PHILADELPHIA – It got ugly early and never got any prettier as the Eagles lost 28-22 to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night.
At least last week, the ugly duckling turned into a swan late in a 21-18 win over the Carolina Panthers. The mountain proved too steep to climb against a seasoned Buccaneers team, though the Eagles gave it a good try late in the second half.
Now 2-4, the Eagles will travel to Las Vegas to play a Raiders team in turmoil on Oct. 24.
"We didn’t execute early on," said head coach Nick Sirianni. "We have to put the guys in better spots to execute. We didn’t execute, and we just have to do a better job to start off the football game, to get ourselves off to a fast start.
"I know we scored on the first possession, but after that, it fluttered all the way to the middle of the second half. So, again, get to adjustments even quicker and make sure we are doing our jobs as coaches to put them in good positions."
After falling behind 28-7 against Tampa, the Eagles valiantly battled back to within six points.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another one, but could not undo the magic of Tom Brady, who completed 34 of 42 throws for 297 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, that from Eagles safety Anthony Harris.
The Bucs' super-veteran made sure the Eagles couldn't complete the comeback.
After Hurts' six-yard TD run with 5:54 to play and ensuing two-point conversion throw to Quez Watkins, the Bucs went on a time-chewing march that included a big third-down conversion.
The Eagles never got the ball back.
Eagles linebacker Genard Avery helped get that final drive started with a taunting penalty that tacked on 15 yards to a two-yard run from Leonard Fournette, who had a strong game with 81 yards on 22 runs and two touchdowns with another 46 yards on six catches.
Tampa Bay converted a pivotal third-and-seven from the Eagles 45 with 3:45 to play in the game, when Brady found Antonio Brown for a 27-yard completion.
“We had a double on [Brown]," said Eagles safety Rodney McLeod. "We went into the game and said we have that in our back pocket if we need to use it. We felt that it was a great time in that moment. Tom [Brady] had been connecting with him pretty often and we felt as though we need to take him away.
"Myself and [Eagles S] Marcus Epps were on him on that play. He just made an amazing play honestly. Obviously, he got outside of the pocket and threw it, and great catch. But [they’re] two great players and they have a great connection. But myself, I have to do better on that play and put ourselves in position to get a stop right there and give our offense a chance to win the game.”
The Eagles' comeback began with 2:15 to play in the third quarter when Hurts ran in from six yards on fourth-and-goal to make the score 28-14.
It was also Hurts who cashed a touchdown on the team's first possession of the game, a 5-yard throw to Zach Ertz with 6:01 to go in the opening quarter to even the score at 7-7.
In a puzzling move, the Bucs tried to go for it on fourth-and-three near midfield, but Bady fired high to tight end O.J. Howard with 8:59 to play in the game.
That gave the Eagles some life and they went 54 yards in seven plays to make the score 28-22.
But again, too much Brady at the end thwarted the comeback.
“[The Eagles defense] played tough," said Brady. "They have a good front. They really clogged up the run game in there and we just didn’t hit as many passes as we needed to. I felt they did a great job. They really made us earn it and we just came up short a few times.”
Hurts threw for just 115 yards against a Bucs' pass defense that ranked dead last coming into the game. Despite the three touchdowns - he now has 8 passing and five rushing - he had a passer rating of 55.7 and had just 12 completions in 26 attempts.
He ran for 44 yards on 10 carries.
It was the QB's second straight sub-par week.
“Yeah that’s about all the offense they had," said Bucs coach Bruce Arians. "They popped a couple runs late when we were playing pass-defense. Just him travelling, him getting out of the pocket, improvising. I liked the way we handled all the design plays, those improvised plays that are tough.”
Miles Sanders had only one first-half run, but was used more during the comeback and finished with nine carries for 56 yards.
The Eagles' two best offensive plays were pass interference penalties, both with Jalen Reagor running routes. The PIs went for 45 and 50 yards and set up two of the Eagles' scores.
Brown had nine catches for 93 yards with a 23-yard score in the first quarter that gave Tampa Bay a 14-7 lead.
All four of Tampa Bay's scoring drives went longer than five minutes, with their fourth and final one lasting 7:41, spanning 79 yards with 12 plays.
"We have to get off the field a couple more times than we did," said cornerback Avonte Maddox. "But I felt like we did okay but we can do much better. They have a lot of weapons, for sure, in their receiving core and in the backfield.
"They definitely got rid of the ball. It was definitely a big challenge going into the game. We saw that [Brady] was throwing the ball really well deep and they came out and threw a lot of screens. So, we just got to look at it and see what we can do and correct from it.”
The long drives helped the Bucs win the time of possession battle 39 minutes, 56 seconds to the Eagles' total of 20:04.
Even more telling was that the Eagles' defense was required to make 78 tackles, led by a career-high from linebacker Alex Singleton, who had 15, to Tampa Bay needing to just make 37 tackles.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.