NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
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Mathews fumble, Wentz interception & the damn refs: Fact-checking Sunday’s Eagles loss

Sunday’s loss showed some truths about this Eagles team. And some pants on fire.

The Eagles lost 24-23 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the first blemish in the Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz Era. Trailing 21-10 at the half, the Birds clawed back into the contest to take a lead in the fourth quarter — with the ball with mere minutes remaining and no timeouts for Detroit — before the wheels fell off.

It could have been worse, though. Sure, a one-point loss when you have the ball and a chance to put the game away can be painful, but it could have been a blowout in prime time, with the entire world watching.

The Eagles could have been so preposterously unprepared and unfit to take the same stage as their opponent that it’s all anyone is talking about today and for the next few weeks, probably.

The loss on Sunday could have been so debilitating, demoralizing and disastrous that supporters were jumping off the wagon by the thousands; people wondering if the team will even make it to next week intact.

Instead, it was just a loss to Detroit, albeit a tough one, with the Wentz Wagon still rolling along. That is to say, if any of us can remember what happened before 9 p.m. Sunday night, when the world ended and this parallel universe we’re now living in was created.

Maybe the Eagles are still undefeated in this alternate reality. (Checks schedule…) Nope, still 3-1. (Sniffffffffffffff.) Here are seven things Eagles fans are talking about today, other than Ken Bone, of course. With apologies to our friends at PolitiFact, let’s go ahead and fact-check these seven statements about the Birds’ loss, too.

Ryan Mathews: ‘I just f-ed up.’ (True.)

The Eagles started the season by going 189.5 minutes without a turnover, then had two in two drives to end the game against the Lions.

The first gaffe came on a 3-and-2 run by Ryan Mathews with 2:41 left in the game and the Eagles needing one first down to ostensibly ice the contest. After a field goal gave the Birds the lead, and a subsequent Detroit punt gave them back possession, Mathews put the ball on the carpet. He ran a toss sweep to the right side of the field — Pederson said it was called to get Mathews on the edge against fewer defenders in an effort to get those two yards — when the ball popped out.

Disaster.

It was a bad play call and terrible execution by Mathews, who seemed to purposefully put the ball into his left arm as he cut up field to brace for contact. Had he put the ball in his right arm, as Charles Davis of Fox said during the telecast, he likely falls down with the ball, the Eagles punt and probably win the game. So, yeah, Mathews totally “f-ed” up. True.

‘We didn’t make the play, they made a great play and that’s how it worked.’ (Mostly True.)

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
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After Mathews fumbled and the Eagles gave up a field goal to lose the lead (more on that in a second), Wentz had a chance to bring the Eagles back down the field for what would have been his first two-minute drill comeback victory in his NFL career. It didn’t exactly go according to plan.

That was Wentz’s first career interception. After the game he said, “the coverage kind of dictated that, we didn’t make the play, they made a great play and that’s how it worked.” Pederson said he was “kinda glad [Wentz] got the interception out of the way. There’s a lot of build up on that. He’s played great in the form games and he stood in there tonight, especially with some throws on third downs, and played a good football game.”

He did, and that throw was the third option in his progression, to which Pederson said is a throw that in most cases will have a neutral or positive outcome for the offense, making it was worth the shot.

That’s mostly true too, as the four things that can happen in that situation are: a catch, an incomplete pass, defensive pass interference (spot foul) or an interception. Sure there’s a chance for offensive pass interference too, but that’s unlikely on a route like that. It was worth a shot, it was just a bad throw, and Nelson Agholor got out-muscled as he tried to adjust for the ball.

People ripping Agholor solely for not being stronger to the ball in the air are, perhaps half true.

‘Let them score.’ (Pants on Fire.)

Oct 9, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA;  Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) is tackled short of the end zone by Philadelphia Eagles free safety Rodney McLeod (23) during the first half of a game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After the fumble by Mathews, and before the interception from Wentz, the Lions had the ball inside Eagles territory with just over two minutes to play. The Eagles had all three timeouts when Matthew Stafford hit Golden Tate on a 27-yard completion on the first play after the two-minute warning.

Eagles media and fans had an opinion on what Pederson and Jim Schwartz should have done.

The logic is by letting the Lions score a touchdown, the Eagles would have been down 28-23 with the ball and about 1:45 to play, needing a touchdown to win, but having all three timeouts.

Instead, Pederson opted to stop the clock after each Lions run, and the defense held Detroit from getting a first down to wind the clock down, forcing the field goal with still a lot of time to play.

Wentz got the ball back with 1:28 left and no timeouts, though needing just a field goal. Clearly the right call was to not let them score. Letting the other team score is rarely the right call.

‘Nigel Bradham is a difference maker.’ (True.)

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles
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Nigel Bradham has not had the best week. (Also true.) When he was barely on the field in the first half in Detroit, many speculated Pederson and Schwartz benched him as punishment for being caught with a gun in his bag at the airport during the bye week, his second ridiculous arrest in Florida since joining the Eagles.

Pederson said the lack of first-half time for Bradham was part of the rotation of linebackers, merely to keep him and Jordan Hicks fresh, opting with Stephen Tolluch and Mychal Kendricks for much of the first half.

Pants on fire, Doug.

And yet whatever the reason, the Eagles defense got markedly better once Kendricks was off the field for most of the second half, and once Bradham got more snaps.

The linebacker rotation, and the logic behind it, may not have been the reason the Eagles lost, but it surely was a factor in giving up such a huge lead early in the game.

‘The refs did a great job. Pete Morelli had that game under control.’ (Pants. On. Fire.)

Morelli

Morelli

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody actually said that, because it’s ludicrous. This is some of what they did say:

With just under seven minutes to play, the Eagles kicked a field goal to go up two points, settling for the attempt after their drive was halted by a holding penalty. Brandon Brooks was flagged for a hold 10 yards up field as Mathews was in open space, scampering for a first down. After the penalty, the Eagles were unable to get the first down again and opted for three points.

This was the hold.

brooks-hold

The Eagles were flagged with 14 penalties on Sunday for 111 yards. The Lions? Two flags for 18 yards.

‘The Eagles are a second-half team.’ (Half True.)

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
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The Eagles are a second-half defense.

The Eagles gave up 21 points in the first half on Sunday. They’ve given up just 13 points in the second half this entire season, including three to the Lions on Sunday. Seven of the 13 points surrendered after halftime this year came on a punt return for a score by the Bears in Week 2.

Through four games, the Eagles defense has faced 22 second-half drives and have given up up just six points.

On Sunday, the Birds faced three first-half drives and gave up a touchdown on every one, but after halftime, not only did the Lions not score until the game-winning field goal, but they hadn’t had a drive go for more than eight yards, ending four drives in a fumble and three punts.

The only time the Lions crossed the Eagles’ 45 yard line in the second half was when they picked up the Mathews fumble that led to the game-winning kick.

‘We’re still in a great position.’ (Mostly false.)

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
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Here’s the full quote from Pederson’s press conference: “Still a good football team. Gotta keep your head up. We’re 3-1. We’re still in a great position. We learn from it. We move on.”

Pederson said he was proud of his players for not giving up when they were down several times by two touchdowns. Unlike in the debate on Sunday, he said there was no finger pointing.

The Eagles are fine, and at 3-1 they are currently still in line for the playoffs, which is not something anyone expected to be saying a month ago. But they are not in a ‘great position’ by any stretch. Not after that loss, and not after Dallas beat the living snot out of the Bengals.

Dak Prescott looks every bit as good as Wentz so far this season, and the Cowboys are 4-1 and in first place in the NFC East, heading to Green Bay next week for a tough in-conference battle. The Eagles’ defense is probably better than their counterparts in Dallas, but the offense surely isn’t, now that the Cowboys have figured out how to gameplan for Prescott and fellow rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott.

Oct 9, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA;  Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) scrambles out of the pocket during the first quarter of a game against the Detroit Lions  at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

A quick (early) look at the NFC, and the Vikings are 5-0, the Falcons are 4-1 after a win in Denver and Seattle is 3-1 to lead the other three divisions. The Eagles will be in a season-long tussle with Dallas, but Washington is 3-2 and New York is 2-3 and no cakewalk, despite their recent issues.

The Packers are 3-1 and probable to get one Wild Card if they don’t overtake Minnesota for the North. Who gets the other? The Eagles still have to play Washington twice, the Giants twice and Dallas twice. Even if they split those six games, that’s ostensibly 6-4, with non-divisional games against Minnesota, Atlanta, at Seattle, Green Bay at Cincinnati and at Baltimore. Hopefully some of those teams fall back down to Earth (the Bengals did on Sunday) but their combined record, right now, is 20-8.

Including the NFC East, the Eagles’ remaining opponents are currently 29-14. In a league of parity, that’s scary.

With teams like Arizona 2-3, Carolina, playing Monday, at 1-3, the Rams at 3-2 and even Detroit at 2-3, the Eagles are still fine at 3-1. But this was a bad loss against their weakest remaining opponent. It did not put the Eagles in a ‘great’ position, if the goal is to make the playoffs this year.

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