TAMPA, Fla. — The Eagles spent last week focused on limiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' big plays and finding an early offensive rhythm after a lackluster season opener. It was even part of coach Doug Pederson's speech to the team on Saturday night.
So the most revealing indicator of the type of afternoon it would be in the Eagles' 27-21 loss to the Bucs on Sunday came when the Bucs scored a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game, and the offense went backward on its first drive in what might be Nick Foles' final start of the season.
Although the Eagles were competitive late into the loss, they were overmatched by a team they were favored to beat on the road. The Bucs used a big-play offense and the Eagles lacked the firepower to match.
"We can't go into a game talking about how we've got to stop the big play and give up one right out of the gate," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, echoing Pederson's postgame message. "We can't … put ourselves in [bad] positions with penalties. We're not that good to come back from those types of plays. We stop beating ourselves, start cleaning up things, and just play our game, we'll be fine."
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The Eagles played without Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, and Darren Sproles. Jason Peters left the game in the first quarter with a quadriceps injury. Mike Wallace exited in the first half with an ankle injury. Jay Ajayi missed much of the first half with a back injury before returning to the game.
The Eagles fell to 1-1 after losing in Week 2, just like they did last season. They host the Indianapolis Colts next week — and it sounds like they'll have Wentz back for that game. Pederson said he will update Wentz's status on Monday.
"I can't wait to get him back, whenever that is," tight end Zach Ertz said. "But at the same time, we can't expect him to be Superman, either. … We have a lot of talent on offense where he shouldn't have to feel like he'll come in and solve all our problems."
It's true the Eagles have a lot of talent, but they weren't the same offense with many key players on the injury report. Foles finished 35 of 48 for 334 yards and one touchdown, although it took too long to find any offensive momentum. And the Buccaneers had the better offense on Sunday because a defense that vexed Matt Ryan in Week 1 was picked apart by Ryan Fitzpatrick. The journeyman quarterback continued his scorching start to the season by going 27 of 33 for 402 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
DeSean Jackson has flourished against his former team ever since his unceremonious 2014 release by the Eagles; Sunday's 129-yard performance was the latest example. The first 75 yards came on the game's opening play, when Jackson burned past Jalen Mills. Jenkins, who was supposed to cover the deep post, bit early in the play to leave Mills without help. Jenkins took responsibility for the error.
"Basically spotted them seven points and we lost by six," Jenkins said.
>> SEE MORE PHOTOS: Bucs 27, Eagles 21
And it wasn't a surprise. If you listened to Jenkins during the week, you heard him talk about the threat of Jackson and the need to limit big plays. Even worse, that wasn't the last 75-yard touchdown the Eagles allowed.
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The answer from the Eagles offense was three-and-out on the first drive. On their second drive, penalties pushed them back into a first-and-30 and a second-and-40. Pederson might be a good play-caller, but he doesn't have any Philly Specials tucked away for second-and-40.
"We talked about eliminating the big play, and then conversely offensively, we tried to create the big play," Pederson said. "Offensively, we were just so far behind. Penalties and lost yardage, it's tough"
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The Eagles finally scored in the second quarter on a 13-play, 78-yard drive with two third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion. Corey Clement rushed for a 15-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The lead lasted only 12 seconds. That's how long it look Tampa Bay to score another 75-yard touchdown.
This time, Fitzpatrick found tight end O.J. Howard across the middle, and poor tackling attempts by the Eagles allowed Howard to run for the long score. Fitzpatrick added another touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half before Eagles kicker Jake Elliott missed a 42-yard attempt as the team entered the break with a 20-7 deficit.
Pederson has developed a well-earned a reputation for being aggressive. He lived up to it on Sunday when he went for a fourth-and-4 from Tampa Bay's 49-yard line on the first drive of the third quarter. Pederson didn't need to listen to any conversion percentages; he was determined to go for any fourth down on that drive. Foles' pass to Ertz was short of the marker, giving the Bucs a short field. The Bucs needed to go only 54 yards for a touchdown, which they did to take a 27-7 lead.
After the game, the Eagles were proud of the resolve they displayed in coming back late in the fourth quarter. They scored the game's last two touchdowns, including a 2-yard rush by Ajayi and a 2-yard catch by Nelson Agholor.
Those two touchdowns sandwiched a drive when they turned the ball over downs. The missed field goal from the first half plagued them because Pederson could have attempted a long field to try to cut Tampa Bay's lead to eight points and make it a one-possession game instead of going for a fourth-and-10.
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Regardless, the deficit proved too deep for the Eagles. The defense couldn't force the Bucs off the field in enough time to give the offense a chance, and the Eagles' comeback bid fell short.
The Eagles often seemed to find a way to win close games last season, no matter who was injured or how dire the circumstances. There were still outliers even in the Super Bowl season that could be compared to Sunday.
"We didn't win every single game last year, I think people forget that," Foles said. "There's a lot of expectations for us. We can't put that pressure on ourselves."
One of those losses came in Week 2 last year, but don't expect Pederson to use that as a motivational tool this week. The Eagles could get Wentz — and others — back for the Colts game, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll play the way they did in 2017.
"I can't go back and relive those days because it's a new football team, new season," Pederson said. "Now we're going to learn from this, we're going to be better. I vowed to the team that we will get better. …We have our own set of circumstances to fix."
>> LISTEN: Jeff McLane and Zach Berman talk Eagles-Bucs
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