When Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick emerged for his postgame news conference Sunday, he was wearing a DeSean Jackson ensemble and doing his best sartorial impression of the wide receiver.
As you can imagine, this was a bit of a stretch for a 6-foot-2 Caucasian with a beard that is approaching ZZ Top mass, but Fitzpatrick went for it. He wore a silken track suit jacket unzipped to the sternum, a heavy layer of gold bling around his neck, and large aviator sunglasses.
If you are a fan of act-like-you've-been-there-before – and certainly Fitzpatrick has been everywhere before – then the comedy routine was a bit over the top, but the Eagles better be prepared for this kind of thing when they happen to lose a football game.
Playing against the Eagles for the sixth time in his career, and with the sixth team, Fitzpatrick led the Bucs to the 27-21 win that marked the end of the most impressive winning streak in Eagles history. It is still September and a little too early for being overly pleased with oneself, but the Bucs celebrated for a very good reason: They had just beaten the Super Bowl champions.
Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff game since its own Super Bowl win 16 seasons ago, but this was the next best thing. Any team looking for affirmation will find it on the scoreboard after beating the world champions.
"It's something that I try to talk to our team a lot about," coach Doug Pederson said after the game. "We're going to get everybody's best, every single week."
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To be blunt, of course, it wouldn't necessarily take a team's best to beat the Eagles when they play as they did Sunday. A certain amount of the offense's struggles can be explained by the sheer number of players missing from the skill positions, and the quad injury that limited left tackle Jason Peters to eight snaps. Kamar Aiken isn't Alshon Jeffery. Wendell Smallwood isn't Darren Sproles. And Halapoulivaati Vaitai isn't Peters.
Beyond that, Nick Foles isn't the one to turn those mice into footmen. Maybe the return of Carson Wentz will provide the energy and added dimension that are needed, and heaven knows, he'll come out like a puppy released from a pen. But that doesn't change the entire dynamic. The offense is thin, and the sort of players who could help fill those gaps are usually on other teams.
Even with what the Eagles had in Tampa on Sunday, they still scored 21 points and were a clanked upright away from scoring 24. The Eagles would have gone 11-5 last season scoring 24 points a game. This loss was on the defense more than the offense, and it is a puzzling trend that Jim Schwartz's defenses are not as stingy on the road. For a team that will be fighting once again for home-field advantage in the playoffs, that's something that has to be addressed.
It's easy to say that just two big plays by Tampa Bay made the difference – or just one of the two big plays, for you math majors – but that doesn't mean they won't happen again the next time. Without pressure from the defensive line, and there wasn't enough, any secondary is vulnerable, and even a career journeyman such as Fitzpatrick can end the day with a merry game of dress-up.
Those are the tangibles right now: The Eagles didn't have all their weapons, and they didn't play well, either.
The intangibles have more to do with that rain of confetti that fell on them in February. Every NFL player watched it. Every team measures itself this season by how it performs against the champ.
"First of all, it's the NFL and everybody plays hard every week," Pederson said. "When you're the team, everybody's looking at you, and you have to play like it. I felt like we did too many things that [caused] us not to play the type of football that we're used to playing."
Some of that is because the opponent was sky-high to meet the challenge, and that is really the new normal for the Eagles. Expecting to win and expecting to achieve great things are the norm that Pederson and Howie Roseman established for the team last season, but sneaking up on anyone is now out of the equation.