SEATTLE – For the first time in nearly two months, Doug Pederson and the Eagles found themselves in a game in which every decision, every call, and every mistake mattered.
That seems to happen when you trail for an entire game. And when you lose, as the Eagles did to the Seahawks – 24-10 on Sunday night – every decision, call and mistake that didn’t go your way will be magnified.
Just as they are when the results are positive.
But Pederson and the Eagles were on the opposite side of that coin for the first time in what has seemed like an eternity. Did the coach toss his challenge flag at the right times? Did he make the right decisions on several should he-go-for-it-or-not fourth downs? Did he have an offensive game plan designed to take advantage of Seattle’s cornerbacks?
And did he have his team prepared to face the Eagles’ first legitimate opponent since the Panthers in early October? Those questions are all fair. But it’s also important to not forget the first 11 games, the nine-game winning streak and all the successful moves Pederson had made.
The Eagles still have the best record (10-2) in the NFL, although they are now tied with the Vikings and Patriots. They still hold a four-game lead in the NFC East and control their own destiny. But the Eagles didn’t bring their “A” game to CenturyLink Field, and Pederson will have to shoulder his share of the blame.
Penalties were once again a problem. Asked the day after the Eagles’ 31-3 win over the Bears if anything stood out on film, Pederson quipped, “Besides the 11 penalties and the four fumbles?” He knew the Seahawks would capitalize on that many mistakes.
“Can’t make those mistakes against good football teams on the road and expect to win,” Peterson said. “You can’t do it and we did it again tonight.”
But the Eagles didn’t clean up the penalties during the last week of practice. Eagles center Jason Kelce said after the game that he didn’t think they had trained well. The Eagles were flagged five times for 54 yards in the first half – each one seemingly devastating — and two times for ten yards in the second. Some of the penalties were suspect, like the first quarter pass interference penalty on cornerback Ronald Darby.
But the Eagles were clearly sloppy.
The Eagles were better in the turnover department – but not by much. Carson Wentz tossed one interception. And he coughed up one fumble – a devastating one. Wentz opened the second half with an impressive drive and had the Eagles all the way down to the Seattle 4. He scrambled on second down and neared the goal line, but he lost the football inches short and inches before his knee hit the turf.
A hit from defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson jarred the ball loose and it bounced out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. It was the pivotal error of the game and it was all Wentz’s.
The play-calling and execution on the drive were excellent, especially after the Seahawks had stifled Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz in the first half. The Eagles went up tempo as Wentz countered with a series of downfield throws to Ertz for 14 and 10 yards and to Jeffery for 11 and 23 yards.
The success of the drive and an earlier fourth and one conversion covered up a questionable challenge by Pederson, though. Wentz hit Torrey Smith on third and 12 near the marker, but the ball was spotted a half yard short.
Pederson kept his offense on the field, but then threw his challenge flag. After the review, the call on the field stood. If Pederson was confident enough to go for it on the Seattle 29 – and he should have been since the Eagles were a perfect 8 of 8 on their previous fourth and one tries this season – then why gamble on the challenge and potentially lose a timeout?
Of course, Wentz’s sneak picked up the first down, but a timeout was wasted.
And Pederson’s decision to challenge affected his reluctance to toss his red beanie later in the game — although it probably shouldn’t have — when Russell Wilson appeared to have thrown an illegal forward pass. The Eagles had just trimmed their deficit to 17-10 early in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks faced a third and 9 at their own 42.
Wilson scrambled to around the 47-yard line and had linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Corey Graham bearing down on him short of the first down marker. He pitched the ball to Mike Davis, who was behind Wilson at the time, but he caught it around the 49. By rule it was a forward pass.
“We didn’t get all the necessary looks,” Pederson said. “They hustled to the line, but at the same time, it looked good. I trust the guys upstairs making those decisions and didn’t challenge. I had already challenged one in the half and lost that, so I didn’t want to risk another timeout.”
The most dubious of Pederson’s fourth down decisions came later in the quarter. The Seahawks held a 17-3 lead with three minutes and 55 seconds left in the third and the Eagles faced a fourth down and 3 at the Seattle 25.
The Eagles needed points, obviously, but there was still plenty of time. A field goal would have trimmed the margin to 11 points. The Eagles would have still needed two scores to take the lead, but a touchdown and two-point conversion and a field goal would have potentially knotted the score.
Pederson’s aggressiveness has paid off more times than not. But the Eagles failed to convert here when Wentz was pressured by the blitzing K.J. Wright and overthrew the open Kenjon Barner.
“Fourth and three is a great opportunity,” Pederson said. “We had them back against the wall a little bit.”
Pederson’s end-of-half decision-making was also curious. The Eagles faced third and 2 on the Seattle 46 with 59 seconds left. They ran to the right after a pitch to Corey Clement, but Lane Johnson slipped and fell and Clement was stopped for no gain.
Ajayi and Blount had shouldered most of the load on the ground in the first half, rushing for a combined 60 yards on 13 carries (4.6 average), but Clement got the call on the stretch play.
As the clock was clicking down from 40-something seconds, Pederson had his offense rush up to the line. But Wentz didn’t quick snap and the Eagles bled to clock down until a timeout was called with 18 ticks remaining.
Pederson seemed to be egging Seattle coach Pete Carroll into calling a timeout. If the Seahawks had stopped the clock he might have gone for it with one timeout left. An argument could be made that Pederson should have tried immediately anyway.
“I was trying to see if we could get the defense to jump and/or call a timeout,” Pederson said.
But the Eagles trailed by only one score and would have the ball to start the second half. Donnie Jones punted 43 yards to the 3-yard line and Wilson kneeled and the Seahawks went to break up, 10-3.
Pederson’s earlier decision on fourth and short proved to be a sound one. The Eagles, down, 3-0, were at their own 47 and with one yard to go. It would have been an aggressive move to go for it, despite the Eagles’ perfect record on fourth and ones, but Pederson elected to punt.
Jones’ boot went 43 yards to the 10-yard line and there was no return. Jim Schwartz’s defense responded and after a three and out and a punt, the Eagles got the ball back on the Seattle 46. But the offense could do nothing with the good field position and punted once again after Wentz was sacked on third down.
Still, Pederson was more timid in the first half than usual. He was more aggressive in the second half, but not when it mattered the most on Wilson’s illegal forward pass. The Eagles lost their first game in nearly three months for many reasons, but Pederson didn’t have one of his better days.
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