While offense has been the driving force behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ wins, defensive letdowns have been a major factor in their losses this season.
Eagles coach Andy Reid looks to get a more complete effort from his team when it visits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Philadelphia (4-2) came out flat on Sunday at New Orleans, falling behind 17-3 by halftime. The Eagles scored on three straight possessions in the second half to take a 24-17 lead. That lead lasted for a mere two minutes, though, as the defense once again failed to finish off an opponent in a close game.
Philadelphia gave up the final 10 points of the game, and allowed the Saints to hold the ball for the final 8:26 of the fourth quarter before John Carney kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired in the 27-24 defeat.
“We have to get off the field. No excuses,” linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “That’s all there is to it.”
In their only other loss this season, to the New York Giants in Week 2, the Eagles wasted a 17-point fourth-quarter lead before losing 30-24 in overtime.
“We need to start fast and finish stronger,” Reid said. “We need to do a better job in the first quarter and fourth quarter. We need to stay aggressive with our calls. We have to do better. We’ll get it fixed.”
The Eagles are giving up 341.2 yards a game, the seventh-most in the league and the most by a team with a winning record.
Behind quarterback Donovan McNabb, though, Philadelphia leads the NFL in total offense with 2,414 yards and is averaging 29.8 points—third-most in the league.
McNabb leads the NFL in passing yards (1,849), touchdowns (13) and yards per attempt (8.89). He also has thrown only two interceptions this season, and his streak of 157 consecutive passes without an interception ended on a desperation toss on the final play of the first half against the Saints.
“Everyone understands the mistakes that we made and the opportunities that we’ve missed,” said McNabb, who finished 19 of 32 for 247 yards and two TDs last Sunday.
Six of McNabb’s completions went to Reggie Brown, who finished with 121 yards and scored on a 60-yard reception to give the wide receiver two straight games with a touchdown catch of 40 or more yards. Brown has five scores on only 23 offensive touches this season.
McNabb has put up pedestrian numbers against the Buccaneers (1-4) in three regular season games, but has had much better performances against them in three playoff meetings. The five-time Pro Bowler is 35-for-72 with 301 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the regular season against Tampa Bay, while going 66-of-107 for 598 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in the postseason.
While Philadelphia lost a game in the final seconds last week, the Buccaneers won one. Tampa Bay avoided going 0-5 for the first time since 1996 with a dramatic 14-13 win over Cincinnati on Sunday.
“It was our time,” Clayton said. “This team has been through so much.”
The Bucs, who won the NFC South last season with an 11-5 record, lost their previous two games by a combined five points.
Gradkowski completed 25 of 44 passes for 184 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on Sunday, and was 6-of-8 for 57 yards on the winning drive.
“He’s a tough guy, he’s a very tough guy,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said of Gradkowski. “Mentally tough, not just physically tough, though he is physically tough. He shows great resolve and its a key component I think you have to have to turn the corner someday in this league.”
After averaging just nine points in their first three games of the season, the Bucs are averaging 17.5 points with Gradkowski running the offense.
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams is also starting to get back on track after getting off to a slow start this season. Williams has 205 yards on 39 carries for a 5.3 average in his last two games, after gaining just 107 yards on 47 attempts for a 2.5 average in his first three.