What was supposed to be a “dream” season officially became a nightmare Sunday when the spiraling Eagles gave up their third-consecutive fourth quarter lead while losing to the San Francisco 49ers 24-23.
The Eagles notched an amazing 513 yards -- the sixth-highest total ever under coach Andy Reid. But they also allowed an inexcusable 442 yards to a 49ers offense that came into the game struggling to move the ball.
The keys to the Eagles losing and falling to an abysmal 1-3, were shoddy defense late, missed opportunities in the red zone and abandoning the running game for most of the contest.
Let’s start with the defense. The Eagles led 20-3 at the half and extended their lead to 23-3 with 9:30 left in the third quarter. But the 49ers would go on to score 21 unanswered points as the Eagles run defense fell apart and the pass coverage yet again exhibited poor tackling and terrible decisions.
Eagles DE Jason Babin had a career-high three sacks but late in the game he was exposed on running plays.
Babin, while unable to explain why the defense keeps faltering late, could still say what the defense should be doing.
"I don’t know what is in everybody else’s head. I know what is in my head. When we put our foot on their throats, we have to finish them. If you let off, guess what, this is what happens."
The big blows came in the third on a 44-yard pass and run from San Fran QB Alex Smith to RB Kendall Hunter and a 30-yard TD two plays later to Josh Morgan. Then on their next drive, Smith hit Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard play and completed the drive with a 9-yard TD pass to Vernon Davis.
The Eagles defense was hurt by injuries to DT Antonio Dixon and DE Trent Cole but they were already struggling to stop the Niners normally lackluster passing attack. Smith threw for 291 yards on 21-for-33 passing and two TDs (a 112.1 passer rating) with most of his damage being done in the second half.
Smith got an assist from RB Frank Gore who battled an ankle injury to rush for 127 yards and a score on just 15 carries.
The Eagles still had their chances but rookie Alex Henery missed 39-yard and 33-yard field goals to keep the Niners within one score in the second half. His counterpart, former Eagles K David Akers, wound up also missing a 44-yarder and had a 45-yarder blocked but he kicked home the deciding extra point.
After Henery’s second miss the Eagles still led 23-17 with 6:28 left.
"I was very disappointed," Henery said. "I got off to a good start and those last two misses were my fault."
But just like in Atlanta and against the Giants the Eagles’ lead wasn’t safe. San Fran got three double-digit yardage runs (one from Hunter two from Gore) that ended with a 12-yard dash to the end zone by Gore.
The Birds had their chance to answer after Michael Vick got the ball with 3 minutes left on the clock. But Jeremy Maclin fumbled after failing to protect the ball on a 17-yard reception. San Fran recovered, the Eagles defense failed at two attempts to prevent the Niners from rushing for a first down and time ran out on a potential comeback.
In the loss Vick put up an impressive 416 yards passing on 30-for-46 passing (99.5 passer rating) including two TDs and an interception. But Vick wasn’t great in the red zone as the Eagles went 2-for-7 compared to the Niners’ 2-for-3 red zone efficiency. It wasn’t Vick’s fault though when Ronnie Brown fumbled the ball away on a 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter.
Vick also rushed for 75 yards on 8 carries. But besides his scrambles, the Eagles called just 12 runs plays as RB LeSean McCoy was held to just 18 yards on nine carries against the Niners' Top-5 rush defense.
The Eagles air attack was led by WR DeSean Jackson who caught six balls for 171 yards but failed to find the end zone as TE Clay Harbor and McCoy caught TD passes.
After the game Reid summed up the effort.
"Absolutely terrible job by myself and my football team today," Reid said. "When you have the lead in the National Football League, you build on it and you continue to score points when given the opportunity. In all areas we were terrible today. We had a lot of yards, but we didn’t punch it in, and we were just 2-for-7 in the red zone. Defensively, we gave up three scoring drives in the second half. Our young kicker [Alex Henery] has got to figure it out too, just like everybody else on our football team. When you have opportunities to score points, you score points."
The Eagles now face an absolute must-win in Buffalo next week as they take on the 3-1 Bills after they lost their first game of the season 23-20 in Cincinnati Sunday.