Afterward, Carson Wentz noted that "sometimes this press conference seems like a broken record," the Eagles' quarterback bemoaning yet another slow start, explaining how yet another too-late effort came up short, and making yet another call for self-evaluation.
At this point, the Eagles have looked into more mirrors than the Evil Queen in "Snow White."
They have tipped their hats to more visitors than the doormen at the Ritz-Carlton.
"This one hurt," Wentz said after the Eagles' third successive home loss, 27-20 to a Dallas Cowboys team that came in leaking oil and looking ready to implode. Instead, the Cowboys blew up the Eagles' hopes of establishing themselves as legitimate NFC East contenders. Both flawed teams left the field 4-5, two games behind Washington.
"The slow start really hurt us, looking back," Wentz said, after completing 32 of 44 passes for 360 yards, two touchdowns, and a brutal, tone-setting early interception.
Why the slow start?
"Not sure," Wentz said. When a questioner observed that opponents seem to easily sniff out the early scripted plays every week, Wentz said: "That's a good observation."
Wentz and the Eagles talked all week about how important it would be to come out sharp from their bye week, start fast, build a lead against a struggling Dallas team, 0-4 on the road coming in, the Cowboys working on a short week after a Monday night loss to Tennessee.
So the Eagles went three-and-out on their first drive, and their second drive began with Wentz staring down Zach Ertz before throwing a pass that Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch neatly stepped in front of and plucked. The interception set up a Dallas field goal, the start of yet another game of catch-up. The Eagles have been held scoreless in the first quarter in seven of their first nine games.
Ertz, who would catch 14 passes for 145 yards and score both Eagles touchdowns, was inadvertently prophetic when asked about the dangers of looking sloppy and slow coming out of a week off.
"We've kind of had a little bit of a history of starting slow after a bye or an extended break, so we're really trying to emphasize starting fast this week," Ertz said on Wednesday. "We always want to be on the attack, we don't want to be playing from behind. Our team is not a team that's meant to play from behind, our team is meant to play with a lead."
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The same day, Wentz said the danger of coming out of a break out of rhythm is "something we've already talked about and emphasized … Coming out swinging right away on Sunday will be big for us."
The Eagles did not come out swinging. Wentz very specifically did not come out swinging; he turned in his worst first half of the season, maybe the worst since his rookie year.
At halftime, the Cowboys led 13-3 and Wentz was 10 for 17 for 104 yards and a 52.1 passer rating. The only thing in his arsenal he seemed comfortable with was Ertz, who had four first-half catches for 31 yards, on six targets. The Eagles had run 19 offensive plays at the two-minute warning.
"All that [early misfiring] can make it tough to win in games like this, where they're a big ball-control team and your drives are really limited," Wentz said afterward.
Wentz's new toy, Golden Tate, got seven yards on a third-and-9 screen on the opening series of the game, wasn't heard from again through the first three quarters. Tate caught another pass in the fourth quarter, for 12 yards.
Wentz didn't get significant help from a running game that was employed only sporadically, with middling results (fourteen running back carries for 64 yards). Rookie Josh Adams got stuffed for a three-yard loss on a crucial second quarter fourth-and-1, the right side of the offensive line caving in. A quarterback sneak seemed a much simpler option.
The second half, the offense sputtered to life, but Dallas, given hope, began gashing Jim Schwartz's defense.
"It's something we talk about each week, trying to start fast," Pederson said. "Obviously, it's not getting done."
Wentz said starts were something the Eagles were really good at last season, and "it's really hard to put your finger on why it is the way it is this year. A lot of it's just little execution things that are a big deal."
At the two-minute warning, Wentz was 26 for 36 for 300 yards and the two Ertz touchdowns, and his passer rating was up to 103.9. But the Eagles trailed, 27-20, and faced third-and-2 on the Dallas 30. A screen to Corey Clement lost five huge yards.
Fourth and seven, with a minute and 29 seconds left, Wentz hit Ertz, who made an amazing catch, reaching over Jeff Heath. But he was a yard short of the sticks.
You don't lose 5 yards on third-and-7 in the final two minutes. You don't go down 13-3 at halftime to a reeling divisional opponent that fired its offensive line coach a few weeks ago and reportedly considered firing its offensive coordinator. You don't start out 0-for-5 on third down conversions.
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There is a long list of things you don't do and win most football games, and Wentz and the Eagles checked off much of that list Sunday night.
The Eagles got the ball back in the final minute and the game ended with a 23-yard Wentz pass to Ertz, at the Dallas 9, Ertz lateraling to Tate, who was tackled right away, as the clock expired. Also expiring was the illusion that the Eagles were a sleeping giant who would wake up in the second half of the season and stomp back into the playoffs.
Drew Brees and New Orleans on the road next week is starting to look like a coup de grace.
Wentz said he realizes that "a lot of people are going to want to write us off at this point. Now it's just time to play ball and try and go shock some people."
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