Late-Game Collapse Has Eagles Reeling
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The expectations changed on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field after a devastating fourth-quarter collapse left the Eagles stunned.
After being whitewashed for nearly 50 minutes of football, Carolina scored 21 consecutive points over a nine-minute span in the final quarter and held on in the waning seconds for a 21-17 victory.
It was Philadelphia's second consecutive loss at home and its second late-game collapse over the last month.
A 17-0 lead through three quarters seemed liked double that as Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and his offense struggled to move the football until the light went on with under 11 minutes to go.
First, the dynamic Curtis Samuel took an end around to finally get the Panthers on the scoreboard with 10:41 remaining but even that felt like just a hiccup after the normally reliable Graham Gano flubbed the PAT.
A celebratory atmosphere turned anxious, however, when Newton got the football back and led another drive down the field, this one culminating with an 18-yard scoring strike to Devin Funchess. After a Newton to Jarius Wright conversion made up for Gano's missed kick, somehow Carolina was down only a field goal with 4:08 to play.
The Eagles offense responded with a three-and-out and those anxious feelings were blown up into a full-blown panic, one that was realized when Newton found tight end Greg Olsen on a 1-yard TD pass to give Carolina the lead with just 1:22 left.
The hand-wringing would have been good talk-radio fodder and not much else if the Eagles responded with the 82 seconds they were left with and things were promising early when Alshon Jeffery immediately drew a 41-yard pass-interference penalty but thing sputtered from there with Wentz nearly throwing a game-sealing interception that was overturned before giving up the football on a strip sack by Wes Horton.
"It was a tale of two halves, basically," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "... I'm real proud of the way we bounced back."
For what it's worth Doug Pederson pointed to another 4th-and-long conversion by the opposition, the theme in the two fourth-quarter collapses.
In Nashville back on Sept. 30, it was a 4th-and-15 in overtime. This time it was a 4th-and-10 before Olsen's TD in which Newton found former Eagle Torrey Smith sitting down in the middle of the field for what turned into a 34-yard gain.
"Well 4th-and-15, 4th-and-10," Pederson lamented. "We've just got to look at those two plays and that's probably the answer. We've got to, as players and coaches, make sure we're putting guys in position, and then secondly, we've got to execute the play. Flat out, this is a players' game. Players have to make plays."
Through three quarters, it was all Eagles and Wentz, who finished 30-of-37 for 310 yards and two TDs. Tight end Zach Ertz had nine receptions for 138 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season and Alson Jeffery finished with seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
"It's very disappointing. These are the one that hurt me," Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood said. "We were up 17 points and couldn't finish the game. That's not us."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen