McMullen’s Quick Hits: Eagles come up just short in Baltimore
BALTIMORE (973espn.com) - The Eagles had little more to play for than pride on a gray day in Baltimore on Sunday but give Doug Pederson’s gang credit for embracing the chance to play spoiler at M&T Bank Stadium, coming just short in a 27-26 loss to the Ravens, the team’s fifth consecutive setback.
An eight-play, 69-yard drive punctuated by a 16-yard Kenneth Dixon touchdown run with just over 11 minutes left in which Philadelphia safety Rodney McLeod made a late-season business decision and refused to take on the rookie in the open field, seemed to secure things for Baltimore, giving the Ravens a 27-17 advantage against an offensively-challenged team.
The Eagles kept fighting, however, and when Jordan Hicks intercepted a Joe Flacco pass deep in Philadelphia territory when a Justin Tucker field goal would have secured things, the light went on for the Eagles.
A fourth Caleb Sturgis field goal, this one a 29-yarder with only 2:22 remaining brought the Eagles within a TD and Baltimore responded by bridging the two-minute warning with three ineffective runs.
Sam Koch’s punt put the Eagles at their own 41 and although it wasn’t exactly the most aesthetic drive you’ll ever see Carson Wentz marched Philadelphia down the field and put the Eagles on the precipice of victory with a 4-yard scramble into the end zone with just four seconds remaining.
The fans who braved the wind and rain for hours in Baltimore were in stunned silence as Doug Pederson went for the kill and the two points to win it.
Both sidelines were imploring their sides to finish things but the Eagles’ rookie signal caller sped up his read a little too quickly as Jordan Matthews broke off the line for a quick slant.
The ball came out of Wentz’s hands wrong.and was tipped at the line of scrimmage, allowing the Ravens defense to engage the receiver and hold on for the breathless victory.
"I had my mind made up before we scored," Pederson said. "If we had a chance to win it, we were going to go for it and win it. ...Everybody is disappointed. Everybody is dejected. Obviously, we need to finish these games."
Our weekly Wentz watch had plenty of good and some bad as he finished with a poor statistical line of 22 of 42 for 170 yards with an interception and a 52.7 passer rating. He wasn’t helped by his receivers again who rarely got separation against a Baltimore secondary without its top cornerback Jimmy Smith.
That said Wentz threw another ugly interception early that set up the Ravens on a short field and allowed them to take the early 7-0 advantage. He remains wild high at times and the footwork is a mechanical issue that must be tackled in the offseason.
Wentz grew up a bit in the last drive and nearly put his team over the top in a tough environment against a foe that needed this game to stay in the playoff picture.
So, all in all, there was much more good than bad for Wentz.
"The growth factor for me has been huge," Wentz said. "My opportunity came much quicker than I thought it would. It's been an up and down year for us but the experience all of us has gained has been very valuable."
A RUNNING GAME
Wentz entered Week 15 with the sixth-most pass attempts of any NFL quarterback and when you consider the running game is the best friend of any QB, never mind a rookie one, the Eagles’ abandonment of the running game during most weeks is one criticism that Pederson should take very seriously.
On Sunday without the injured Darren Sproles (concussion) Philadelphia pretended Ryan Mathews was Ezekiel Elliott and it paid off rather handsomely as the veteran back finished with a season-high 128 rushing yard on 20 carries, many of them against the Ravens’ nickel defense expecting pass.
Overall the Eagles totaled 169 yards on the ground as rookie free agent Byron Marshall chipped in with 22 more after Kenjon Barner went down with a hamstring injury.
"it's getting on a roll," Mathews said of the running game. "Guys were excited to run the ball. It's a tough challenge. The line was playing great."
THE PASS RUSH IS BACK
Philadelphia’s pass rush has been much maligned in the second half of the season but it’s closing strong and made Flacco uncomfortable much of the afternoon. Fletcher Cox recorded a sack for the second straight game after a long dry spell while Nigel Bradham strip sacked the Baltimore QB setting up the team’s first TD. Meanwhile, defensive linemen Brandon Graham and Beau Allen also got to Flacco in the game.
Trailing 14-13, the Ravens had the football at the Eagles 34-yard line with 26 seconds in the first half and no timeouts. With Baltimore comfortable in the knowledge that Tucker would likely get them three, taking a shot at the end zone was the prudent play and Jim Schwartz had the right defense called for a Steve Smith go route. Jalen Mills played outside leverage perfectly with Jaylen Watkins set for help over the top. Watkins, however, was late getting over and took a ban angle as he did as Flacco and Smith hooked up for the score. Baltimore never trailed again.
RIGHT TACKLE NO. 5
With both Allen Barbre (hamstring) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) unable to go and Lane Johnson a day away from returning to the team, it was rookie Isaac Seumalo’s opportunity to handle the right tackle position. Typically an interior player the rookie has had a few snaps on the outside an extra tight end in jumbo packages but this was a completely different animal with Baltimore sporting the impressive edge-rushing duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.
Seumalo performed admirably and held his own in some very tough circumstances.
No, Pete Thompson was active and offering up some his trademark repartee on Twitter but with Dorial Green-Beckham back from is abdomen issue, Turner was the odd man out as the Eagles continued to pound the square peg of Nelson Agholor into the round hole that is productivity.
Agholor’s ineffectiveness was on full display in the game, dropping one gimmee and also failing to ensnare another that was catchable. He also failed on a fourth-down end around, failing to realize where he was on the sideline although Zach Ertz contributed to that with a poor block at the point of attack.
Agholor finished with just one catch on four targets for nine yards. He also took over as the punt returner when Barner went down and it was clear Dave Fipp did not have the confidence in him catching the football so he instructed the former first-round pick to stay away.
Agholor’s biggest contribution was drawing a big pass interference call late with a nice sell job.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen