7 plays (mostly bad) that defined the Eagles' season, from Wentz's first interception to DeSean's 81-yard TD
It was hard to envision a 4-11-1 record for the Eagles when the season began.
They were coming off three straight playoff berths, and had the most stable coaching staff in the NFC East; Doug Pederson was the only returning head coach in the division.
That was supposed to ensure that the Eagles could overcome the obstacles put in place by the coronavirus pandemic. At least that they were supposed to overcome them better than the Giants, Cowboys and Washington Football Team.
Of course, it didn't work out that way as a plethora of comical breakdowns, poor coaching decisions, bad quarterbacking and injuries galore led to the Eagles' downfall.
It all ended last Sunday when head coach Doug Pederson inserted third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter of a game the Eagles were trailing by only three points.
It was a fitting end to a season that went wrong in so many ways.
Here, then, is a look at seven plays that defined the Eagles' season – mostly for the bad:
1. The first of many interceptions
Through the first 24 minutes of game time in the season opener against Washington on Sept. 13, it appeared that Carson Wentz was back to his form of 2017, when he was well on his way to winning the MVP award before tearing his ACL that December.
At that point in the opener, Wentz was 14 of 18 for 182 yards and 2 TDs, and the Eagles had a 17-0 lead.
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Then late in the first half, Wentz tried a sideline pass to rookie Jalen Reagor near midfield that Washington's Fabian Moreau intercepted in Eagles territory. Washington scored a touchdown and went into halftime down only 17-7.
It was a harbinger of what turned out to be Wentz's worst season in the NFL. After the fast start, Wentz finished 10 of 24 for 88 yards and 2 INTs, and the Eagles never scored again in a 27-17 loss.
"It was very frustrating walking off that field knowing the momentum that we had and how we felt early in that game," Pederson said. "It kind of spiraled out of control."
2. Fit to be tied in overtime
As bad as the Eagles had played against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 27, they managed to tie the game late in regulation and had a chance to win late in overtime.
There were 19 seconds left in the extra period when the Eagles lined up for a potential game-winning 59-yard field goal. In another demonstration of fundamental errors that plagued the Eagles all season, Matt Pryor was whistled for a false start, pushing the Eagles back 5 yards and into a 4th-and-12.
But rather than lining up for a 64-yard field goal by Jake Elliott, or going for the first down, the Eagles decided to punt. That ended any chance to win the game, which ended in a 23-23 tie.
Afterward, Pederson had trouble explaining his decision. On the one hand, he eschewed the 64-yard field goal because had the Eagles missed (remember, the longest field goal in team history is 61 yards, by Elliott), the Bengals would have gotten the ball at the Eagles' 46 yard line, needing only one completion to get into field-goal range.
OK, fine. But the Eagles were willing to try a 59-yard field goal.
The better alternative would have been to try converting the 4th-and-12. If they made it, they would have been in field-goal range. If they didn't, then the Bengals take over, still needing at least one completion for a first down.
"Tying is no fun," Wentz said. "I don't think I've ever been in a tie, so it was kind of an awkward way to end the game."
After three games, the Eagles were winless for the first time since 1999 at 0-2-1.
3. Why is a linebacker covering a wide receiver?
The Eagles had cut a 17-point deficit down to 31-29 late in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers facing a 3rd-and-8 from the Eagles' 35 with a little more than 3 minutes left on Oct. 11.
If the Eagles could hold the Steelers to a field goal, they'd still have a chance to win.
But Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saw that linebacker Nathan Gerry was covering wide receiver Chase Claypool, who was lined up in the slot. The Eagles didn't call a timeout (defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said that was Pederson's decision, and Pederson said he wanted to save his timeouts for offense), and they didn't switch a corner to Claypool.
So the play went on, Claypool made a double-move on Gerry and was wide open for the game-clinching 35-yard touchdown. It was Claypool's fourth TD of the game.
Claypool, a rookie, had run a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine last March. Gerry couldn't keep up.
"Ideally, would we like Nate to be on a receiver?" safety Rodney McLeod said after the game. "No. We would prefer a defensive back. But that was the call that was made defensively, and they checked to a good play."
The Eagles fell to 1-4-1 after that 38-29 loss.
4. Going for 2 fails miserably
It would have been a heroic comeback for the Eagles. They were trailing the Ravens 24-6 in the second half on Oct. 18. They were down to two expected starters on offense – Wentz and Jason Kelce – after Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz left the game with injuries.
Sanders hurt his knee on a 74-yard run, when he fumbled six yards short of the end zone. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside recovered the fumble in the end zone.
"Guys were out there fighting their (butts) off," Kelce said.
The Eagles, down by 8, scored a touchdown with 1:55 left and needed a 2-point conversion to tie. That's when a read-option with Boston Scott was busted before it could even get going.
The Eagles lost 30-28 and they had only themselves to blame.
In the first quarter, John Hightower dropped what should have been an 88-yard touchdown pass and Sanders dropped a TD pass late in the first half on a 2nd-and-2 from the Ravens' 21. The Eagles, trailing 17-0 at the time, were stopped on 4th-and-1 from the 20.
Wentz was sacked 6 times and hit 16 times overall.
4. Falling for the same trick twice
On Oct. 22, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones kept the ball and ran for 80 yards. It would have been 88 yards, but Jones fell down eight yards short of the end zone.
When the Eagles played the Giants again on Nov. 15, one would think they would be ready for the same play. Sure enough, Jones kept the ball again. This time, he didn't fall down as he scored on a 34-yard run.
That was the first touchdown of the game, which the Giants won handily 27-17.
"The defense broke down on that play," Schwartz said. "First game, it was a little bit of a surprise. They ran out of a formation we hadn't seen before. But it was embarrassing in this game because they ran out of the exact same formation and we fit it wrong."
Added safety Jalen Mills: "We definitely let this game go, and we're pissed off for sure."
Instead of getting back to .500 and taking control of the NFC East, the Eagles fell to 3-5-1. Incredibly, they were still in first place.
5. Finally, Wentz gets benched
It was only two weeks after Pederson had said, "you're sending the wrong message to your football team that the season is over," when he finally benched Wentz in the third quarter against Green Bay on Dec. 6.
When rookie Jalen Hurts entered the game, the Eagles were losing 20-3. He led a touchdown drive, with a 32-yard TD to Greg Ward. Soon after, Reagor followed with a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown and the Eagles were down 23-16.
It didn't last as the Eagles fell 30-16. Still, Hurts provided "that little spark" that Pederson was looking for.
Wentz had gone 6-for-15 for 79 yards when he was taken out. He didn't play the rest of the season.
1. Travis Who? Alex Who?
Wide receiver Travis Fulgham had been released by both Detroit and Green Bay in August, and then by the Eagles the week before the season started.
Fulgham was promoted from the Eagles' practice squad on Oct. 3, the day before a Sunday night game against the San Francisco 49ers, only because DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Reagor were out with injuries.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were trailing 14-11 when Wentz uncorked a 42-yard pass down the sideline to Fulgham, who hauled it in for the touchdown to put the Eagles ahead with 5:50 remaining.
On the 49ers' first play following the TD, Alex Singleton, who had been released six times and spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League, stepped in front of a Nick Mullens' pass and returned it 30 yards for a TD.
Just like that, the Eagles had their first win of the season, 25-20, after an 0-3-1 start.
"Carson gave me a great throw, I was able to locate it, and it was right in the breadbasket," Fulgham said.
That was a start of a five-game stretch in which Fulgham had 29 catches for 435 yards and 4 TDs, leading the NFL during that span. He couldn't sustain it, however, as he had just 9 catches for 104 yards the rest of the way.
2. An all-too-brief glimpse from DeSean
The Eagles activated OJackson off of injured reserve for their last chance to stay alive in the NFC East race against Dallas on Dec. 27.
Sure enough, Jackson, who had been out with a broken ankle, showed the kind of speed that the Eagles were sorely missing. He ran past Dallas' Trevon Diggs, caught Jalen Hurts' deep pass and kept going for an 81-yard touchdown reception midway through the first quarter giving the Eagles a 14-3 lead.
He then celebrated by doing a flip in the end zone.
But like so many other things that went wrong in the Eagles' season, Jackson was not thrown to again the rest of the game as Pederson said his ankle got sore as the game went along.
Pederson said he didn't think it had anything to do with the end-zone flip.
The Eagles lost 37-17 and were eliminated from playoff contention.
Jackson played in just eight of a possible 33 games since the Eagles traded for him in March of 2019.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.