CINCINNATI – As a light rain began to fall on a chilly Midwest night, the Eagles, more dejected than they’ve been all season, made their way through the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium to their buses to begin the long trek back to Philadelphia.
After starting their season with three straight wins, the Eagles have been losers in seven of their last nine games after getting trounced 32-14 by a Bengals team that entered Sunday with just three wins (see Instant Replay). The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.
Hey, at least they tried real hard.
“It’s not for lack of effort,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s just the discipline of your assignments, your jobs. And just collectively just focus on that one play at one time. But it’s not for lack of effort.”
Effort was a buzz-worthy word after the Eagles’ 27-13 loss to the Packers last Monday night. It was the reason Pederson cited when he said his team was going in the right direction despite the compounding losses.
Then the Eagles came out five days later and played what was perhaps their worst game of the 2016 season. Carson Wentz and the Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the NFL through the season's first three weeks.
It seems like a long time ago. Things have gone the other way after the Week 4 bye.
The Eagles found another low point on Sunday (see 10 observations from the loss).
“Well, obviously very disappointed in the way we played,” Pederson said. “That’s the first thing. And it’s a collective effort, all three phases tonight. ... I just mentioned to the team after the game that we individually, myself included, I tell you guys this every week. I’m the hardest critic on myself. I’m with that group in that locker room. And we all have to take a collective effort, but individually take that collective effort and just look at yourself in the mirror. The man in the mirror and see if we’re doing enough.”
On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Eagles’ offense was stagnant until garbage time and their defense allowed a banged-up Bengals offense to score on each of its first six possessions.
When the Eagles have been at their best this season, they’ve played complementary football. The offense holds the ball on long scoring drives while the defense gets off the field and gives them the ball back. It’s been a formula for success for a team with a rookie quarterback and a defense that was supposed to be its strength.
During the last couple of months, the Eagles have done just the opposite. The offense can’t stay on the field and the defense can’t get off of it.
When asked what happened from the 3-0 start to now, Pederson pointed toward right tackle Lane Johnson’s suspension, a few injuries and other teams having film on Wentz and their offense.
“It all just begins to snowball and obviously gets us in this situation,” Pederson said.
The situation the Eagles find themselves in is this: There are still four games left to play in the 2016 season whether they like it or not.
“We still have a month of football left and three of the next four are division opponents,” Pederson said. “We’ve got some challenges. I told the guys in the locker room at the end of the game, this thing can go one of two ways and I only know the way it’s going to go. And that’s up. We just have to dig ourselves out of this hole and it starts next week.”
A couple of weeks ago, despite the losing, the Eagles were still in a very good position in terms of the playoff race. That has obviously changed. While not mathematically eliminated, the Eagles are a long shot, to put it mildly.
Now, the season is about getting through while minimizing the damage, especially with several young players in key roles, specifically at the quarterback position.
“We learn from it, No. 1,” Pederson said. “And that’s the thing with young players, putting them in those situations right now. It’s just a learning experience for them. I just know this: it’s going to make us better with those players. It’s going to make us better. Again, we’ve got a month left and we’re going to continue to work hard.”
After the loss to the Packers six days ago, Pederson said it would be on him to make sure all of this didn’t spiral out of control.
And he seemed genuinely convinced it wouldn’t happen. But Sunday’s loss to the Bengals brought up similar questions about effort and brought back similar responses about each guy looking themselves in the mirror and correcting it.
Why is Pederson convinced the team is still all in?
“I can just go into that locker room and talk to each one individually and just look at their faces and see how they feel,” he said. “And they’re all dejected. That tells me enough right there, that we’re still together and they’re with everything that we’re doing. It’s going to be a great test for our leadership on the team. And the guys are going to have to rally, even the young guys. Everybody has to, myself included, we have to demand excellence. Is it going to be perfect all the time? No, it’s not. But you have to go in with enough pride and enough want-to that you want that perfection and nothing less than that.”
Not getting blown out next week at home against Washington would be a good place to start.