THE EAGLES' defense watched itself bleed out Monday night, in trickles and drips, unable to wrest the football from Aaron Rodgers, who wielded it like a scalpel.
"We tried a gamut of things, and were just scraping and scratching for one yard or one step," safety Malcolm Jenkins said Wednesday, as the team tried to turn its focus to Sunday's game at Cincinnati, in the face of a media corps still intent on unraveling the 27-13 loss to underdog Green Bay that was supposed to start an Eagles push toward the playoffs.
"He was just always a little bit of a step ahead of us. It's tough. We look at things, and we're literally talking about inches, and whether a guy should be a little bit further in on his leverage, or whether we (could have made a tackle) right behind the sticks, just small things here or there . . . They executed."
Specifically, Rodgers executed the Eagles' reasonable hopes of making a postseason bid, dropping them to 5-6, with all six losses recorded within the NFC.
"Some of it was, we were trying to disguise looks, and he figured it out," cornerback Nolan Carroll said, when asked why Rodgers' receivers always seemed open for quick throws, over and over and over. "It was just one of those things where we were off that night. He saw what we were in, and sometimes we didn't execute well, and he made us pay for it."
Carroll had to endure film review of Rodgers' second touchdown pass, that amazing 20-yard thread-the-needle throw to Davante Adams in the back of the end zone. Carroll was running step-for-step with Adams as the pass arrived. The ball whizzed past his midsection, pretty much through his hands, before Adams leaned forward and caught it.
"It was frustrating. Once I got my head around, it was like, 'Damn, it just happened' . . . The only thing I could have done was to probably get my head around a little bit quicker, but I felt like I needed to get in phase (with Adams) first before I looked," Carroll said. "When I looked, I looked up. But when he released it, he kind of almost 'darted' it in there. What's that, like a 20-, 30-yard throw? On a rope like that, kind of low. It's just one of those things that happens. You've got to shake it off and go on to the next play."
What could the defense have done to get off the field? The Packers totaled six possessions, excluding kneeldowns, and they scored points on five of them, including a humiliating 17-play, 78-yard march for the field goal that set the final score.
"It's disappointing . . . First of all, that's been our strength, being able to get off the field and give our offense a chance at the end of the game," middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. The Eagles credited Hicks with a team-high seven solo tackles Monday night.
"Watching film is different from actually being out there playing against him," Hicks said of Rodgers. Hicks said film doesn't adequately capture "how quickly he's able to make those decisions."
And yet, the Packers came in 4-6. Other defenses found ways to get off the field and limit Rodgers enough to beat Green Bay. Why couldn't the Eagles?
"In my opinion, it's third down . . . If we give our offense more opportunities to score - you look at the other games they've lost, they were shootouts. We didn't hold up our part of the bargain, giving our offense opportunities. I think they may have had six possessions. In a fast game, that's a half," Hicks said.
Green Bay converted 10 of its first 12 third-down opportunities, an astonishing number. Even with two third-down failures near the end of the game, the Packers' 10-for-14, 71 percent, was the highest conversion rate recorded in the NFL this season. And that doesn't include two conversions awarded by penalty.
Carroll noted that the early conversions were all short yardage - they started with third-and-1, third-and-4, third-and-1 twice more, then third-and-2 - five conversions before the Packers even faced anything as long as third-and-5.
"It starts with first down," Carroll said. "If you can get them in longer second-down situations and long third-down situations, it makes it easier for us. We weren't able to do that. We were watching clips today, and we just saw, third-and-2, third-and-4, third-and-1 . . . it's just hard . . . (when it's third-and-short), instead of us really dictating what the offense can do, it's more so they're dictating what we have to do. Bad night."
The Eagles' defensive line, with its $105 million in salary guarantees, excluding rookie contracts, has been under the harshest scrutiny. The two centerpieces, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, were responsible for the two conversions by penalty. Cox's roughing of Rodgers changed a three-and-out into a touchdown drive that put the game out of reach.
Cox pushed his way into the Green Bay backfield several times Monday night but made no plays once he got there; Rodgers seldom held the ball, and no Eagle could get his hands up in front of a throw, it seemed. Cox, usually double-teamed, last recorded a sack Oct. 9. The offensive focus on stopping him hasn't seemed to help any of his teammates.
Asked how he graded his performance, Cox said: "I don't think really it's about individual performance. We lost. That says it all."
Cox was asked how he has handled being a focal point of fan anger, a spot he has rarely occupied in his five-year Eagles career.
"Get ready to go on Sunday (in Cincinnati). The game ended Monday night. We know how we played as a defense. We know that we can be better," he said. "We knew what we've got to do to get better - and that's not change (anything) that we do, because we know what type of team we are, what type of defense we are. We're going to be aggressive and get after people."
Graham said he thought he and other Eagles maybe got a bit too uptight in the Monday night spotlight, with so much on the line.
"We just gotta get back to having fun," he said. "That third-down stuff, I felt like it was just a lot of pressure . . . because we were so caught up into, 'Man, we need to have this game.' We kind of lost sight of, it's football, y'all, let's have fun. That's how we play, we play loose.
"That's the message this week, just go out there and have fun, the worst has happened to us already. Let's pick it up and get back to where we were in the beginning . . . I'm not going to try to look too much into the future . . . These last five games, we're going to have fun. And it starts this week."