Doug Pederson's message to his players after the Eagles lost their third and final game of last season was, "Let's get ready to go win the Super Bowl."
And they did. And the city held a parade. And the coach wrote a book. And the hero backup quarterback wrote a book. And the players made television appearances. And the afterglow was so fantastic that sometimes it seemed as if it might never ever go away.
It's gone now. Long gone. The Eagles lost their third game of the new season Sunday and the head coach's mood and message were a lot different after his players retreated to the home locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. This year's third defeat came 11 games earlier than a season ago.
"I just told them basically I was going to walk into this room and take it for the team," Pederson said after the Eagles spent an entire afternoon chasing the Minnesota Vikings before being saddled with a 23-21 loss that left them with with a 2-3 record after five games. "The way we've been playing and performing, it starts with me. I want to make sure the guys understand we can't do these things. We can't self-inflict and expect to win. Championship teams don't do those things."
The Eagles know there is nothing remotely super or even particularly impressive about them right now. They came into the game tied for the third-most penalties in the NFL and they were flagged eight more times for 52 yards, including a deadly fourth-quarter illegal-formation penalty on first down right at a point when all the momentum was in their favor.
"Little things like that end up stalling drives and killing drives," center Jason Kelce said. "That's hard to overcome. The red zone, with turnovers and penalties, is what has killed us all season long. We keep leaving points off the board."
Nigel Bradham had just recovered a Kirk Cousins fumble on an ill-conceived play by the Vikings and the Eagles were just 30 yards away from the end zone and their first lead of the game. Instead, the series started with a penalty that negated a 6-yard gain. It would be the first of three penalties on the three-and-out series that resulted in the Eagles going 15 yards backward before punting.
They could have attempted a 57-yard field goal that would have gotten them within three points at 20-17, but Pederson determined that kicker Jake Elliott did not have enough leg and that there was plenty of time for the Eagles to get the ball back. He was counting on his defense to do the second part and that's a dicey proposition these days. Instead, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's crew yielded 55 yards and Dan Bailey, after missing two earlier field goals, connected on a 52-yarder with just over a minute to play.
At that point, the Eagles needed a touchdown and an onside kick recovery to win the game. They got the first thing but not the second, and were saddled with a loss they had truly earned.
In addition to the penalties, they also had two devastating turnovers. On the first one – a Carson Wentz fumble on a sack by Stephen Weatherly – the ball popped into the hands of 329-pound defensive tackle Linval Joseph and was returned 68 yards for a touchdown.
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The second turnover was a Jay Ajayi fumble on the Eagles' opening possession of the second half that negated a drive that had reached Minnesota's 5-yard line. The Eagles are a minus-four in turnover ratio. A year ago, they were a plus-11.
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"You look back to two years ago when we had a 7-9 season, we made mistakes at the end of games and it ended up costing us wins," Kelce said. "Last year we played smart football, we played as a unit, we were in sync, and we won football games. I really do think it's as simple as that as a correction line."
The center does not think the coach needs to take blame for the Eagles' wobbly start.
"No, obviously not," Kelce said. "We were put in a lot of good situations. I think that Doug is just being a good head coach and trying to take one, but the reality is that the penalties and the mistakes and the undisciplined play, I think that's more on us than the coach."
Even if that's true, the thing the Eagles needed the most late in the game were timeouts and it was definitely the coach's fault that they did not have them. He used his first timeout early in the fourth quarter because he did not have a play ready in a fourth-and-1 situation from the Vikings' 20-yard line. The Eagles did get a first down on a pass connection between Wentz and Alshon Jeffrey and eventually scored a touchdown on the drive.
Much worse was the coach's decision to challenge a 13-yard completion from Cousins to Stefon Diggs that happened right in front of Pederson on the Eagles' sideline. Pederson said he was not sure if Diggs had gotten both feet in-bounds before completing the catch. It wasn't close.
Had the coach not wasted two timeouts, the Eagles would have had more than an onsides-kick prayer after they scored with 1 minute, 9 seconds left in the game. Instead, when Adam Thielen recovered the football, the game was over and the 2018 Eagles had lost as many times as the 2017 Eagles.
"I think the level of execution last year was just higher than it is right now," tight end Zach Ertz said. "We can't keep saying that we're going to turn on the switch like last year. It's a different team, a different locker room, different players."
Same head coach, however, and Doug Pederson, author of Fearless: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion, is having some problems with the year-after chapter of his story.