Good morning. The Eagles reached the low point in a season with too many low points after a 48-7 loss to New Orleans Saints, the worst defeat a defending Super Bowl champion has ever endured. The Eagles are 4-6, and their season comes down to a stretch of NFC East games, the first this weekend against the New York Giants. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference today, and there will be some important health updates to monitor in addition to sorting through reaction to the loss.

This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Carson Wentz reacting after the Saints intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Carson Wentz reacting after the Saints intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles’ loss to the Saints wasn’t the concern. The way they played was.

It's not a surprise to sit here and write this after an Eagles loss to the New Orleans Saints, one of the true heavyweights in the NFL this season. Few reasonably expected the Eagles to upset the Saints in New Orleans, and the reality is that the Eagles didn't need to win.

So why is there such gloom surrounding the Eagles this morning? It wasn't that they lost, but rather how they lost. From the beginning of the game, the Eagles didn't look as if they belonged on the same field as the Saints. They were uncompetitive — and, one could argue, uninspired. If you're in the camp that believes a loss is a loss, regardless whether it was 48-45 or 48-7, then it will be easier to swallow. If you believe that it matters how you fall, then this is as difficult a game to digest as there's been in years.

This is the worst loss ever by a defending Super Bowl champion. The Eagles haven't had a loss this bad since December 2005, when they lost by 42 points to Seattle. It was the worst loss I've seen since I started covering the Eagles in 2012, rivaled only by a Thanksgiving dud against Detroit in 2015. That soon led to Chip Kelly's in-season dismissal.

So how did it happen? A similar story has been written all year; it just reached new depths of misery Sunday. The offense's scoring problems have been present since Week 1, but the Eagles scored only once Sunday.  They talked all week about needing a fast start to the game, yet they went three-and-out on their opening two drives and threw an interception on the third drive. Doug Pederson's scripts once again resulted in a punting showcase. The way to beat the Saints, or at least put up a reasonable effort, is go drive-for-drive with them. It's not spotting them 17 points.

Carson Wentz played his worst game in an Eagles uniform, with a 31.9 passer rating a stark contrast to Drew Brees' 153.2. The Eagles needed Wentz to rival Brees on Sunday, but Brees was in a different class. The Eagles converted only three of 10 third downs, and didn't have single conversion in the first half. And the weapons for Wentz didn't do much to help him. Nelson Agholor and Dallas Goedert were held without a catch. Zach Ertz was targeted only three times. The only positive on the stat sheet was Josh Adams' 7.6 yards per carry, although he had only seven carries.

On defense, it wasn't much better. They knew they needed to play tough red-zone defense, yet the Saints scored on four of five trips. They couldn't get off the field enough on third downs, allowing conversions on 6 of 11 attempts. Brees wasn't sacked. He was hit once. The run defense, once among the class of the NFL, allowed 4.7 yards per carry. And the injuries continue to get worse, too – especially in the secondary. The Eagles finished the game without a single cornerback who was on the roster at the start of the season. The opponents might get easier for the Eagles after this, but the personnel in the defensive backfield could be a major concern going forward.

The only reasonably optimistic spin the Eagles could put on this game is that they still have a shot this year. If you thought they would lose this game, as I did, then they're in the same place this morning that you expected all along. They have a three-game stretch against three NFC East opponents — the next two at home — that will essentially determine their season. If the Eagles can run the table in their four remaining NFC East games, they'll have a shot. They're two games behind the Washington Redskins with two games against them. They're one game behind the Dallas Cowboys with a game against them.

"We've got a lot of the same guys from last year and we're only two games out in the division and we get to play the Redskins twice, get to play our division a bunch of times, and it's not over," offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski said. "Six games left, two games back, we can still win the division and have a home game in the playoffs. That's all you're trying to do. Obviously, it was ugly today. But it just counts for one loss and we can bounce back and start in the right direction next week."

Wisniewski's right. That's what the Eagles must cling to. That's the glimmer of hope at this point; they're not finished yet. But again, it was how they lost that mattered. And if they look like they did in New Orleans, that glimmer will soon fade.

The Saints’ Josh Hill leaps over the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins in the first quarter.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
The Saints’ Josh Hill leaps over the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins in the first quarter.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

I've thought about this and I asked about this; Carson Wentz even conceded last week that he sounds like a "broken record." Players often resort to familiar refrains after losses, and they've lost too often this season. There has been a lot of looking internally, and the message has been repeated.

The problem is they're not fixing it. I think one of the challenges for the Eagles right now is they're at a loss because they've had so much success doing things a certain way, and it's not working. If you're looking at systematic changes, whether it's with preparation or calling games or something of that nature, they can counter that it worked during the Super Bowl season. Football seasons are long slogs, and one week doesn't tell a story. But it's Thanksgiving week, and they're dealing with the same problems they had in September.

The Eagles must look hard at why the offense is struggling so much, especially early in games; and that should include how the game plans are prepared and what calls are made. They need to stop thinking they were "this close" to a big play. It's a results-oriented business. On defense, the lack of turnovers are killing them. You can't just push a button to force turnovers, and they often come in waves, but there's been a near drought this year.

And then they also must figure out why injuries (and injury recoveries) are such a problem. Players are getting reinjured; soft tissue injuries are becoming a problem. A torn ACL is one thing. The hamstring injuries are another.

Not at all. Carson Wentz had a bad game, as mentioned above. And he's been too turnover-prone this year. But there's been enough evidence that Wentz is a franchise quarterback – during all three seasons in Philadelphia – that there should not be an alarm. If you don't feel he's taken enough of a leap in Year 3, it's a fair discussion, although there are a lot of factors to evaluate there and he's improved in some key areas.

I don't think Wentz is the problem at all, and Eagles fans should be confident with him as their quarterback for the next decade. He can and will play better. They should try to extend him as soon as they can, and they should feel confident with him at quarterback.

I answered a question about Howie Roseman last week and addressed the offseason moves, but the draft question is a different wrinkle here. The Eagles aren't getting enough returns from the 2017 draft, and that's been a problem when it comes to depth. That draft was:

Round 1: Derek Barnett

Round 2: Sidney Jones

Round 3: Rasul Douglas

Round 4: Mack Hollins

Round 4: Donnell Pumphrey

Round 5: Shelton Gibson

Round 5: Nate Gerry

Round 6: Elijah Qualls

The Eagles have had injuries at wide receiver, running back, and defensive tackle, and no one there has been a good enough backup. You're not going to hit on a lot of Day 3 picks, but you hope a few can become inexpensive reserves, such as the 2016 class. Plus, the Pumphrey pick was even worse because it's a position the Eagles needed and they missed out on a loaded running-back group.

I don't think Roseman's drafts have been horrible. The 2016 class was a good one, and it's too soon to judge 2018. But Roseman and Joe Douglas need to hit the 2019 class, because the Eagles need young talent to help fill in the gaps on an aging roster.

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