The Eagles’ loss on Sunday was decided by three calamitous plays — two self-inflicted, and one entirely out of their control.
By Al Thompson
One can make the argument that the Eagles’ 23–21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings (2–2–1) on Sunday was decided by three calamitous plays. Two were self-inflicted, one was out of their control.
The first self-inflicted play was the second-quarter strip sack by defensive end Stephen Weatherly of Carson Wentz, who fumbled the ball right into the arms of Minnesota’s 329-pound defensive tackle, Linval Joseph, who somehow rambled untouched 64 yards for a touchdown. That made the score 10–3 with 4:12 left in the first half.
The second self-inflicted fateful play came when running back Jay Ajayi fumbled at the end of the drive that opened the second half.
The Eagles (2–3) trailed 17–3 at intermission. Wentz drove the Birds all the way to the Vikings’ 6-yard line. Ajayi took the handoff. The turnover was a backbreaker, for sure. It led to another Vikings field goal. But how did the Eagles fall that far behind?
They fell behind because of a play they could not practice, coach or prevent from happening.
With 36 seconds left in the half and the Vikings facing a second and six from the Birds’ 23-yard line, Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett looked like he had sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for an eight-yard loss. The veteran pass rusher was hit with a controversial roughing the passer call. Bennett looked like he may have been shoved to the ground by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and wrapped up Cousins’ legs on the way down.
The quarterback bent his knees cleanly, as if to submit that the play was over and he was sacked.
Eagles players begged for a reversal, but their protests fell on deaf ears.
The flag set the Vikings up with a first down at the Eagles’ 11-yard line. Two plays later, Cousins hit wide receiver Adam Thielen with a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Fans, players and coaches across the NFL were asking questions right after the play and in the locker room after the game, and will no doubt be talking about this call for a while.
Fans at the Linc booed and chanted obscenities at the refs with anger after watching replays on the stadium big screens. Nothing was going to change what had happened
At his locker after the game, team leader, safety Malcolm Jenkins, did not care that the network penalty expert said it was a bad call.
“It’s too late at this point,” Jenkins said. “I think it’s unfortunate only because I don’t know what to tell Mike (Bennett) in that situation besides, ‘Don’t do your job, just fall on the ground and allow the quarterback to extend the play?’ ”
The Vikings offensive line seemed to come up with amnesia when asked about the play.
“I didn’t really see it, I was trying to block my guy,” right guard Mike Remmers said at his locker.
“I don’t know. You guys would probably know better.”
Remmers was asked if he heard the reaction from the stands.
“I don’t think they would have liked any call unless it was a blatant penalty,” said the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder, who appeared on replays to have been able to see most of the play. “I didn’t see it, I’m not sure about it.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was also vague about what he saw or didn’t see and again threw it back to the media.
“I saw the replay and I saw him go at the quarterback low,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to tell roughing the passers [penalties] anymore. I’m not saying it was a bad call. I’m saying that’s what it looked like to me, but I couldn’t tell.”
The coach was asked if the low-hit penalty on Cousins was a big turning point in the game. Like his linemen, Zimmer’s memory was convenient.
“Yeah. So many things happened that it’s hard for me to remember everything.”
Cousins was asked if he thinks he should have given himself up when he was grabbed by the ankles to protect himself.
“No, just play the game,” said Cousins, who was 30-of-37 for 301 yards and one touchdown pass. “Just looking for the open guy, and he hit me. I am going through my reads. You certainly watch some good quarterbacks who protect themselves and protect the football and make sure they are not exposing themselves. I’ll do that from time to time as well. The key thing is just keeping two hands on the ball and trying to make sure you don’t make a bad situation worse.”
Cousins was asked if the penalty was a game-altering call.
“Yeah, it helped,” he said. “We got a touchdown but we always talk about two-minute at the end of the half and the importance of going down and getting points and making sure we burn enough clock so they are not getting the ball back with an opportunity to get points. From a situational standpoint, that was really great execution and we were pleased with the way we ended the half. Would have loved to have a little more offensive explosiveness in the second half but we had plays there and just didn’t finish them.”
Jenkins said he knows the Vikings players and coaches got a big break on the call.
“They see the same thing,” Jenkins said. “If that was their team, I don’t know what they would tell their teammate, either. That’s the hard part about some of these calls. You don’t even know how to coach it, you don’t know how to correct it. We get it….player safety. You want to keep quarterbacks healthy.”
Jenkins then paused for a second to collect his thoughts.
“I don’t know how to sack the quarterback at this point.” *
Birdseed: Eagles starting running back Jay Ajayi is done for the year. In this, his fourth season, Ajayi rushed 45 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles listed his knee as the reason to put him in injured reserve…Carson Wentz recorded season highs in completion percentage (68.6 percent, 24-of-35), yards per attempt (8.9), passing TDs (2, tied) and passer rating (115.3)…Zach Ertz led the Eagles with 10 catches for 110 yards and one touchdown. Ertz became the first Eagle to register 10-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in back-to-back games since Pete Pihos (12/4/55, 12/11/55). Ertz is the first tight end to accomplish the feat since Tony Gonzalez with Kansas City (12/25/04, 1/2/05)…Ertz surpassed DeSean Jackson (356, 2008–13) for the eighth-most receptions in Eagles history (now 362). Ertz needs only one reception to tie Mike Quick (363, 1982–90) for the seventh-most catches in franchise history…Linebacker Nigel Bradham recovered a fumble by Vikings running back Roc Thomas in the fourth quarter, which marked his fourth career fumble recovery. Bradham has recorded a fumble recovery in each of the last three seasons…Brandon Graham recorded his first sack of the season when he brought down Cousins for a three-yard loss on second-and-10 in the first quarter. Graham now has 39.5 career sacks and is tied with Andy Harmon (1991–97) for the sixth-most in Eagles history…The Eagles take on the New York Giants (1–4) Thursday at MetLife Stadium (NFL Network, Fox, 8:20 p.m.). It is the Birds’ first NFC East matchup of the year…Coach Doug Pederson said he knows his team is not feeling good at all with the slow start. “I see their frustration, like our frustration, when things don’t go our way,” he said. “And I see leaders on the football team standing up and leading, and that’s what we need right now. We need those guys. We’re sitting here at 2–3. We’re 0–0 in our division with an opportunity this week to make some hay there and we’re looking forward to this week and moving forward.” ••