Fumbles foil Bryce Brown's breakout game

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Trent Cole celebrates a second-quarter stop against Carolina.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Trent Cole celebrates a second-quarter stop against Carolina.
Posted: November 28, 2012

A rookie showed star potential for the Eagles Monday night, in their 30-22 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field.

It would have been a much bigger deal had that rookie been Nick Foles, but at this point in the end-of-the-Andy-Reid-era countdown, the Birds will have to take what they can get.

Running back Bryce Brown, in his first start since high school, shattered the franchise rookie single-game rushing record set by Correll Buckhalter in 2001. Brown, 21 blazed for 178 yards on 19 carries (9.4 yards a pop) – also the most carries he’d managed since high school, back in Wichita, Kansas. He scored two touchdowns, but also fumbled twice, playing for concussed star LeSean McCoy. Given that McCoy is 24, and ought to have several good years ahead of him, a franchise quarterback is a bigger priority right now than a second rushing star.

“I knew we were going to run the ball coming into the game, and I was prepared for it,” said Brown, who played one year at Tennessee and one game at Kansas State before the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round. “I was up for the challenge.”

The quarterback news in the 3-8 Eagles’ seventh loss in a row was inconclusive, at best. Foles, playing again for concussed Michael Vick, was better than he’d been in his first start the week before, but again he could not drive the ball downfield. Losing DeSean Jackson in the second quarter probably didn’t help, but Foles was 16 of 21 for just 119 yards. He avoided turning the ball over this time, but his longest completion went for 16 yards.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said after the game that Vick did not pass neurological testing Monday, so it would seem likely that Foles will start again Sunday at Dallas.

“I feel like I improved on certain things,” Foles said. “Still a lot to improve on. I made some miscues, just little things … We didn’t get the win … I felt like I improved, and I’ll continue to improve.”

Foles, who hasn’t thrown for a TD in either of his starts, said the lack of deep throws was just how the game went.

“The deep throw hasn’t been there,” said wideout Jeremy Maclin. Maclin caught no passes against the Redskins, five Monday night, but for just 55 yards. Asked if that was how the gameplan was designed, Maclin said: “The design is always to get the quarterback in a rhythm, and just take what the defense is giving us.”

Reid said he didn’t think he’d ever been through a losing streak like this, at any level of football. Of course, Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said last January that 8-8 wouldn’t save Reid’s job; now, even with a miracle finish, the team can’t do better than 8-8. Reid said Monday night he has not discussed his status with Lurie, that he remains focused on trying to make the team better.

“We understand that we’ve got eight losses,” Reid said. “What we’re going to do is continue to fight, continue to get better, eliminate some of these mistakes we’ve been making.”

It looked as if Foles would get a late chance to establish his comeback credentials when Brandon Boykin ran a Carolina kickoff back 44 yards, the Eagles trailing 30-22 with four minutes and 31 seconds remaining. But in true 2012 Eagles fashion, at the end of his longest return of the season, rookie Boykin saw safety Sherrod Martin rip the ball from his grasp as he spun to the ground. The Panthers took over at their 49, and the Linc, never more than three-quarters full this night, quickly emptied.

The first quarter looked very much like the last few weeks, and left reporters again pondering the odds of an in-season coach firing. First possession, Foles led the team crisply down the field, from the Birds’ 20 to the Panthers’ 14 in five plays, but the drive stalled there – two bad near-interceptions sandwiched around a fumbled shotgun snap. Alex Henery gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead.

The Panthers’ ensuing TD drive looked effortless. They never even faced third down, never gained fewer than 5 yards on a snap and took the lead when the Eagles got no pressure on Cam Newton while leaving tight end Gary Barnridge uncovered down the middle. The touchdown pass covered 24 yards.

Three and out, halfhearted boos, then another ridiculous zone coverage bust, Newton throwing 43 yards to Brandon LaFell. It was 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

“Two broken coverages,” Reid said. “That shouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t happen at all. That’s my responsibility, from a coaching standpoint.”

Reid noted that the Eagles’ defense has been killed by big plays the past few weeks.

“If people need to be replaced, they’ll be replaced,” said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, now 0-5 since replacing Juan Castillo. “It’s depressing. It’s not about me, it’s about the team. We’re just trying to win ballgames, and for that not to happen, for us to lose as many games as we have in a row, it’s inexcusable, it’s unacceptable, it’s disheartening. I feel like everybody else feels. It’s a tough situation.”

Then Foles and the offense found some traction, moving for another Henery field goal, and after that, the defense actually forced a punt. Brown zipped 65 yards through the right side for the touchdown, and suddenly there was hope.

Another Henery field goal and the Birds actually led, a disorienting turn of events for the crowd.

Of course, while all this was happening, Jackson was leaving the game with a rib cartilage injury after getting slammed to the turf on an end-around, and Fletcher Cox, the Eagles’ best defensive player, was leaving with a tailbone bruise. Reid said afterward both players would get CT and MRI scans.

And the Panthers took the lead right back on the first series of the third quarter, driving 80 yards, Newton jumping the pile from the 1. But it seemed the ugly, hopeless crowd scene Eagles officials feared had been averted. If there was chanting, it wasn’t audible from the press box.

The Eagles got the ball back having scored nine games in a row on their first drive of the second half, and it looked for a while like they were going to make it 10. But right after breaking Buckhalter’s rookie rushing record of 134 yards, set on Oct. 7, 2001 against the Cardinals, Brown fumbled and Carolina rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly recovered.

The defense held, though, and aided by a whopping 51-yard pass interference penalty on Carolina safety Haruki Nakamura, the Eagles took the lead back. On the next play after Nakamura’s defense on Maclin at the Panthers’ 5 was deemed overzealous, Brown took the ball around the right side to the end zone. The Birds led again, 22-21. Brown’s totals at that point: 149 yards on 14 carries (10.6 yards per carry) with two touchdowns.

Then Brown fumbled again, just after a Mike Patterson sack forced a Panthers punt and seemed to give the Eagles momentum. The ensuing 23-yard Graham Gano field goal gave the Panthers a 24-22 lead.

“You get caught up in fighting for extra yardage, just giving it your all,” Brown said.

The Eagles went for it on fourth and inches from the Carolina 40, down 24-22 with 8:35 left, but the Panthers got penetration on Brown’s run to the right side, hitting him a couple yards deep in the backfield and defying his second-effort scramble forward.

The Birds’ defense took three straight offside/encroachment penalties on the ensuing Panthers drive. On the next play, they managed to avoid flags, but Newton scored standing from the 2.

The Eagles’ hapless defense couldn’t get the ball back after Boykin’s fumble, as the Panthers smoothly ran out the clock. Newton became the fifth QB in a row to record a passer rating above 120 against the Eagles, something that has never happened in the NFL before.

The now-3-8 Panthers were the worst team on the Eagles’ schedule. With the Birds traveling to Dallas on a short week, then hosting Tampa, suddenly it seems possible that the snowball could keep rolling and the season could end without a victory since September.

Birdseed: Second-round rookie defensive end Vinny Curry was active for the first time, and led Eagles defensive linemen with five tackles … The Eagles elected to deactivate WR Greg Salas, who just joined the team last week, leaving them with just four wideouts. When DeSean Jackson left in the second quarter, they had three.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: eagletarian.com

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