Eagles stumble into Vikings' trap

Posted: December 17, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS - Long before logging, mining and Target department stores fueled the economy of the Gopher State, bush rangers settled along the region's rivers and set their double long springs to snare furry rodents with pronounced incisors.

Yesterday, the Eagles were the beavers, and they got trapped.

After a Snow Bowl win over the Lions and facing a key game against the stout Bears the following week, the Birds played flat and undisciplined in a 48-30 loss to an undermanned Vikings team.

"I told someone before the game, 'We're going to find out how we are being the favorites, how we respond to that,' " defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "We didn't respond well."

They responded splendidly after their 3-5 start, responded with five straight wins in all sorts of conditions. They soared behind inspired play of second-year quarterback Nick Foles; behind a defense that went from implosive to efficient; and, especially, behind a mind-boggling season from running back LeSean McCoy.

Then, yesterday, they sleepwalked into a gimme game and they got dominated by a three-win Vikings team that played without reigning league MVP, Adrian Peterson, and without his backup, Toby Gerhart.

Foles eventually righted himself. The defense occasionally found its legs.

Neither Foles, nor the defense, played like they had during the team's 6-week turnaround. They played like this one was in the bag.

"This is the NFL," said cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who was flagged for one of the team's two pass-interference penalties at the end zone. "You've got to be ready to go every Sunday. You've got to take every opponent like they're 10-0."

That did not happen.

The Eagles peeled back when they should have uprighted; they nearly PAT'd when they should have two-pointed; they taunted once, and then, God bless the Pythons, they actually taunted a second time-a.

The second taunting penalty, by fiery corner Cary Williams, prompted Davis to bench Williams for the rest of the game. There, team peacemaker Jason Avant counseled Williams as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

It was the second time Avant needed to calm a petulant teammate. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson lost his head early in the third quarter, after Foles threw an interception. Jackson was restrained by teammates after he engaged in a sideline dustup with what appeared to be a coach.

These were immature meltdowns by veteran players frustrated beyond control by a walkover team that bit them on their flattened little tails.

"I cannot really discuss what happened," said Jackson; certainly, he meant that he would not discuss what happened.

"We'll get to the bottom of that," head coach Chip Kelly said.

Williams didn't mince words; he simply refused to speak at all.

Kelly had to: "Was he benched for the taunting? No. I didn't bench him for taunting."

Maybe he didn't, but Davis did: "To settle him down a little bit. He was very upset, very mad."

What we got here is a failure to communicate.

That failure also happened when the Eagles lined up for a PAT late in the fourth quarter trailing by 13, then had to use a precious timeout to realign for a two-point conversion.

"It was a miscommunication upstairs," Kelly explained.

Poor communication and punitive exclusion were yesterday's theme.

Williams was the second starter Davis benched. Safety Patrick Chung got benched after Chung misplayed the Vikings' first touchdown, a 57-yard bomb from Matt Cassel to Greg Jennings midway through the first quarter.

That violated the core tenet of the Birds' defense: Don't get beat deep. It was the first of five such violations, including one of the pass-interference calls.

Cassel finished with 382 passing yards and two touchdowns, the fourth-most yards in his 85 career games. Matt Asiata, a second-year back who is the very embodiment of perseverance (injured twice in college, cut in his first NFL camp, buried his 53-year-old father after a bus crash) got his first NFL start and also got his first NFL touchdown, in the second quarter. He got his second and third in the fourth quarter.

Nothing the Eagles planned worked out.

They so feared kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson that they never gave him a chance to return a regular kickoff. Instead, the Eagles popped and pooched and squibbed, and the Vikings' average drive after non-onside kickoffs began at the 33 1/2 yard line. The Eagles cut it to 27-22 near the end of the third quarter, then gave the Vikings the ball back at their own 46.

"We score, make it 22-27, and we give them the ball back on the 45, the 50? We just can't do that," left tackle Jason Peters said. "These are NFL teams."

He directed his venom at himself as much as anyone. Foles was sacked four times, twice of his own doing, and was heavily pressured early in the game.

For the second time in his tenure with the Vikings, coach Leslie Frazier, a former Eagles assistant under Andy Reid, formulated a defense that stymied the Eagles' attack.

Last time, with a hopeless Vikings team late in 2010, Frazier blitzed Michael Vick without mercy. This time, again with a team going nowhere, Frazier adapted and dared Foles to throw accurate, deep passes.

Early in the game, Foles failed. He finished with 428 passing yards, three touchdowns and 41 rushing yards on five attempts - perhaps the most hollow 469-yard performance in team history.

"I definitely missed some throws," Foles said.

He was 15-for-27 for 191 yards and an interception through the first 40 minutes of the game. He was flagged for an illegal peel-back block that nullified a TD pass in the second quarter. He foundered until he hit Avant with a nice, running throw with 4 minutes, 28 seconds to play in the third quarter.

By then, the Vikings led by 18 points.

For all of Foles' accomplishments in his eight starts this season, teams generally key on stopping McCoy, perhaps the most dangerous back in the league. So, too, did the Vikings; so much so that Kelly abandoned using McCoy, who, unlike most backs, is as apt to score on any play as any receiver. McCoy finished with eight rushing attempts and 38 yards . . . against the 22nd-ranked run defense.

Two of McCoy's eight runs were on third- and fourth-and-short at the Eagles' 24. He gained nothing either play, which essentially gave the Vikings a field goal and left Kelly to explain why, with more than 20 minutes to play and a manageable 15-point deficit, Kelly went for it deep in his territory.

"I thought we could make it," Kelly said. "I also thought, if we don't make it, we're in trouble."

They were in trouble when they got off the bus.

They entered Minnesota with the Chicago Bears on their minds, with Detroit lingering, with desperate Dallas hosting a sinking Packers team later Sunday afternoon.

With so many gears in motion, can the Eagles be blamed for failing to see the danger in Minnesota? Is it not human nature to relent when the opponent is weakened? Does Kelly believe Peterson's absence affected his team?

"No, I don't, and it shouldn't," he said.

Well, it did. Something did. What?

"That's a good question," Kelly said.

"Guys want to worry about looking at records, that's when we get beat," Peters said with a snarl.

Looking at records shouldn't be a problem when the Bears hit town next Sunday. They moved to 8-6 and starting quarterback Jay Cutler returned.

Hey, know what?

Illinois was settled by trappers, too.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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