NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This is a game the Eagles always seem to lose: on the road, against an AFC team with some credentials, just before the bye. It is something we have seen several times during Andy Reid's tenure. There is no explaining it, just like there is no explaining why their Septembers are always so unstable, and why they always win the game right after the bye, and why they play like crazy in November and December. It is just part of the annual cycle.
And, well, for a long time on Sunday, this one looked like a win -- until, that is, it turned into one of the ugliest Eagles losses in recent memory. Titans 37, Eagles 19 will live in infamy -- at least through the upoming bye week. Cortland Finnegan's 41-yard interception return for a touchdown with no time remaining was the final indignity.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb wasn't playing well when trying to throw the ball downfield, but the running game and the short passing game were solid, and kicker David Akers was money after a tough day the previous weekend against Atlanta. On defense, the Eagles' No. 1 job was to stop Tennessee running back Chris Johnson -- and for the third straight game, the defense did just that against an opposing back.
It wasn't going to be pretty, not even a little, but the Eagles were going to win. But then the Eagles fumbled away the touchdown that would have put them ahead by 23-7 in the third quarter when the Titans' Jason Jones blew through the Eagles' line and disrupted the handoff between Kolb and LeSean McCoy just 3 yards from the end zone. And then Titans backup quarterback Kerry Collins began to find the only player on the field who could beat the Eagles -- wide receiver Kenny Britt.
With about 13 minutes left, and with the Eagles' pass rush flagging, Collins hit Britt with an 80-yard touchdown pass, a play on which rookie safety Nate Allen did not react well. (Britt had caught a 26-yard TD already in the second quarter against the beleagured Ellis Hobbs.) But after that it was pitch and catch, and then pitch and catch again, and again, and again -- and the Eagles had no answer. With 5:03 left, Collins hit Britt with another touchdown pass, this one from 16 yards.
By the time it was over, Britt had seven catches for 225 yards. He had been benched early in the game because of a bar altercation during the week, and when he arrived, it was like lightning.
For the third week in a row, the Eagles' offensive game plan was excellent. The screen game was working, the run game was consistent, and there were enough people open downfield. This week, though, Kolb had trouble with the deep ball. He was intercepted once and could have been picked off for a second time if not for a play made by wide receiver Riley Cooper, a play of the year candidate.
Out of the wildcat formation, the Eagles ran a kind of double-reverse thing: direct snap to Jeremy Maclin, to Shady McCoy, to Kolb (who had been lined up wide), and then deep down the middle to Cooper. Except the pass was badly underthrown, and the Titans' Chris Hope was a certain interceptor until Cooper made a great comeback break to snag the pass in front of Hope. Thirty-seven yards, no sweat. A couple of plays later, Cooper made his first NFL touchdown reception, a 5-yarder from Kolb.
But the offense stalled, badly, in the second half. Kolb did nothing to cement his position as the starter in the Kolb-Michael Vick sweepstakes. And a young team that could have burnished its credentials with a win against a backup quarterback on the road instead will deal with the awful taste of this one for 2 weeks.