NEW ORLEANS – The Eagles spent the last week trying to fix a sinking season, calling for self-reflection and seeking to capitalize on the underdog status that propelled them last winter.
It didn't work. A season of underachievement might have reached its nadir in a 48-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at the Superdome, dropping the Eagles to 4-6.
"This is one of the worst losses I've ever been a part of," quarterback Carson Wentz said.
"Probably the worst loss I've ever been a part of," tight end Zach Ertz said.
The urgency that they lacked was supposed to have been there on Sunday – it should have been present last week against Dallas – and it will be needed next week against the New York Giants. That's the start of a three-game stretch against NFC East opponents that will prove whether the Eagles can salvage their Super Bowl defense or whether what they exhibited during the first 10 games is a conclusive snapshot of a team that spoiled such lofty preseason expectations.
The mirrors that the Eagles said they needed to look into during the last week didn't offer any guidance. Or maybe they were revealing. Because the Eagles were even worse than they have been all year.
"You guys feel free to have your own doubts, but we know what we're capable of," Wentz said. "The product we're putting out there is not up to our standards. I'm not playing up to my standards, and you can go down the list, and everyone's saying that. But we know the guys we have."
It wasn't so bad that they lost to the Saints, the hottest team in the NFL. The Eagles were heavy underdogs, and any hope of salvaging the season must come through NFC East victories. Rather, it was how uncompetitive and uninspired they appeared. They didn't look anywhere near the class of the Saints.
It was the largest loss by a defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history and the Eagles' worst loss since 2005, when they dropped a 42-0 blowout to Seattle during a lost season after a Super Bowl appearance.
"I hope it burns, I hope it hurts everyone," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "Because I don't want to be a part of this again."
If you wanted answers, they were not found after the game in the Superdome. A few players scurried away without comment. Those who did fessed up to the embarrassment and recognized the importance of the upcoming stretch of games.
Coach Doug Pederson relied on the familiar trope of how the Eagles will "roll up our sleeves, and we go to work." He admitted that there's always fear of the season's spiraling away from them – a compelling case could be made that it already has – but he does not believe that will happen with this group.
"I walked around that locker room, the offensive and defensive side, and to every man, told them, don't hang their head, let's go," Pederson said. "We're obviously in a rough spot right here, but I believe in those players, I believe in those coaches."
Wentz finished 19 of 33 for 156 yards and three interceptions. Saints quarterback Drew Brees added to his MVP campaign by going 22 of 30 for 363 yards and four touchdowns.
If the loss and the way they played wasn't enough to cause angst in Philadelphia, the injury report certainly did.
Avonte Maddox, the rookie who filled in admirably at safety and slot cornerback, exited with a knee injury. Center Jason Kelce also left the game with an elbow injury. Starting cornerbacks Sidney Jones (hamstring) and Rasul Douglas (knee) were early departures, too.
The Eagles cornerbacks by the fourth quarter were Chandon Sullivan, Cre'von LeBlanc, and De'Vante Bausby. None of them was on the active roster to start the season.
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Injuries are a part of the problem, but they don't tell the whole story. Throughout the week, there was much discussion by the Eagles about their slow starts to games. They entered Sunday with a league-low 21 points in first quarters this season. They finished the first quarter with a league-low 21 points, too.
The Eagles went three-and-out on their first two drives and two-and-out on the third drive, when Wentz was intercepted after underthrowing Nelson Agholor in deep double coverage. Wentz was visibly agitated after the play. Whatever script Pederson used for the first 15 plays appeared designed to feature punter Cameron Johnston.
"We've got to find ways to stay on the field," said Pederson, who added the Eagles were "out of sync."
Pederson passed up opportunities to go for fourth downs early in the game, wanting instead to win the field position battle. You saw how that turned out.
The offense needed to finally break through on Sunday to keep pace with the Saints, who are the highest-scoring offense in the league. Both offenses were as advertised. New Orleans scored on its first three possessions.
They settled for a field goal on their opening possession, which could be considered a positive for the Eagles. Entering the game, the defense knew the Saints would move the ball, but the Eagles needed to limit them to field goals rather than touchdowns. That didn't last long.
The Saints reached the end zone on their next two drives. The Eagles had the Saints backed up to a third-and-9 on the first touchdown drive, but Nigel Bradham couldn't make the stop in coverage and the Saints moved the chains with a 10-yard gain, helping their path to a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
After Wentz's interception, the Saints went 84 yards on 10 plays. Mark Ingram rushed for a 14-yard score in which the Eagles defense didn't seem interested in going near Ingram.
"Never once," Pederson said when asked if he ever questioned the Eagles' effort.
Once the Eagles spotted New Orleans 17 points, they finally reached the end zone.
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Josh Adams, who didn't make the team at the start of the season but has since emerged as the lead running back, rushed for a 28-yard touchdown to cut New Orleans' lead to 10. It was the Eagles' only score of the game.
The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Eagles had a chance to make it a one-possession game. They faced a third-and-4 from the Saints' 46-yard line – clearly four-down territory. But then came an inexplicable play that ruined any chance of trying to get back into the game. Wentz was sacked for a 10-yard loss, forcing the Eagles to punt.
The Saints scored a touchdown before halftime to take a 24-7 lead, and the lead only grew in the second half. They reached the end zone on four consecutive drives before settling for a field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
All the while, the Eagles couldn't score any points of their own. They barely threatened the Saints. And with the way they're playing, they have offered little reason to be confident that they can do anything this season – even if the opportunity remains in front of them.
"The evidence is disturbing," Ertz said. "But I truly believe we'll have our best game on Sunday."
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