How did it happen? How did the Eagles, knowing a win would catapult them into a tie with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East lead, go into Miami to play a 2-9 team and … lose?
Did it really happen?
“This is the NFL. You can’t just expect to play a team and win. You have to earn it. We didn’t earn this one,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said after a stunning 37-31 loss to the Dolphins. “We had our chances. We just let it slip away.”
That’s the story of the Eagles’ season to date. They’ve let it slip away. A team that everybody thought would be a Super Bowl contender is 5-7 instead, losers of three straight games. As crazy as it sounds, the truth is that the Eagles can still win the NFC East by sweeping the final four games of the season. It’s foolish to even talk about the playoffs and the notion of this team winning four straight games, but it’s out there.
Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs?
“We just have to win a game,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’re trying to win. It’s frustrating to be in this position.”
It sure is. And the questions almost have no answers. How did this happen? How did a team that looked so good on paper turn into a 5-7 disappointment? Let’s list a few reasons for the slide …
• The only consistency this team has shown is its inconsistency. For much of the season, the offense has been off-kilter. The lack of explosive plays in the passing game has limited the team’s ability to score quickly. The Eagles have scratched and clawed for every point they’ve scored. Losing wide receiver DeSean Jackson in the second week of the season robbed the team of speed. Injuries through the wide receiver corps haven’t helped. But it’s more than that. The offense just hasn’t played consistent football. There have been too many dropped passes, too many poor throws from quarterback Carson Wentz and no real go-to, bread-and-butter plays. Even when the offense has played well, as it did in Miami, the defense hasn’t been up to par. And when the defense played well in losses to New England and Seattle, the offense didn’t perform well.
• Against weak teams like Atlanta (3-9), Detroit (3-8-1) and Miami (3-9), the Eagles didn’t take care of business. Those three losses haunt the Eagles as they head into the final four games of the regular season.
• A lack of killer instinct has contributed heavily. A perfect example was Sunday in Miami: The Eagles jumped out to a 10-0 lead and then had a 28-14 advantage in the third quarter and couldn’t put the woeful Dolphins away. Why? It goes back to inconsistency. Just after the Eagles took the 28-14 lead, Miami came right back with a touchdown drive … and then another … and then another. Miami, one of the league’s worst offenses, scored on six consecutive drives, with five touchdowns.
• The aggressive offseason hasn’t paid off. The Eagles traded for Jackson and running back Jordan Howard and signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker L.J. Fort, defensive end Vinny Curry and linebacker Zach Brown in free agency. How many of those players have helped this season? The draft class has gotten an immediate contribution from running back Miles Sanders, and No. 1 pick Andre Dillard has been OK when he’s played, but that’s about it.
All in all, it’s been one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history. Four games remain. The playoff goal is still alive, but it feels so far away after Sunday’s terrible loss in Miami. ••