Gary Barnridge streaked right down the middle of the field — completely uncovered, as safeties stared at the linebackers — and hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton. It was emblematic of the Eagles’ defense since Todd Bowles took the reins.
“We were in zone coverage. They got us,” said linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
Ryans and the Eagles looked confused, almost like someone had whispered the play into Newton’s ear. The Panthers scored 14 points in a 3-minute span to start Monday night’s game and walked out of the Linc with a 30-22 victory over the slumping Eagles. It marked the seventh straight loss for Andy Reid’s squad, the longest skid of his coaching career.
“It’s not the same things every week,” safety Nate Allen said. “There’s going to be mistakes. That’s part of football. You have to eliminate those mistakes.”
But the Eagles haven’t been able to do that in 2012. They turned the ball three times against Carolina, while failing to register a takeaway for the third straight week. They rank last in the NFC in that department.
“A lot of misfortune out there,” Ryans said. “Turning the ball over and not getting turnovers again, leaving guys open on the deep balls is unacceptable, can’t win like that.”
To their credit, the Eagles did make a game out of it thanks to a breakout performance from Bryce Brown. The rookie back busted loose for 178 yards, a new franchise rookie record, and two touchdowns. His 5-yard touchdown run gave the Eagles a lead late in the third quarter, a lead that the defense quickly handed back. After Newton scored on a 2-yard run, Brandon Boykin sealed the Eagles’ fate when he fumbled the kickoff return.
“It’s stressing because every possible way that we could lose a game, we’ve done it,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “Right now our performance is pretty terrible.”
And it has most likely cost Reid his job. Before the season started, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie informed the world that an 8-8 record wasn’t acceptable. Lurie wanted to see “substantial improvement.” Well, obviously that hasn’t happened.
Reid mentioned that he hasn’t spoken with Lurie about the possibility of being dismissed before this lost season ends. Holding a 3-8 record, he is probably coaching his final five games in Philadelphia.
“Obviously, he’s as competitive as anybody and he wants to win games,” Reid said of Lurie. “That’s what he’s in this business for, but we really haven’t gone there. I’m trying to get this football team to win games, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The players are trying, too. As much as they block it out, they see the writing on the wall.
“He’s a great coach, but that’s all out of my hands,” Allen said. “I can’t even imagine [being in Reid’s position], with the passing of his son and all that, I can’t even imagine. He’s the toughest coach I’ve ever been coached by mentally.”
Three players up
1. Bryce Brown. Rookie running back made his first start at any level since Oct. 31, 2008 and went off for 178 yards, with a 65-yard gainer, and two touchdowns. The performance broke two franchise records, for most rushing yards by a rookie back (besting Correll Buckhalter). His two touchdowns were also the most by an Eagles rookie back since Ryan Moats (2005). Brown (two fumbles) needs to secure the ball better.
2. Vinny Curry. Second-round pick made his NFL debut for the team he rooted for growing up and showed he can play with the big boys. The rookie defensive end ran mostly with the second unit and tallied five total tackles, including a nice wrap-up on his very first snap. Curry said he was thinking of his mom, who would have celebrated her birthday Tuesday. She passed away one year ago. “She would have been proud because I played my butt off,” Curry said.
3. Offensive line. They were far from perfect, but it was by far the best this makeshift unit has looked all season. They helped pave the way for Brown’s record-setting night and kept Nick Foles clean (one sack) and only one quarterback hit, per the stat sheet.
Three players down
1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The up-and-down corner was mostly down Monday. DRC got beat badly on by a deep pass to Louis Murphy, who hauled in it for 55 yards. Not only did he give up the big play, he was also flagged for pass interference. It wasn’t the only time DRC looked confused. He struggled on crossing routes again.
2. Nick Foles. His final stats don’t look too bad, but the rookie quarterback looked tentative despite having pretty good protection. Foles nearly threw three interceptions — two potential pick-sixes — and got bailed out on a phantom pass interference call on his 51-yard strike to Jeremy Maclin. Foles finished 16-of-21 for 119 yards (89.2 QB rating).
3. Brandon Boykin. Kick returner picked the absolute worst possible time to fumble, letting the ball slip out with 4:31 remaining and the Birds down eight. For the game, Boykin averaged 22 yards on three returns. Ironically, the one he fumbled was his longest return of the season.