Eagles go quietly into the night as Newton fuels a Carolina victory
Hearing boos at home is nothing new for the Eagles. It's part and parcel of playing in front of the rabid and notoriously cranky Philadelphia fans, especially during this disappointing season.
The sound that hovered over Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night, during a 30-22 Carolina win that dropped the Eagles to 3-8, was entirely new -- and, for the Philadelphia players, had to be much, much more painful.
When rookie Brandon Boykin fumbled a kickoff with less than five minutes left, only a few hearty souls at Philadelphia's less-than-full stadium could even muster the energy to let fly the catcalls. Moments later, as Philadelphia linebacker Mychal Kendricks picked up a crucial holding penalty, even those most devoted and devastated diehards sat quietly.
The resignation, at least amongst the fan base, reached a maximum level Monday night. A little less than two months ago, Andy Reid's team sat at 3-1, coming off a victory over the Giants.
Now, they've lost seven in a row, have an injury list long enough to reach across Delaware Bay and appear headed toward an offseason full of changes following this Murphy's Law-inspired season.
"We're going to keep battling," embattled Eagles coach Andy Reid answered when asked if he thought this collapse would cost him his job. "I'm going to control what I can control and that's getting better as a team. I've got to do a better job at that.
"I'm worried about winning football games and making sure I can get my players coached up."
Reid's team did receive a shot in the arm from rookie running back Bryce Brown, who stepped in for an injured LeSean McCoy, and did his best to provide some energy. Brown ripped off 178 yards rushing on 19 carries and scored twice.
The problem, as has been the theme all season with the Eagles, was that even that terrific performance was overshadowed by mistakes. Brown coughed up the football twice in the second half, killing an Eagles drive in the third quarter and helping to set up a Carolina field goal later.
"Bryce really did what we thought he could do coming into the game," Reid said. "He's a talented kid, it's a shame he had the two fumbles -- he was on a roll. He'll learn from it. He's a smart kid, very talented. Bright, bright future."
Reid likely will not be around to witness those better days. Owner Jeffrey Lurie essentially issued a playoffs-or-bust ultimatum to Reid before the season began.
Unless something miraculous happens, the Eagles will fall well short of that goal.
The majority of the blame will fall on Reid -- he even pointed the finger at himself Monday night, especially when it came to two early busted coverages on defense, which led to a pair of Cam Newton TD passes. If there is any defense left for Philadelphia's coach, it's that his team is ravaged by injuries. Brown started alongside another rookie, QB Nick Foles, with Michael Vick out, and when DeSean Jackson left in the first quarter after a hard hit, Philadelphia was down to just three of 11 Week 1 starters on offense (Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Evan Mathis).
And yet, Carolina arrived in Philadelphia with problems of its own -- not the least of which were a 2-8 record and losses in seven of the past eight games.
The Panthers, unlike the flailing Eagles, kept their mistakes to a bare minimum Monday. More than that, as Foles struggled in his second start, Newton thrived. He threw for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns, plus ran for two more, in a do-everything performance that served as a reminder of his talent level.
"It means a lot, on prime-time football, in front of America," Newton told ESPN. "We've just got to get our confidence back, get that swag back and finish strong."
Newton's sophomore slump has been one of the NFL season's great mysteries. He exploded onto the scene with 35 total touchdowns in 2011, giving the Panthers hope that they could contend for a playoff spot this year. Instead, they've bottomed out in the NFC South, while Newton's numbers have plummeted.
But while Monday served as the nail in the coffin for Philadelphia's season, it did the opposite for the Panthers, providing a glimmer of hope that they could close strong and make 2013 everything they wanted 2012 to be.
"(The win) means everything," Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly told the NFL Network. "All the hard work we've put in, we finally get the benefit."
Optimistically, he added: "We've still got a shot at the playoffs. We can run the table here and see what happens."
Mathematically, that's true for both Carolina and Philadelphia. An 8-8 mark might sneak an NFC team into the postseason, should a massive list of scenarios play out just right. The reality, though, is that both of Monday night's combatants are playing for pride, playing to establish some positives in a lost season.
"They're going to make some mistakes," Reid said of his inexperienced team. "We've got to live with some of that right now ... get better at it as we go along." Whether Reid's the catalyst for a reversal of fortune or not, it's hard to imagine Philadelphia drifting much further down. At this point, the Eagles gladly would listen to a stadium's worth of boos rather than endure another silent night.