Eagles Can’t Keep Up with Big-Play Bucs
(973espn.com) - History teaches us that bouts of Fitz-Magic generally have a seven-day shelf life.
The NFL, however, is currently dealing with a particularly nasty case of the ailment as Ryan Fitzpatrick sliced-and-diced the Eagles defense to the tune of 404 yards and four touchdowns as Tampa Bay handed the Eagles a 27-21 road setback
The line between success and failure in this league is a tenuous one and the reigning Super Bowl champions found that out against the explosive Bucs.
The Eagles, of course, came in without Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery before losing Jay Ajayi and Mike Wallace to injury early in the game and all of a sudden Tampa Bay (2-0), largely an afterthought to most in a very deep NFC, had all the playmakers.
Ajayi ultimately returned from a back injury in the second half but without their MVP-level QB (Wentz), Darren Sproles, and two of the top three receivers (Jeffery and Wallace), the final 30 minutes was a formality even if Philadelphia fought to make the box score look respectable.
Starting left tackle Jason Peters was also lost early in the game with a quad injury first suffered in practice on Thursday.
The fireworks started for the Bucs on the first offensive play of the game when DeSean Jackson fooled both Malcolm Jenkins and Jalen Mills on a double-move for a 75-yard touchdown.
The Philadelphia defense stiffened a bit from there in the suffocating heat of Central Florida as the injury-plagued offense finally generated some points thanks to the handiwork of Corey Clement, who blew through brilliant blocking by Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Stefen Wisniewski for a 15-yard scoring run.
Everything was difficult for the Eagles, however, while Fitzpatrick just dipped into his bag of playmakers again as talented second-year tight end O.J. Howard beat Jordan Hicks in coverage and then raced down the left sideline thanks to some impressive downfield blocking by former Penn State star Chris Godwin for another 75-yard strike.
A missed PAT had the Bucs ahead 13-7 and could have loomed large if the defense stiffened again. Instead, Jim Schwartz's unit started wearing down and allowed a more conventional drive, resulting in a blown coverage which allowed Godwin to flash wide open in the end zone for an 8-yard TD.
“The whole first half we weren’t staying ahead of the sticks," Pederson said. "We were getting penalties, lost yards on first or second down and just playing from behind a lot. Yeah, the injuries hurt but again it’s self-inflicted."
Another big play down the field by Jackson in the third quarter, this time in coverage by Ronald Darby, set up a slant TD to Mike Evans, who used his imposing size to easily shield Jalen Mills.
Philadelphia closed the game with a pair of two-yard TDs, on a run by Ajayi and on a fourth-down pass to Nelson Agholor but it never felt in the game after falling behind 27-7.
Nick Foles numbers were more than respectable, 33-for-48 for 334 yards, a TD and a 98.8 passer rating, while Zach Ertz rebounded from a poor opener to catch 11 of 13 targets for 94 yards and Clement piled up 85 yards of total offense but the big play just wasn't present until it was far too late.
The good news comes off the field for the Eagles as Wentz is expected to receive medical clearance as soon as Monday and is likely to return in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The demarcation line seems to be the nine-month mark since Wentz's surgery on Dec. 13 of last year to repair both the ACL and LCL in his left knee. That landmark was passed on Thursday in advance of Sunday's game in Tampa, something which would have robbed the third-year QB of a full week of preparation for the Buccaneers.
Many in the NovaCare Complex, including Wentz himself, felt he was ready to go Week 1 but an NFL source told 973espn.com that Jeffrey Lurie was the epicenter of a cautious approach and the language cited in numerous reports "about the next 15 years" emanated from the owner.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen