ATLANTA — What just happened???
Between the rash of injuries, the crazy rallies, the big plays and near misses, lousy Carson Wentz and then great Carson Wentz, this was one bizarre game. But the bottom line is the Eagles weren't good enough. This was a winnable game and they gave it away.
Let's take a look with 10 instant observations off the Eagles' 24-20 loss Sunday to the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
1. Remember when we said the Eagles were playing with fire getting off to all these slow starts? Against the Redskins, you can get away with it. Against the Falcons on the road? Nope. The Eagles were terrible early and even though they did briefly take the lead late in the fourth quarter, the slow start killed them again. They’ve scored touchdowns in two of their last 12 first quarters. They’ve been outscored 30-13 in the first half this year. They’ve gone five straight road games without a first quarter touchdown. They made it interesting. But interesting doesn't win football games. They have to find a way to start fast. It caught up with them Sunday night.
2. What to make of Wentz's performance? Really, the same as the team in general. He was brutal in the first half and fantastic in the second half. Rallied the Eagles to the lead with some vintage Wentz plays. In the end, it wasn’t enough. He was clearly dealing with something physical in the first half — it looked like sore ribs — but the bottom line is he needs to be great from the start of the game, and we’ve been saying it for two years now. He’s a gamer. He bounced back huge in the second half. He nearly pulled off two rallies in the final few minutes. None of it matters because he just can't get going early.
First half: 6-for-16, 47 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 6.2 passer rating
Second half: 18-for-26, 177 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 101 passer rating
3. Nelson Agholor’s performance kind of epitomizes the Eagles’ inconsistency. He has to catch that deep ball just before the two-minute warning. That’s a certain touchdown. Then he somehow hauls in a wild 44-yard jump ball to put the Eagles in position to at least have a chance to win in the final seconds. He also had two early drops and even though he finished with over 100 yards, these are mistakes an elite team just can’t make. With DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery out, the Eagles needed Agholor to be great, and he had some great moments but too many disappointing ones.
4. It was encouraging to see the defense pick off three passes, something the Eagles hadn’t done in nearly two years. In fact, last year they only had one game with two interceptions, and they only had four INTs through six weeks. When your offense is down two receivers — three for a bit — and a tight end and running back, and the O-line is struggling, somebody has to raise their level, and Sidney Jones, Ronald Darby and Nate Gerry all picked off Matt Ryan. It's only the 10th time in 176 career games he’s thrown three INTs. For Darby, it wasn’t really enough to offset a terrible game trying to cover Calvin Ridley, but those were all huge plays and kept the Eagles in the game when there were a lot of reasons they shouldn’t have been in the game.
5. There was some uncharacteristically conservative play-calling from Doug Pederson — letting the clock run out before the two-minute warning in the first half, running plays on two 2nd-and-2s and a 2nd-and-3. Normally, I’d really question that, but considering who he had and who he didn’t have, it really did make sense. Pederson's DNA is to be aggressive, but this is part of what makes him a great coach, the ability to sense the situation and adjust.
6. I really thought the Eagles would be able to come in here and hammer the football on the ground. And Pederson tried early, but it just didn’t happen. Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard combined for 18 carries for 46 yards — 2.6 yards a pop. So, the final run-pass ratio was 41 called passes, 19 called runs, and that’s just a little too out of whack. The Eagles should be able to run the ball better than this. And Darren Sproles, who got too many touches last week, had zero on offense Sunday night, which mystifies me as much as when he got 16 against the Redskins.
7. Overall, this was not a good night for the offensive line. They got going a little bit late but overall they allowed too much pressure and really didn’t take command of the line of scrimmage in a matchup where I thought they could. And no excuses. This group is healthy. The Eagles need to lean on that O-line, and they couldn’t Sunday night.
8. Mack Hollins hadn’t caught a pass since the Atlanta playoff game in 2017. I give that kid so much credit. He came up huge when the Eagles really needed him, and that 17-yard catch on the crazy Wentz scramble in the fourth quarter was an incredible play by Wentz but it was also really good stuff from Hollins. He was targeted seven times and caught five passes for 50 yards. I thought he was in danger of getting cut in favor of Greg Ward. He showed Sunday night he belongs.
9. I know a lot of people had this one marked down as a loss, so it’s easy to say, “Hey, the Lions are coming to town, they’ll be 2-1.” But nothing is guaranteed. And this game was winnable. You just can’t give games away. The big plays are killing them on defense and the inconsistency is killing them on offense. This team through two weeks has shown flashes of greatness but they haven’t been able to sustain them. The challenge for Pederson is to find a way to jump on teams and put them away. Until that happens, they won’t be an elite team.
10. The Eagles face some tough personnel decisions here depending on how badly Jeffery and Jackson are hurt. These don’t look like IR injuries, but it sure seems like they’re going to need some healthy receivers. Greg Ward is on the practice squad and so is a kid named Marcus Green. But to add someone you have to cut someone or IR someone. Very tough situation. They’ve gone from great depth at the position to no depth.
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