There is nothing positive to take from a game where the Super Bowl champs get swash-buckled by a 35-year-old backup. But the 27-21 embarrassment to Tampa might just be the loss the Eagles needed.
A wakeup call. A kick in the rump. Let’s be honest: As much as we pretended the Birds lackluster pre-season and somnambulant eke-it-out opening win over Atlanta meant nothing, this team hasn’t looked in sync since climbing down from the Art Museum steps in February.
They say when you’re the champs, every opponent gives its best effort. That was the case in Tampa on Sunday. The Bucs were primed. The Eagles were not.
So here’s hoping that, while the game likely ruined your weekend, it also serves as an alarm. The good news – make that great news – is that quarterback Carson Wentz will return this week to start against Indianapolis. But the Eagles did not lose Sunday because of Nick Foles. And Wentz can’t play all 22 positions.
The first wakeup call must go to the defense, starting with coordinator Jim Schwartz. Anyone who saw the Bucs put up 48 points in their opener at New Orleans knew that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would plan to throw deep to his cadre of excellent receivers.
So what happened? On the very first play, Desean Jackson got behind the secondary for a 75-yard touchdown. Had the Eagles not watched last week’s game film?
After that, the defensive backs – particularly Jalen Mills – seemed so frightened they gave Tampa’s receivers a cushion halfway to Clearwater. For the rest of the afternoon, Fitzpatrick just made the easy throws underneath. And, in the case of O.J. Howard, Philadelphia’s sloppy tackling led to a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
The offense played well at times, but you have to question Doug Pederson’s game plan. Yes, the lineup was missing Alshon Jeffery, Darren Sproles and, after an early injury, Mike Wallace as well. So there was no Murderer’s Row of weapons.
But where was Dallas Goedert? While Pederson was trying to force the ball to the likes of Shelton Gibson and Deandre Carter (combined receptions: 0), the rookie tight end trotted on the field for only 17 plays and was never once targeted.
Wentz’s return will be the big story this week. But it’s not logical to think that after nine months of sitting, Carson can come in and fix everything. He has nothing to do with the lackluster line play and sloppy penalties we’ve seen go far.
Last season, the Eagles thrived on the “next man up” philosophy. It worked when that next man was someone like Corey Clement or Trey Burton. But right now, this team is tissue-paper thin at some skill positions.
They have also thrived on a culture of unselfishness and team unity. And that’s why the problems at wide receiver can’t be solved by Dez Bryant or Josh Gordon. Fans who argue the Eagles locker-room is solid enough to absorb a potential disturbance like Bryant or Gordon ignore that its strength is exactly because they don’t have players like that.
So we’re back to, “We all we got. We all we need.”
What they needed, it appears, was a slap across the face.
They certainly got that Sunday. We’ll find out soon enough if it was enough to rouse them from their lethargy.