It was always unlikely the Philadelphia Eagles were going to go undefeated, and last night’s 32-21 loss to the Washington Commanders was as good a place as any for their perfect season to end.
There were so many reasons why the Birds lost last night. Their schedule (bye week, Sunday game, Thursday night game, then a week-plus off before a Monday night game) may have left them flat. Their star wideout, A.J. Brown, rolled his ankle and appeared to lack his usual explosiveness. The Commanders, specifically Taylor Heinicke, played a virtually perfect game of football for his standards. The Eagles lost a couple fumbles. There were missed calls or calls made at inopportune times. Poor playcalling. Jonathan Gannon. Special team faux pas.
It was a bad game. No doubt about it.
The loss was not advantageous for the Eagles, of course. There had been a growing hue and cry from some that the Eagles needed to lose a game, that they needed a “wake up call,” or some such nonsense. Well, last night their wishes were fulfilled. At 8-1, the Birds are still the No. 1 seed thanks to their tie-breaking early-season victory over the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings, but are just one game up on the New York Giants (7-2) and two up on the Dallas Cowboys (6-3) in the NFC East.
Hopefully, that “wake up call” was worth a slimmer margin in the standings.
And yet, despite it all, there are reasons to feel pretty good about what happened at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night, reasons to believe this Eagles team really is ridiculously good and every bit worthy of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, despite losing to a team they were favored to hammer by double digits.
Can’t Help Bad Luck
As it was mentioned only about 200 times on the ESPN broadcast, the Eagles came into last night having committed three turnovers in their first eight games. They turned the ball over four times last night (the last on the final desperation lateral Washington converted for the game-ending score), and all of them were either fluky or shouldn’t have been allowed to stand.
The Hurts interception came on a perfect throw to a double-covered A.J. Brown, who has made similar catches during the first half of the season. However, after rolling his ankle early in the game, Brown clearly was not the same player, and had the ball taken away from him as he fell to the ground. Nice play by the Commanders, and unlucky for the Birds.
The two lost fumbles were especially frustrating. Dallas Goedert’s fourth quarter fumble with the team trailing 26-21 only occurred because his facemask was being yanked off his helmet by a Washington defender. It was blatant, and yet it was not called. Goedert fumbled as a result, right into the arms of a second Commanders defender. Scoring drive halted.
Quez Watkins’ fumble was even more heart-breaking. After a gorgeous 50-yard reception from Hurts and stumbling to the ground after hauling it in, Watkins was stripped from behind on a really nice hustle play by Benjamin St. Juste. Devonta Smith nearly dove on the ball far downfield, but it was picked up by Washington for the play of the game. Scoring drive halted.
If the Watkins play is done over again 100 times, he hauls it in and is down inside the 25 yard line 99 times, and the Birds go on to pull away. On this night, in all three instances, the turnover luck that had gone the Eagles’ direction through their first eight games went against them. It just wasn’t their night.
Hurts Played Awesome
Despite it all, Jalen Hurts played another terrific game.
Brown clearly wasn’t healthy and Hurts simply didn’t have many opportunities to do anything, especially in the first half. All told, the Commanders ran the ball 49 times last night and converted 12 of 21 third downs, as well as one fourth down conversion. Hurts only had the ball for 19:36 of game action.
Hurts led the team on two long scoring drives and punched the first touchdown of the game in after the strip sack of Heinicke in the first quarter. He was leading the Birds on another productive drive up until the Goedert fumble, and threw a perfect bomb to Watkins with under 6 minutes to go that would have set up the likely winning score. He went 17-for-26 for 175 yards with 2 TDs and an interception that came on a beautifully thrown ball to Brown. His only blemish was the sack he ran into on his final series of the game, but you’ll take a QB rating of 94.2 pretty much every time.
One Score Game
Washington ran 83 plays. The Eagles ran 50. Washington held the ball for 40:24, the Eagles for 19:36. The Eagles committed four turnovers. The defense allowed 12 third down conversions and one fourth down conversion. Washington’s kicker converted two field goals of more than 55 yards. The Eagles were flat and couldn’t get off the field on defense. For the first time all year, they were outcoached.
And yet, Washington couldn’t put them away.
The Commanders had to grind and bleed for every yard. It looked painful. It took everything they had, the entire kitchen sink, every trick play in their playbook, to put themselves in a position to win and, up until the roughing the passer call on Brandon Graham under two minutes, the Eagles were still in a great position to steal this game.
The eye test told you everything you needed to know. The Commanders every break in order to win, and they got them. Even then it felt like, if the Eagles could have stopped shooting themselves in the foot and/or some officiating calls gone their way, they’d be 9-0 right now.
There’s no doubt the calls didn’t go their way last night. Hey, it happens.
The two most impactful calls were the missed face mask penalty on Goedert, and Brandon Graham’s borderline roughing-the-passer call that was just a tough, tough break.
Heinicke absolutely went down to the ground to give himself up. However, in that moment, Hasaan Redick and Graham were racing to touch him as quickly as possible, not realizing Heinicke was submitting at that point. You could even see Graham trying to pull up at the end so as not to hurt Heinicke. They weren’t expecting him to go to the ground like that, and you’d like for the referee to realize that in the moment. But in real time, it certainly must have looked like a roughing the passer.
Again, it’s a tough call. To be fair, the Eagles would have gotten the ball with about 1:30 left, deep in their own territory, with no timeouts, needing a touchdown to win. The odds were long they could have pulled off the miracle at that point. Nevertheless, it was a rough way (no pun intended) to end the game, and their aspirations for a perfect season.
Still in 1st
At the end of the day, the Eagles are still the top seed in the conference. They still own the NFC East. They still have a number of winnable games on their schedule, and one would think the Vikings, Cowboys and Giants will lose a couple more games the rest of the way.
By playing outstanding football and dominating Minnesota in prime time earlier this year, the Eagles afforded themselves a hiccup or two. It’s encouraging that, even with a flat performance, bad turnover luck and officiating that didn’t go their way, they still almost won a game they had no business winning. It took a perfect game from Washington to beat a high-powered Eagles team that was on the verge of imposing their will offensively at any moment.
Make no mistake, there are issues to address, specifically special teams, an inconsistent pass rush, and a run defense that actually performed well last night (3.2 yards per carry by DC running backs). The turnovers need to be cleaned up. But every team has a bad game or two. This was one for the Eagles, their first of the season.
Hopefully, it’ll be the last.