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Telling Loss In Critical Game

Posted Oct 28, 2012

It meant so much to this team and maybe to this franchise, did Sunday's game. Fresh from a bye week, though, the Eagles fell flat on their faces in a 30-17 loss to Atlanta and now face another pivotal franchise crossroads ...

If there was ever a game in which the Eagles would show up and play their best 60 minutes, this was it. This was the moment, the stage. An undefeated Atlanta team came strolling into Lincoln Financial Field and put a wallop on the Eagles in every which way, and it was, as many players and head coach Andy Reid acknowledged, an "embarrassing" performance.

Again.

Who hasn't heard the words many times in these last couple of disappointing seasons? What do words matter, anyway? The Eagles are playing poor football, having lost three straight games to fall to 3-4 and the Giants just keep moving farther and farther ahead in the NFC East.

It's beyond the critical stage. This is a pattern established too frequently in the last couple of seasons. The Eagles are 3-4. They were 8-8 last season. The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since 2008, and haven't reached the playoffs since 2010.

I don't know what to say here. The Falcons pushed the Eagles around with ease, scoring touchdowns on their first three offensive possessions, and then toying with the defense with three field goals on the next three possessions. To make it clear, in case you didn't understand the domination of the afternoon, Atlanta scored on its first six possessions.

Embarrassing, for sure.

The challenge is that there isn't any easy answer. The move to promote Todd Bowles to the role of defensive coordinator didn't make a positive difference in Week 1. In fact, the defense had its worst performance of the season, by far. A defense that had not registered a quarterback sack had all of two in this game, but they came in the third quarter (Cedric Thornton) and then late in the game when Matt Ryan went to the ground and Cullen Jenkins touched him down.

Otherwise, the defensive line was unable to generate pressure. Once again, ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin were silenced. The inside pressure was non-existent. Several times in the game, notably on Atlanta's opening drive that covered 80 yards and consumed 16 plays and an absurd 8 minutes, 44 seconds off the clock.

What was different from the defense that Juan Castillo ran? I don't know. I saw Babin drop back in coverage on that first drive, only to be called for defensive holding, the first of six straight third downs converted by the Falcons. As for Babin overall, he was not a factor and seemed to be off the field more on key third downs than on the field.

The Eagles were not on the same page defensively, and several times early they looked around and seemed lost with the play called by Bowles. There were blown coverages all over the field, something that Bowles acknowledged in his brief conversation with the press after the game.

The tackling was poor, the execution not good and the pass rush and coverage down the field really, really faulty. Quarterback Matt Ryan went 17 of 20 in the first half, tossing three touchdown passes and the Falcons rolled up a remarkable 252 total net yards on the way to a 24-7 advantage.

Offensively, there was not much to brag about. LeSean McCoy had a couple of touchdowns -- one a run and one on a shovel pass -- and Michael Vick didn't turn the ball over, and so there are the highlights. The offensive line, with King Dunlap at left tackle, Dallas Reynolds at center and Dennis Kelly at right guard, didn't have much of a surge at all and didn't contain an effective Atlanta blitz that repeatedly sent a delayed linebacker or safety to get to Vick and lay some serious hits on him.

All in all, it was a mess. A start-to-finish mess, a football disaster on the eve of Hurricane Sandy.

For Reid, well, he has never been in such a situation. Where are the players now, from a mental standpoint? Who has the locker room? Who steps up and takes control of this football team?

There is not much to like about this football team based on the last three weeks. That 3-1 start to the season seems like it never happened. The Eagles are in a deep hole, with plenty of questions to go around.

Is there enough talent on this team? Did the Eagles correctly evaluate the talent here? Are the pieces in place to turn it around?

The show is going to go on and the team is going to prepare to play New Orleans on Monday night, and as DeMeco Ryans correctly said after the game, it takes only one game to turn the season around. Win in New Orleans and then get after it in the NFC East and you never know, right?

Right?

It's important that everyone takes a realistic view of this team. The Eagles are losing the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and everything falls apart after that. Do you want to tear it all up and start again? You can't do that, not in the middle of the season. You can't give up.

Do you want to start Nick Foles at quarterback and hope for a spark? It's a consideration, but Vick is working hard and really, truly, Sunday had little to do with him. He missed some receivers and was inacurate at times early, but the Eagles offense had little chance scoring points on the sidelines. Atlanta held the football for 17:33 of the first half, scoring on each of its four offensive possessions.

It was ugly in every way. Every single way. It was a dark, dreary day for the Eagles and I'm sorry to say it's hard to put a positive spin on this one. The Eagles had their chance to extend Reid's post-bye week record to 14-0, and instead were completely outclassed by a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Where do the Eagles go from here? They get back to work and they try to win a game in New Orleans. It's not going to be easy. Reid has the most challenging job of his coaching career. He knows that all of the fingers are pointed at him, and he takes responsibility for all of that. In truth, it's not just on Reid. It's on every aspect of the football team. Three and 4 is not acceptable. A three-game slide has put the Eagles in an incredibly tenuous position.

A day that could have launched the Eagles into the second part of the season with positive momentum instead set them back a huge, painful step.

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