PHILADELPHIA — Once inside the sanctuary of their locker room, the Eagles finally looked like the cohesive unit they needed to be for four quarters on the field.
At long last, players on both sides of the ball were operating in unison, following the same script and disseminating the same message. But the postgame solidarity was too little too late.
In the face of criticisms about their anemic offense and lack of playmaking receivers, Eagles defenders refused to cast blame on their counterparts. When questions arose about the uneven play (and blatant miscues) of Carson Wentz, the quarterback’s teammates took turns reiterating their faith in their QB and the team's commitment to being a united front.
And in the aftermath of an underwhelming and inexplicable 17-10 home loss to the New England Patriots — a game in which Philly seized momentum early and later relinquished control of the scoreboard despite an abysmal outing by Tom Brady — Eagles players tried their best to show that all hope is not lost. Instead, they stressed that Wentz is playing “at a high level” and that they’re collectively only a few plays away from being the team they always envisioned.
“I think at any point if we let what’s going on outside the locker room get to us, that’ll break this team apart,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox told Yahoo Sports, while donning a white Reggie White Eagles jersey after the game. “But we’re so strong together, man, we’re one big family. We talk about it all the time: Stay together, nobody point fingers. Get in and correct it.”
"This locker room is fine,” Cox continued. “There’s never friction in this locker room. Coach [Doug] Pederson does a good job, me, myself, as a leader does a good job, and all the other leaders do a good job of making sure there’s no friction in this locker room. Everything is fine. There’s no beef in this locker room.”
But this was a game the Eagles desperately needed — not simply to keep their playoff hopes alive but also to reaffirm everything they have told themselves to this point. A team still in need of an identity needed to prove on Sunday that they’re as talented, as hungry and as focused as they profess themselves to be. And there was no better litmus test on this blustery afternoon than the gold-standard Patriots.
Had Wentz (20-for-40 for 214 yards, one TD, five sacks) and the Eagles offense (3-for-13 on third down) performed better, they would be riding a three-game winning streak heading into next week’s showdown with Seattle.
Instead, Philly is now 5-5 and questions still linger about the makeup of this team and its dwindling playoff chances.
Tight end Zach Ertz isn’t hitting the panic button just yet, “but it is crunch time now," he acknowledged. "Early in the year you can kind of say, ‘We’ll find a way.’ But the time is now. We’ve just got to find a way. Whatever it takes.”
The shame of it is: This Super Bowl LII rematch should have been a statement game for the Eagles. But self-imposed penalties, third-down inefficiency and wasted opportunities doomed a squad that, according to safety Malcolm Jenkins, felt “disrespected” by doubters who already had written them off in the first half of the season.
The shame of it is: Brady looked less like The G.O.A.T. and more like a slow-moving mountain goat against an inspired, feisty and high-flying defense. At times, Brady appeared unsure, untrusting of his receivers and flustered by the Eagles’ defensive front. And had it not been for a different type of trick play between these two teams — with 10:55 to play in the third quarter, Patriots wide receiver and former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett to give the Patriots their first lead of the game — the final outcome would’ve fallen in Philly’s favor.
Eagles players insisted they weren’t thinking about their triumph of two seasons ago, that dramatic, unexpected Super Bowl win over Brady. Perhaps they should spend a little more time thinking about the past because this team, as it’s currently constructed, doesn’t at all resemble the resilient bunch of affable upstarts who crashed the playoff party and dethroned the league’s most formidable quarterback-coach tandem. Since their raucous, wild ride two years ago — which ended with a parade along Broad Street and Jason Kelce’s impassioned, profanity-laced speech on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — the Eagles have underachieved.
They squeaked into the playoffs and endured a quicker-than-expected exit last season, but nevertheless entered 2019 with lofty expectations. This was the year many thought Philly would go on another deep playoff run and reclaim its championship hardware. But these Eagles have been consistently inconsistent and their offense, yet again, disappointing.
“You can’t put it on one guy,” Ertz said, referring to their offensive struggles against New England. “If one guy has a bad play, you’re not going to be effective on third down. I’m not going to say it was one person over and over cause that’s not the case.”
The Eagles orchestrated a 16-play, 95-yard first-quarter drive that gave them an initial 10-3 lead. But they never scored again after right tackle Lane Johnson left the game with a head injury.
Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth, but he couldn’t haul in the lofty Wentz throw and dropped the ball in the back of the end zone with cornerback J.C. Jackson draped all over him.
After the game, the Eagles refused to use offensive injuries as an excuse. They also made sure to publicly share the blame for Sunday’s loss.
Asked how “frustrating” it was to watch the offense struggle, Cox replied: “We got these guys’ back 100 percent, man. We’re not pointing fingers. That’s not what this locker room’s about. We’re one family. We win together, we lose together. Nobody’s pointing fingers at anybody."
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