The Eagles lost. People are mad at Doug Pederson. This is what happens against Dallas.
This is the type of game you should expect when you travel to Dallas with first place in the NFC East on the line. Yes, the Eagles were up 10 in the second half, but it’s Dallas and Philly in prime time. It was always going to get wacky.
Sure, we didn’t expect Doug Pederson to suddenly clam up and call dinks, dunks and screen passes the entire fourth quarter, while the Eagles either forgot how or chose not to stretch the field at all in the final 15 minutes.
No, we did not anticipate Pederson coming out of the halftime locker room in his Halloween costume: second-half Andy Reid.
That — Dallas or not — was a scary surprise. (Boo.)
The game was formally lost in overtime when Dallas decided to go for a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 while in field goal range, scoring a touchdown just five plays later. But it never should have gotten to overtime. The Eagles had the chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter and they blew it. Pederson blew it.
With seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Eagles up seven points, Carson Wentz led the Eagles on a 10-play drive that ate up more than four minutes of clock, reaching the Dallas 32 yard line. On first down, the Birds tried a gadget play where Wentz tossed a lateral to Josh Huff who threw an incomplete pass.
On second down, Wentz handed off to Kenjon Barner, for two yards.
On third down, still well within field goal range, Wentz threw a screen pass to Darren Sproles that lost the Eagles six yards, pushing them back to the Dallas 36 yard line.
Caleb Sturgis had hit a field goal from the 37 at the end of the first half, but instead of trying the long field goal to go back up by 10 points, Pederson opted to punt. Any positive play on that third down would have been a guaranteed field goal attempt, but for some reason, Pederson panicked — my word, not his — and went with the punt.
“The play is designed to get Sproles the ball out in space,” Pederson explained after the game. “The linebacker actually made a play on it. Designed for that look, for that coverage. It knocked us out of field goal range at that time.”
Only, it didn’t. They were still within field goal range for Sturgis. Pederson just opted to punt anyway.
“Defensively we were gaining a little momentum,” Pederson said. “I felt comfortable doing that, making that decision.”
When pressed as to why he didn’t let Sturgis try the kick that would have assuredly iced the game, Pederson did his best to muster a suitable answer. “Field position at that time is critical,” he said. “[Sturgis] did kick the one before half, which was an excellent kick with no time left on the clock. Had we executed a little bit better on the third down play we would have been in a little bit better position to kick a field goal at that time, but we just didn’t execute on the play before.”
Dallas fielded the punt, then went on an 11-play, 90-yard drive to tie the score at 23.
The Eagles had nine snaps the rest of the game. One was a penalty. Three others went for negative yards. Two were punts.
“Those are ones I’m kind of kicking myself over,” Wentz said in the postgame press conference. “We had two chances to go and win the game in regulation and we didn’t get it done.
“Anytime you lose in a game like this in overtime it’s frustrating,” he added. “And to be in control, in the fourth quarter, it’s tough. We just didn’t execute down the stretch there. We didn’t make enough plays, they made more plays than us, and it’s frustrating, but we’ll learn from it.”
They have no choice but to learn from it. At 4-3 they are very much in the playoff hunt. But things could have been so much better right now. And yet, here we are. And here are seven other things the Eagles, and the rest of us, can learn from. It’s Halloween. Try not to let the loss get you down too much.
‘So who won in Dak vs. Wentz?’
Dak won the game, so he won the rookie quarterback competition.
That’s not fair to say all the time — Wentz won last week but was pretty terrible in that game — but this week it’s true. Prescott wasn’t great, but he made a ton of big plays when he needed to and, frankly, Wentz didn’t.
Prescott ended the game just 19-for-39 but had 287 yards two TD passes and one interception, adding seven rushes for 38 yards and a score on the ground too. The interception was awful, at the goal line with a chance to put points on the board, but he more than made up for it later in the game.
Wentz was the other way around. His numbers were efficient — 32-for-43 for 202 yards and a score — but he didn’t even try to throw the ball down the field, despite Pederson saying those plays were in the game plan. And in the fourth quarter when his team needed something magical, he shrunk from the spotlight. Well, his offense did.
‘Running back by committee is a horrible idea. Just give the ball to Sproles.’
Darren Sproles kept the Eagles in the game on Sunday. He rushed for 86 yards on just 15 carries, adding five receptions for 17 yards. No other running back had more than four carries.
Ryan Mathews, who has had fumble issues in the fourth quarter this year, had just four carries all game.
Kenjon Barner had three.
Wendell Smallwood had one, a fourth quarter fumble. It led to a field goal that gave the Cowboys life and got them back in the game.
‘At least they cleaned up the penalties’
The officials were terrible. And yet, the Eagles had just five penalties for 40 yards to 11 for 84 yards for Dallas. For a team with double-digit penalties in back-to-back weeks, having just five calls go against them, some of them wildly bogus, wasn’t bad.
‘Nelson Agholor stinks…’
This could take a while. A lot of people had mean things to say about Agholor.
Agholor had three catches on four targets. And also this play, which was an incompletion nullified because of a penalty. Even when he does something good he seems to screw it up. If the Eagles don’t trade for another receiver they should think about trading him before Tuesday’s deadline and rolling with a member of the practice squad.
‘…and the other receivers aren’t much better’
This could take a while too. In fact, let’s lead with the head coach, who was asked about all the drops. Pederson told reporters after the game, “this is the National Football League, you know. You either make plays or you don’t.”
Psst. Doug: They don’t. Which probably means someone is getting benched. Or traded. Or cut. Of Wentz’s 11 incompletions, at least six were drops. That’s bad.
‘Allen Barbre is hurt. Thanks LANE.’
Lane Johnson is still serving his suspension, and while the Eagles opted not to move Allen Barbre from guard to tackle, they still needed a guard to replace him on Sunday. He got hurt, missing most of the game, replaced by Stefen Wisniewski. Pederson didn’t know after the game how hurt Barbre was, but it was bad enough that the Eagles finished the contest with just one spare lineman. This could be an issue, especially with Jason Peters due for a missed game at some point and Jason Kelce limping up and down the field on Sunday.
‘Brandon Graham is earning that Madden rating’
Something positive! Expect to be hearing a lot from Graham all season. He had six combined tackles on Sunday, including a tackle for loss, and also had one QB hurry and one pass defensed. He was constantly putting pressure in the Cowboys’ backfield, especially early in the game. Marcus Smith was active early too, and Jordan Hicks is a really fine NFL defender, making a ton of big plays. Fletcher Cox was MIA for much of the game, again, which is frustrating given how much of a cornerstone he was supposed to be, but the defensive line bottled Ezekiel Elliott up for much of the game, and the secondary did well too.
The entire defense played okay, not great, but probably well enough to win a divisional game on the road. That is, until the 90-yard drive. And overtime. They were bad.
‘What if: The playoff picture game’
What if the Eagles had won? They would be 5-2, tied with Dallas atop the NFC East but ahead on tiebreakers. Minnesota, who plays Monday night, would be the top seed, despite the loss to Philly, while the Eagles would currently have the second seed. Seattle, despite losing at New Orleans, would be third at 4-2-1 and Atlanta would be fourth at 5-3, based on percentage points. (Again. It’s early.)
Green Bay and Dallas would be in line for the Wild Card slots right now. Things would be looking great for Philly.
Instead, Dallas is the top seed in the NFC, depending on what the Vikings do this week. Seattle and Atlanta are three and four, respectively, but the Packers are fifth and the Giants, somehow, are sixth.
The Eagles would currently miss the playoffs. That’s how close things are at this point in the season, and how big a win at Dallas would have been. The loss was, yes, bad.
Speaking of bad. Lots of people were talking about this photo during the game. Surely it’ll be a topic of conversation this week. Insert your own bridge/lawsuit/Trump joke here.