NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There they were yesterday, sitting pretty on the Tennessee 3-yard line with a little less than 6 minutes left in the third quarter.
There they were, 3 yards from a touchdown that would have given them a 23-7 lead and put them well on their way to their fifth win of the season and a very satisfying bye-week vacation.
And then, just like that, it all went to hell. In the time it took Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones to blow by center Mike McGlynn and slap a would-be handoff to LeSean McCoy out of quarterback Kevin Kolb's hand, momentum shifted.
"You have opportunities to put a team away, you have got to do it," Eagles coach Andy Reid said after the Titans scored 30 points in the final 16 1/2 minutes to give Reid's young team a 37-19 gut-punch.
"You can't give good teams an opportunity to survive when you have their back against the wall, and we did that."
Ahead 16-7, an Asante Samuel interception gave the Eagles the ball at the Tennessee 41-yard line. They converted two third-down opportunities, the second one on a 9-yard pass from Kolb to rookie wide receiver Riley Cooper to give them a first-and-goal at the 3.
The next play was supposed to be a handoff to McCoy. Supposed to be, because it never happened. Jones, who lined up on McGlynn's right shoulder, blew through the gap between the Eagles' center and right guard Max Jean-Gilles, and was on Kolb before he had a chance to get the ball to McCoy. The ball came loose and was recovered by Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner.
"It was my error," McGlynn said after the game. "I should have been on 91 [Jones]. I caused the fumble, basically. It's just disappointing that it happened and I take responsibility for that.
"It can't happen in that situation. The guy came clean and Kevin got hit as he was handing the ball off. Momentum changed there."
It was not a particularly good day for McGlynn and the rest of the offensive line. While the stat sheet shows that they only allowed one sack, protection was erratic. They also were flagged for three holding penalties, including a killer in the fourth quarter by right tackle Winston Justice after the Titans went up 20-19; it negated an Eagles first down and forced them to punt.
Knee injuries to Justice and left tackle King Dunlap forced Reid and offensive line coach Juan Castillo to juggle the line several times during the game.
When Dunlap or Justice were out of the game, left guard Todd Herremans slid outside and Nick Cole replaced him at left guard.
No one, including Reid, was in the mood to specifically explain what went wrong on the play. It appeared on the replay that McGlynn and Jean-Gilles may have both tried to block another Titans defensive lineman, leaving an open lane to Kolb for Jones.
"They ran a blitz toward my side," said Jean-Gilles. "I picked up the d-end. I guess 91 [Jones] was standing toward the center and got through and knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hand.
"It's all about momentum. That [fumble] really turned the game around. We tried to overcome adversity, but didn't."
How much did momentum swing? Well, before the fumble, the Titans ran 30 offensive plays and had just 95 yards and six first downs and scored seven points. After the fumble, they also ran 30 plays, but gained 233 yards, had nine first downs and scored 23 points.
"That's tough, man," McCoy said. "If we had scored there and gone up 23-7, it would have taken the air out of them a lot and it probably would have been a different outcome."
The fumble was one of three red-zone opportunities the Eagles failed to capitalize on. They have converted just four of their last 12 trips inside the 20 into touchdowns.
They had four giveaways against the Titans, which was just one fewer than they had in their first six games. They also had 10 penalties for 100 yards, including three holding calls on their offensive line.
"Opportunities in the red zone," Reid said, "you get yourself that far in the red zone and then come out with field goals instead of touchdowns and a turnover. Absolutely brutal there."
McCoy rushed for just 48 yards on 16 carries. It was the first time since the Eagles' Week 1 loss to the Packers that the second-year running back failed to rush for at least 50 yards.
Maybe that 17th carry would hae been the charm yesterday. We'll never know.
"I saw it coming," McCoy said of the fumble. "I saw the guy [Jones] come through and hit Kevin and hit his arm. I never really had it."
Said Titans coach Jeff Fisher: "That [play] was huge. If they score there, they're going up by 16. Instead, you know, we go down and get a field goal and it's a different game.''
A totally different game.
Something to think about
The Eagles' defense already has given up 13 touchdown passes in the first seven games to the likes of Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, David Garrard and yesterday, 90-year-old Kerry Collins. Still waiting in the wings are the Manning brothers, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, Brett Favre and a rematch against Donovan McNabb. To quote Bette Davis, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
Did you notice?
-- Mike Vick, who was designated the No. 3 quarterback yesterday, was called for sideline interference on Quintin Mikell's first-quarter interception. He apparently stepped out on the field and got in the path of the side judge.
-- It was clear early on that Kevin Kolb wasn't nearly as sharp as he had been in his previous two starts, when he had completed 73.3 percent of his passes. On the Eagles' second possession, he missed open receivers on back-to-back plays. First, he overthrew tight end Brent Celek on what would have been a big gainer down the left sideline. Then he overthrew an open Chad Hall down the middle of the field.
-- Cornerback Asante Samuel, who missed a game earlier this season with a concussion after getting kneed in the head trying to tackle Redskins fullback Mike Sellers, got the worst of an attempted tackle on Chris Johnson in the first quarter. Johnson knocked Samuel on his back and his helmet went flying.
-- The Eagles failed to score on their first possession for the first time in 3 games.
-- Winston Justice, who was playing on a sore knee, was beaten by Titans defensive lineman William Hayes, who pressured Kolb and forced the second-quarter interception that set up the Titans' first score. With Hayes in his face, Kolb wasn't able to step into a deep throw for Jeremy Maclin. It was badly overthrown and picked off by safety Michael Griffin.
-- The nice block by LeSean McCoy on Will Witherspoon on Kolb's 14-yard run for a first down late in the second quarter.
-- The two huge plays by Riley Cooper on the Eagles' second-quarter touchdown drive. Before his 5-yard touchdown catch, he made a terrific comeback move on safety Chris Hope for a 37-yard completion that gave the Eagles a first down at the Tennessee 5.
-- Eagles offensive linemen were called for 3 holding penalties yesterday. Max Jean-Gilles, Winston Justice and King Dunlap each had one.
-- Sav Rocca had a pair of 60-plus yard punts (61 and 63).
By the numbers
-- In his last 32 carries, including 16 against the Titans, LeSean McCoy has rushed for just 80 yards. That's just 2.5 yards per carry.
-- Kenny Britt's 225 receiving yards were the most against the Eagles since at least 1960. The previous two highs were 213 yards by the Cowboys' Tony Hill on Nov. 12, 1979, and 204 yards by the Lions' Roy Williams on Sept. 23, 2007.
-- All five of David Akers' kickoffs went for touchbacks yesterday. He's got 11 touchbacks in his last 21 kickoffs.
-- The Eagles' first scoring drive was the longest of the season in terms of both plays (14) and possession time (7 minutes, 26 seconds).
-- Britt, who had three touchdown catches against the Eagles, has had at least 1 TD catch in five straight games.
-- For the fifth time this season, the Eagles led at the half. For the first time this season, they lost when they had a halftime advantage. Under Andy Reid, the Eagles now are 90-15 when they lead at the half.
-- With the three holding penalties they picked up against the Titans, the Eagles' offensive line has 11 in seven games. Jason Peters has three, Todd Herremans, Winston Justice and Max Jean-Gilles each have two, and Nick Cole and King Dunlap each have one.
-- The Eagles' 100 penalty yards were a season high. Their 10 penalties equaled the season-high number they had in Week 1 against the Packers. They've committed eight or more penalties in five of their seven games.
-- The Eagles' four giveaways against the Titans were just one fewer than they had in their first six games.
-- The Eagles have given up eight passing touchdowns in the last three games.
-- The Eagles were just 1-for-4 in the red zone yesterday. They have converted just four of their last 12 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns after converting seven of their first eight this season.
-- In their last three games, the Eagles have held opponents to 214 rushing yards on 67 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry. In their first four games, they allowed 4.4 yards per carry.
-- Safety Quintin Mikell had one of the Eagles' three sacks against the Titans. It was just the second of the season by a defensive back (Nate Allen has the other one). In the last 23 regular-season games, Eagles defensive backs have just 3 1/2 sacks.
-- Fourteen of Sav Rocca's 35 punts this season have gone at least 53 yards.