eagles could have spent another week undefeated if not for their first two turnovers of the season within a 77-second span. Instead, they return home with their first blemish on their schedule — and the first one on Wentz's NFL stat line.
"Still a good football team," Pederson said. "We're 3-1. Still in great position. We learn from it. We move on."