When the 2019 NFL schedule came out, not only did Eagles Nation circle the Dec. 1 road game in Miami against the Dolphins as a certain win, the entire NFL agreed the Birds could count this game in their win column.
Travel Agencies put together packages for Eagles fans to attend the game. Thousands made the trip to cheer their team on to victory, then hang out in South Florida for a few days to bask in what was expected to be playoff fever.
But it was not to be. The Eagles found a way to lose to a team that most observers believed was “Tanking for Tua.” The Fish were trying to lose to get the opportunity to grab Tua Tagovailoa – the Alabama All-American quarterback who was expected to go No.1 in the 2020 NFL draft.
A season-ending injury took Tagovailoa out of the draft picture and the 37-31 defeat to the nine-loss Dolphins may have taken the Eagles (5-7) out of the playoff picture.
Many believe it was the toughest loss of the Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz era that started in 2016.
On a Monday morning radio interview, Pederson said he thought that the Dolphins wanted it more. At his news conference a few hours later, the coach was asked how he expects to handle the team and motivate his players to keep up their drive to win the NFC East, which, incredibly, is still up for grabs.
“I don’t want to be misunderstood when I made that statement,” the coach told reporters. “What I mean by they want it more, there were certain plays in that game where obviously they made the play, we didn’t. So, in that case, yeah, they wanted that play a little bit more than we did. As a whole, as a game, the effort, the energy level, all that was there in the game. Playing tough. Guys played hurt in the game and went back in the game.
“So it’s none of that,” Pederson continued. “It’s the fact that there were plays to be made in that game; we didn’t make them. They wanted that aspect of the game just a touch more. They made those plays and ultimately came out on top.”
Over the last four games, the Eagles defense had been solid and had a big impact in wins over the Buffalo Bills, now 9-3, and the Chicago Bears, now 6-6.
The defense continued to play well in the losses to the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. In those losses, Wentz played poorly and the offense could muster only 19 total points in the two games.
Sunday in Miami, Wentz played well, going 28-for-46 for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked twice and threw an interception. The Birds did not lose any fumbles this week.
The Eagles franchise quarterback was at a loss for words to describe how this team can be so inconsistent.
“It’s really hard to say, every game is different,” Wentz said after the game. “But at the end of the day, we’re just not making enough plays in critical situations to win ball games. We’ve been close in a lot of these. As a team, we’re just coming up short in these critical situations.”
Wentz said he will once again look in the mirror.
“It starts with me,” Wentz said. “I have to come up big in those big-time situations. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed right off the top.”
Wentz said missed throws, penalties and bad plays occurred after the Bird took a 14-point lead with 11:44 left in the third quarter. Wentz was asked if Miami changed its defense after he hit Alshon Jeffery with a 10-yard touchdown pass to go up 28-14.
“They mixed it up a little bit once we got up,” Wentz said. “But we’ve got to make better plays than that.”
He may have been referring to the dropped pass by Zach Ertz in the third quarter and the Eagles up by two touchdowns. The Eagles had a second-and-seven at the Dolphins’ 20-yard line when Wentz threw a near-perfect pass over the middle inside the 10-yard line to Ertz, who simply dropped the ball.
The next play, Wentz was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Then Jake Elliott, who just signed a five-year, $21.8 million contract extension, missed a 49-yard field goal.
Wentz was asked about whether the Eagles coaches had them ready for this game
“I don’t think it was preparation,” Wentz said. “There’s no excuses. We just didn’t make them (plays). I thought we had a good game plan, I thought we did a pretty good job with that, but there’s plays that we all definitely want back. There are no excuses, we just didn’t make enough plays.”
Pederson on Monday said it was not poor preparation, it was not the effort or the talent level of his players. The coach said his players were all in the right spots on both sides of the ball. He said the Miami players made the plays and his guys didn’t.
“It’s not a talent thing,” Pederson said as the news conference came to a close. “If you’ve ever played competitive sports in your life, you would know. There are times when you get beat and times when you win. We got beat. We physically got beat yesterday and we have to accept that.
“Every player has to look at that, every coach has to look at that,” Pederson continued, making it clear that everyone has to look in the mirror.. “What can I do this week to get better from that? How can I maybe be another 6 inches further down the field or listen to the snap count a little bit or whatever it might be to make those plays in the future.”
The Eagles have four games left. They will likely be favored in all of them. Two against the lowly New York Giants (2-10), one against the Washington Redskins (3-9) and the likely winner-take-all game on Dec. 22 against the Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at the Linc. The Cowboys are 3-6 in their last nine games.
“Hey, we have four games left, a month of this season,” Pederson said. “By no means are we — we’re not throwing in the towel. We have a lot of football left. We have a great opportunity. There is still a chance for us. We control our own destiny. So that’s going to be the message moving forward to this football team, and the leaders have to embrace that and they have to also take it to the team as well. So I feel really good about that.”
Eagles fans hope he’s right. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii.