DENVER -- The Eagles came here to win and, if they did not win, at least to make progress. As it turns out, they did neither.
Progress in football is not linear and never has been -- or not for long, anyway. Hiccups are always going to be part of the process, and everybody understands that. This is not a conversation about the defense, which is under-talented and dreadful -- and that is even on the days when the quarterback on the other side of the field is not a Hall of Famer.
This is about an offense that continues to stop itself much more often than the other teams stop it. It is easy to see the promise of the thing, and to be entertained by the innovations, but in three of the four games -- all except Kansas City -- it is fair to say that the Eagles should have scored more points, given the physical match-ups on the field.
Again, do not mistake what I am saying. Sunday’s 52-20 immolation was about Peyton Manning and how he tortured the Eagles’ defense, throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns in a little over three quarters of play. Then again, given the two special teams touchdowns for Denver, one on a 105-yard kickoff return by Trindon Holliday and the other on a blocked punt, it was, in some ways, an equal-opportunity debacle.
But everyone pretty much knew that the defense was going to get picked apart, and the only way the Eagles were going to be able to hang with the Broncos was to play mistake-free and to get lucky besides.
That did not happen, of course. It did not come close to happening. Brent Celek dropped a ball at the 5-yard line in the first quarter that left the Eagles kicking a field goal rather than going for a touchdown. Lane Johnson took a holding penalty on the next Eagles drive, down on the Denver 13-yard line, that forced another field goal rather than more.
There were other drops, too. And the pass protection eroded once the route was on. And quarterback Michael Vick had a hard time finding anyone open downfield -- this day, it seemed, because there was nobody to find.
Add it all up, and we were left with yet another game where the Eagles’ offense accumulated north of 400 yards but did not score an equally-impressive number of points.
Here is the other thing: Kelly coached a very conservative game. The decision at the end of the first half to punt the ball away with just over 2 minutes remaining rather than go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Denver 37 was the most notable. The Eagles were trailing by 21-13 at the time, and Kelly was giving the ball back to Manning at the end of the half, knowing full well that the Broncos also were going to get the ball to start the third quarter. The game very possibly could have been over before the Eagles’ offense touched the ball again.
As it turned out, the Eagles did force a punt at the end of the half, thanks largely to a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty on Denver’s Knowshon Moreno. The inevitable was delayed for a little while. And this conservatism should not be the focus of the discussion in the coming days.
Instead, the question is how Kelly is going to keep this thing pointed in the right direction. And how the defense is going to find a way to be better than terrible. And how the offense can find the precision that this system requires.
The offense is is what everyone in Philadelphia has hung their hopes on. It is badly in need of a step forward after a couple of steps back. But getting the details buttoned up gets harder, not easier, once the losses begin to mount.