DETROIT — Two games in Detroit. Two nightmares. Two losses in very different ways.
The Eagles’ perfect season crumbled Sunday in Detroit, where they battled back from a 14-point second quarter deficit, took the lead in the fourth quarter, then gave the game away on Ryan Mathews’ shocking fumble with 2:51 left and the Eagles up two.
The Lions, who crushed the Eagles, 45-14, here last Thanksgiving during the final sad days of Chip Kelly’s reign, scored their only second-half points in the final minutes on a field goal after Mathews’ fumble and beat the Eagles, 24-23 (see Instant Replay).
It negated a remarkable comeback by rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who was less than three minutes away from becoming the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to go 4-0.
This won’t be fun.
But here are today’s 10 Instant Observations.
1. It was shocking to see a defense that played so brilliantly the first three weeks of the season fall to pieces like the Eagles’ defense did in the first half. The Eagles faced three drives before halftime and gave up touchdown drives of 75, 80 and 75 yards, the first time they’ve opened up a game allowing three straight long TD drives like that in at least 19 years – or as far back as the Pro-Football Reference drive search function goes. Now, the defense did obviously rebound in a huge way — more on that below — but it looked like they just weren’t ready to play in that first half. Kudos to everybody for turning things around, but whatever happened in the first half — bad coverage, missed tackles, stupid penalties — can’t happen again. The Eagles did come back and take the lead in the fourth quarter, but ultimately those 21 points they allowed early cost them a game.
2. Not much to say about Mathews' fumble. He’s a veteran back and he just can’t let that happen. You’re not getting a first down, you’re not getting any more yards, so tuck the ball in so Darius Slay can’t get his helmet on the football. It’s not like he was holding the ball out and asking for trouble like Shady used to do, but at that point, fighting for extra yards is pointless. Secure the ball and let Donnie Jones punt it deep.
3. Dorial Green-Beckham did make a few plays Sunday, but both he and Nelson Agholor have to come down with six points on that one third-quarter field goal drive. Agholor looked like he was more focused on getting his feet inbounds in the near right corner of the end zone and didn’t focus on the football and just flat-out whiffed on it. Two plays later, DGB went up in the end zone and maybe got interfered with a bit, but it’s really a ball he should come down with as well. Here we are with the hottest rookie quarterback in NFL history, and he’s got one wide receiver he can truly count on.
4. Speaking of Agholor. He’s now 17 games into his career and I am just not seeing anything special from him. He did catch that TD against the Browns, but four games in he’s got 15 catches for 147 yards. But more than the numbers. I just don’t see any hope of him putting it all together. Even on that Wentz interception in the final seconds, it was an underthrown ball, but break it up. If you can’t catch it, tackle Slay. Do anything. Try to knock it down. He looked lost on the play. First-round pick and I’m just not seeing it.
5. One constant during a challenging day was Wentz, who for the first time in his brief NFL career was out there playing with some adversity around him. The Eagles won their first three games by 15 points apiece, and Wentz was able to play free and easy. But the Eagles were down 14 much of the first half — either 14-0 or 21-7 — and Wentz never tried to do too much. It was still early and he ran the offense, stayed within himself, didn’t try to force things — other than maybe two early passes — and just kept battling until he got into a nice rhythm in the second half. He did finally throw his first NFL interception on a desperate bomb in the final seconds, but the offense never should have even been in that position. I thought all things considered — the big early deficit, the penalties around him, the incredibly loud dome — this may have been his best game yet.
6. Wentz finished 25 of 33 passes for 238 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception. Let’s take a step back and look at what Wentz has done the first month of his career. His numbers through four games: 91 for 135 (67.4 percent) for 1,007 yards with seven touchowns and one interception for a 103.5 passer rating. Insane. The Eagles may have lost a game, but there is no question they have a quarterback.
7. I officially don’t feel doubt any longer when Caleb Sturgis comes out to kick a big field goal. He’s been very good. After beating out Cody Parkey this summer, Sturgis missed his first goal this year, a 46-yarder against the Browns, and has made 10 straight since, including three in a row Sunday. Among those three was a 50-yarder before halftime and a 49-yarder to give the Eagles their first lead at 23-21 with 6:40 left in the game. Those are pressure kicks, and he was money. Sturgis was a 78 percent kicker with the Dolphins, but he’s at 85 percent with the Eagles. He’s quietly been exceptional this year, and he was massive Sunday. Honestly, I didn’t know if he had it in him. He does.
8. I’ve always been a big believer in Mychal Kendricks, his athleticism and playmaking ability. But right now it’s just not happening for him. He’s always been a playmaker with a penchant for over-running or missing tackles. But you could stomach the occasional mistake because he was around the ball, getting tackles for loss, forcing fumbles, picking up interceptions and sacks. Sunday, Kendricks got extended playing time in the first half in place of Nigel Bradham — who may have been being disciplined by Doug Pederson, we don’t know yet — and he struggled. If Bradham does get suspended, I would rather see the Eagles swing Jordan Hicks outside and play Stephen Tulloch inside when they’re in base than run Kendricks out there all the time. He’s young, he’s in his prime, and he should be getting better, but he seems to be getting worse. I’m not quite sure why, but I know when he’s out there, this defense is not as good.
9. One more word on the defense: As bad as it was early, it was brilliant in the second half and really gave the Eagles a chance to win the game. The Eagles have still not allowed a second-half touchdown this year on defense, and that’s remarkable after a quarter of the season. Defensive adjustments were a huge issue around here the last few years, and more than that, just a defense wearing out. This defense gets stronger as games go on, and we’ve seen it every week. They've allowed just six total points after halftime all year.
10. A few final words on the penalties. I know there was a huge disparity. It ended up being 14 for 111 for the Eagles to 2 for 18 for the Lions. I know there were some bad calls. I know there were some holds the refs missed. I know they kind of lost their minds when they called Connor Barwin for being illegally down the field, a penalty they later rescinded. But let’s be honest. Most of the penalties — not all, but most — were legit. And they were the result of a lack of discipline. And that’s inexcusable. The refs were bad, I don’t disagree. But the Eagles brought a lot of this on themselves.