TAMPA – The Eagles’ return to the playoffs after a one-year absence was a dud.
They nearly laid a goose-egg, losing 31-15 to the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday, on the same field the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the title on last year, Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs led 31-0 in the fourth quarter before the Eagles offense did anything so the numbers the final stats will be skewed since they came in garbage time.
The loss wasn’t unexpected. It was, after all, a tall task.
A competitive game, however, was expected, if only because the Bucs were without WRs Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, and running back Leonard Fournette. Then they lost All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs to an ankle injury in the first quarter.
It didn’t matter. A competitive game never materialized.
The Eagles lost this one when they won the toss and elected to defer. Instead, Tom Brady took the field and led a touchdown drive that spanned 75 yards in 12 plays that took all of five minutes.
OK, that wasn’t the turning point.
The Eagles weren’t winning this one even if they sent their offense onto the field first.
They trailed 14-0 after the first quarter and never found their footing, looking overwhelmed by the moment, though head coach Nick Sirianni didn’t see that.
“I don’t want to say the moment got too big for them,” he said. “I think we just made some mistakes. Coaching, it always starts with me as a coach. There were some coaching mistakes and there’s going to be guys that want some plays back out there, but I didn’t sense for a moment that the moment was too big for them.
“There was a great atmosphere here, but I never felt that out there. We just didn’t make some plays, we didn’t coach good enough.”
The Eagles committed three turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns for Tampa, the other came in the end zone when Jalen Hurts couldn’t get enough on a throw to DeVonta Smith at the end of the first half and Mike Edwards intercepted him in the end zone.
“I want to say DeVonta got open on the play,” said Hurts. “I was expecting that. The safety came up the hash. I couldn’t get it up as soon as I wanted to. I got it up there a little late. He made a good catch on the sideline.”
Hurts became the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game in team history and he looked every bit of his 23 years. He talked during the week about having played in big games during his days at Alabama and Oklahoma, but college is college, and the pros are another level altogether.
Now, he knows that.
Perhaps this experience will help him going forward.
Right now, it stings, and it should. His biggest play was a 35-yard throw to Quez Watkins but then right after that he threw his first pick, the one in the end zone that ended the chance at points before halftime.
Too many of his throws were wobbly and off-target.
Hurts finished his first playoff start with 22 completions in 40 attempts for 242 yards. Not near good enough, considering many of those numbers came in the anti-climactic fourth quarter.
“We didn’t execute good enough,” said Hurts. “We didn’t do our job good enough. I didn’t do my job good enough. Communicating. Doing the little things. I could’ve been better, definitely. I think there are a couple different areas where we can shoulder this as a team. But I take accountability for my actions.”
In their first playoff games, Smith and Jalen Reagor did mostly nothing, except for Reagor, who fumbled a punt at midfield after the Eagles’ defense had forced a three-and-out.
Of course, the Bucs took advantage of the second turnover of the day for the Eagles, going 28 yards in five plays with the capper Tom Brady finding Rob Gronkowski for a 2-yard touchdown with 7:38 to play to make it 24-0.
Hurts’ second pick led to another TD, a 36-yard TD from Brady to Mike Evans and it was 31-0 with 5:18 to play in the third.
The Eagles had hoped for a different outcome from the first meeting between the teams on Oct. 14, a 28-22 loss that wasn’t that close after Tampa took a 28-7 lead in the second half.
The second time around was all-too-familiar, with a ground attack that featured only one running back, and that was Miles Sanders, who made his return from a broken hand to run seven times for 16 times and adding another 12 yards on three catches.
As a team, the Eagles ran for just 95 yards on 17 runs, well below their average of 159 yards per game, which led the NFL.
“Moving the front, edge pressure, disguising the coverages,” said LT Jordan Mailata when asked what the Bucs were doing to shut down that part of the Eagles’ game. “They did a good job. I feel like they respected our run game and put together a good game plan to effectively stop us.”
Sirianni touted his stable of running backs leading up to the game, but there were no touches in either the run or pass game from Jordan Howard Boston Scott until the fourth quarter. With his one carry, Scott went 34 yards into the end zone to prevent a shutout.
Rookie Kenny Gainwell was used in the pass game, and he was the Eagles’ other touchdown-maker, scoring a 16-yard reception with 4:45 to play.
Granted, the game turned quickly against the Eagles and, after Tampa Bay had taken a 17-0 lead on a 34-yard field goal from Ryan Succop, the Eagles at that point had one first down and had run just 10 plays to Tampa’s 15 first downs and 35 plays run, so there weren’t many opportunities to open the playbook.
"We missed our goal," said safety Rodney McLeod. "This obviously hurts, any loss. We wanted our season to continue on to the Super Bowl, that’s what we play this game for. But there are a lot of positives to take away from the season.
"...It’s unfortunate we lost, but there’s a lot you can hang your hat on and walk away from this game with your head held high."
Added Mailata: "We're a young team with a young coach, this is only the beginning."
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.