The last time the Eagles filed off their field against the Minnesota Vikings, they planned a Super Bowl trip and light poles were greased on Broad Street. This time, they had a losing record and didn’t resemble any of the characteristics of the team that made history in Philadelphia.
The Eagles fell to 2-3 after a 23-21 loss to the Vikings on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. If there wasn’t panic arriving at the stadium, then they should be more alarmed after dropping back-to-back games for the first time since December 2016. That was also the last time they had a losing record — and they’re playing closer to that team than a championship contender.
“If you look back two years ago, a 7-9 season, we made mistakes at the end of games that ended up costing us wins,” center Jason Kelce said. “Last year, we played smart football, played as a unit, in sync, and we won football games. I really do think it’s as simple as that. … Everybody’s got to take a long look in the mirror.”
What they see after Sunday won’t be pretty — especially on offense. The Eagles fumbled twice, including one that was returned for a touchdown and one 6 yards away from the end zone. They scored only three first-half points. And when they had the ball at the Vikings’ 30-yard line in the fourth quarter down by six points with a chance to win, two penalties knocked them backward and they were forced to punt.
“It starts with me,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I want to make sure that the guys understand that we can’t do these things. We can’t self-inflict and expect to win. Championship teams just don’t do that.”
Carson Wentz finished 24 of 35 for 311 yards with two touchdowns and a fumble. Zach Ertz led receivers with 10 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Jay Ajayi rushed eight times for 29 yards and also fumbled. The Eagles were penalized eight times for 52 yards. It was the fifth time this season they failed to score more than 23 points.
The Eagles didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, when Wendell Smallwood’s 12-yard scoring run (and subsequent two-point conversion) cut a 20-6 deficit to 20-14. The home crowd had been disappointed throughout the afternoon, but the fans started to come to life after that score.
The excitement reached a crescendo when Nigel Bradham jumped on the ball after the Vikings threw an errand backward pass. The Eagles regained possession at Minnesota’s 30-yard line. A touchdown and extra point would have given them the lead. A field goal would make it a three-point game.
So what happened? The Eagles committed an illegal formation to nullify a 6-yard gain, a penalty that pushed them back to first-and-15 and Pederson considered inexcusable. After a Vikings penalty, Wentz was charged with intentional grounding to make it third-and-20. The offense was left with a fourth-and-20 from the 40-yard line.
“We have a chance as an offense to pretty much put us in position to win the game … and we go backwards,” Ertz said. “That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
Pederson turned down a 58-yard field-goal try and decided to take a delay of game and punt. The Eagles considered the 35-yard line and in to be kicker Jake Elliott’s range on Sunday, and they were 5 yards beyond. Pederson did not consider it a moment for a desperation field goal.
The problem was the defense allowed the Vikings to drive down for a field goal to make it a nine-point game, and there was not enough time for the Eagles to come back. They scored a late touchdown, but they helped fantasy football owners more than Eagles fans. The missed opportunity earlier in the fourth quarter was their undoing.
“These little mistakes that can sometimes go overlooked are killing us,” Wentz said. “We’re playing like we’re a young, rookie team, and we’re not.”
If it was just about that fourth-quarter sequence, it might be easier to digest. But the problems occurred earlier in the game, too.
The Eagles defense, which held the Vikings to only 16 points, lived up to its bend-but-don’t-break billing at home. And the offense, which entered the game with only seven first-quarter points in four games, had two three-and-outs in the first quarter before a second-quarter field goal.
With a 3-3 score and possession, the Eagles made a crucial error. Lane Johnson was beaten by Stephen Weatherly, who sacked Wentz. The ball popped loose. Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph caught it and rumbled 64 yards for a game-changing touchdown.
“I have to pick my game up,” Johnson said. “I’ll bite the bullet on this one.”
The Eagles offense continued to stagnate, and then the Vikings made it a two-possession game before halftime after the officials threw the flag on a Michael Bennett sack. Bennett dragged Kirk Cousins down below his knees, prompting the officials to call roughing the passer. It was the first time the Eagles have been victims of the new point of emphasis by officials, and the crowd was furious. There was booing and choice words, and the fans only became more enraged when the Vikings turned the penalty into a 3-yard touchdown pass two plays later to take a 17-3 lead into halftime.
“He went low into the quarterback’s knees with his shoulder, with force,” referee Walt Coleman said of Bennett.
There was offensive promise to begin the third quarter, with two third-down conversions that helped the Eagles drive all the way to the Vikings 6-yard line. But Ajayi lost the ball and the Vikings recovered. The turnover spoiled a pristine scoring chance.
Jalen Mills, who had been the subject of fans’ anger throughout the week, was beaten by Vikings receiver Adam Thielen for a 68-yard gain on the next play. Although the Eagles kept the Vikings to only a field goal on that possession, that gave Minnesota a 20-3 lead.
It was too much to overcome. When the Eagles beat Minnesota in January, they were the team that forced turnovers and capitalized with touchdowns. On Sunday, the Vikings did it to them. And with three losses in five games, the Eagles’ problems have become a weekly trend. They have only three days to fix it before playing the New York Giants on Thursday.
“Frustrated? Yes. Concerned? No,” Wentz said. “We have veteran guys on this team, guys that have been through it all, know how to win. I think we’ll get this thing going.”
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