What Eagles' offense learned from disastrous Tampa playoff game

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What Eagles' offense learned from Tampa playoff disaster originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Eagles-Buccaneers wild-card game at Raymond James Stadium. A year ago this week. The moment the Eagles had been waiting for since the start of training camp.

First quarter. First play.

And they knew right away something wasn’t right.

“Dude, first play we came out, I will never forget that,” Jordan Mailata said Tuesday. “First play. We had three plays, and we couldn’t run any of those three plays. We had three audibles built in.

“It was like, ‘What the hell?’ That’s how I knew we were thrown into the deep end.”

Right from the jump, the Buccaneers seemed to have answers for everything the Eagles tried. This was the defending Super Bowl champs against a young, inexperienced team with a 23-year-old quarterback and a rookie head coach.

It felt like a mismatch right from the very first play.

“For some reason they came out in a defense that we had not planned,” Mailata recalls now.

The Eagles did eventually run a play - “I think it was just an outside zone to the right,” Mailata said. “It was like, ‘Bleep it. Like BLEEP IT!’ I’ll never forget it. It was like a welcome to the playoffs moment.”

The play the Eagles ran on first down – a Miles Sanders run - actually did gain seven yards. But the game between the Bucs’ No. 6 defense and the Eagles’ 12th-ranked offense really was a mismatch.

The Bucs shut out the Eagles for three quarters, limiting them to 154 yards and no points on their first nine drives. Those drives resulted in six punts, two interceptions and an unsuccessful fourth down.

The Eagles were 3-for-12 on third down on those first nine drives with just seven first downs.

It wasn’t just the first play. It was all the plays. The Eagles ran 46 plays in the first three quarters netting 179 yards and no points.

The Bucs were up 31-0 before the Eagles scored a couple late touchdowns.

“That’s kind of how we played the rest of the game,” Mailata said. “We didn’t set the bar high, and I think that’s what we’re going to aim to do this year. Set the standard high. Come out and play aggressive, whatever gameplan we do.

“We know as an offensive line we have to set the tone and I think that’s what we’re going to do this year. We try to do it every game. That’s our goal. Set the tone. Set the standard for the trenches. Battles are won up front. It’s a fact. You have a crappy o-line? Oh, bleeping good luck. Crappy d-line? Oh good luck.

“That was last year, though, and it was against a different team. This year I know we’ve corrected a lot of mistakes. It’s just formulating a game plan that we know works well with the players we’ve got in this room to maximize the strengths and skill sets of the players on this team.”

The Bucs wound up winning 31-15, but it was the first time the Eagles were held scoreless through three quarters of a postseason game since their 14-0 wild-card loss to the 49ers at Candlestick in 1996. The 31-point deficit going into the fourth quarter was the largest in franchise history.

They were never in the game.

Mailata said the Tampa debacle – the first play, all the plays – became a real teaching point for the offense.

Everyone on the offensive line now has playoff experience. In fact, every offensive starter has playoff experience.

And as they prepare for their conference semifinal game Saturday at the Linc against the Giants, they’re all committed to making sure nothing like last year ever happens again.

“Playoff time, everything’s a little bit extra,” Mailata said. “The intensity. The discipline. The football IQ. It all has to be raised to a different bar because it’s playoff time and sudden elimination. So everyone’s playing with this urgency.

“I’m glad we were able to get into (the playoffs) last year so all the young guys, including myself, get that experience. (Take) what happened and carry it over to this year and make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”