Week 4 – Philadelphia @ San Francisco: Two out of three IS Bad

If you talk to any football coach or player, they’ll tell you an all round team effort in all three phases of football is what it takes to deliver a win. Often you can get away with the exceptional play of two facets covering up the bad play of the other.

It’s rare to see just one side of the ball carrying the team to victory alone.

All three phases playing badly would just be Oakland.

Thus far in the 2014 season for my Eagles, you could say we’ve delivered suitable performances in two out of three facets in each game. Weeks 1 and 2 it was the offense and defense. Week 3 we got game-breaking plays from the special teams and offensive units while the defence was suspect.

It would seem no matter what, even if they took some time to wake up, you could trust the high-powered Eagles offense to deliver their third of the duties. You can always trust the offense, and everything the defense and special teams units can contribute is the bonus that helps us win games of football.

Meat Loaf is right, two out of three ain’t bad!

So what happened in Week 4 against the 49ers? Two out of three again. Only this time, Nick Foles and co. didn’t come to the party.

Meat Loaf is wrong. Sometimes two out of three IS bad.

When your team has to travel to the other side of the country to play a perennial playoff team desperate for a win to salvage a slow start to the season, you don’t exactly sleep at night overflowing with confidence as if we’re were going to the other side of the Bay Area to play the Raiders (seven touchdowns anyone?).

But watching the first three weeks of play and seeing the small trends start to emerge, there was a genuine confidence that this was a winnable game. The 49ers can’t finish. The Eagles can’t do anything BUT finish. As long we we keep it close throughout the day, as an Eagles fan you have a good feeling we could run over the top of them. If we could be leading going into the second half, well then look out. While you wouldn’t exactly start game planning for Week 5, you probably could if you felt like it.

Early on, as we pinned the 49ers deep, forcing them to punt and inevitably blocking said punt for a touchdown (two out of three phases coming to the party), you appreciated the hot start. After all, it was a very rare Eagles first half lead.

By the time it was 10-7 in favour of the hosts, however, after some poor defensive play and what wouldn’t even be considered bad tackling on account of it not even being tackling, you felt it might be a day the Eagles did need to post 40+ points to win. Another classic shootout.

By the time the former New Orleans duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles gave Saints fans even more reason to cry themselves to sleep at night, the Eagles held a 21-10 lead and Nick Foles had barely had a chance to touch the football. Let that sink in.

The Eagles had a two-score lead and Nick Foles, the leagues leading passer who pilots the league’s #2 offence, had barely seen the field. Two phases we’re rampaging around the party like Frank the Tank in the movie Old School while the other quietly stood in the corner and enjoyed the show.

Halftime saw San Francisco get three points closer, and this was ultimately the point I thought the game could be decided. Where would each team stand at half time? The Eagles had scored 74 points in second halves so far this year, clearly the league’s best. 

The 49ers has been outplayed by a score of 52-3 in second halves in the first three weeks. So an eight-point Eagles lead was, if the trend were to continue, money in the bank. The narrative going forward was simple, and I thought to myself “only a monumental failure on offense could prevent us from winning this game.” Oh boy!

It would be rough to call what happened with the Eagles offense a collapse. After all, we never even built anything in the first half (aside from a lead created by everyone BUT the offense). The Eagles held the ball offensively for a touch over seven minutes in the first half (less than 25% of the time), and even with limited opportunities they never looked like seizing them. Mainly because a patchwork offensive line had no chance to give Foles time in the pocket against a strong 49ers defence. Nor did it help McCoy or Sproles in the run game.

It just wasn’t going to happen. And the frustration was obvious. For the first time in season 2014, I was nervous. I was watching my team, usually attacking opponents with several ways to win a game of football, looking completely one dimensional.

And all of a sudden, the “we just need to put a few more points on the board and we’ll win this” turned into “we’re not going to put any points on the board, how the hell are we going to win this!?”

Our best hope was on defense, either by stopping the 49ers from scoring, or creating more turnovers/scores ourselves to add to our lead. And when your hope lies in praying for turnovers to win a game of football, then you know things aren’t going your way. That said, we were doing a great job of at least holding the 49ers to three points, but when the eight-point lead evaporated into a five-point deficit, holding them to field goals just was not acceptable.

The final drive hurt the worst. It was the biggest tease of all because here we were, unable to get anything going on offense, and yet one well-executed drive could win us this football game.

It was the equivalent of “next goal wins” in the schoolyard before the bell rings, even though the scoreline up until that point is one-sided. For all we couldn’t get going, we could win it with just one drive where the offense could manufacture a way to get the ball downfield, to continue to move the chains, and to find the end zone.

We could get out of San Fran at 4-0 and officially be the luckiest 4-0 team in history given the month we’d had. On the other hand, we could stall completely again, and all that hope could be squashed about as easily as Foles and McCoy were all day. Or we could sustain a strong drive, increase the hope even more, and then fail to finish the job. 2 out of 3 options, bad!

There was something about the final drive that felt magical. As if all the things that needed to go our way did. Jeremy Maclin makes a circus catch on the sideline on 3rd down. Then a few plays later, Jordan Matthews reels in a 3rd down catch, one that looks awfully close to not having the required yards. And yet the officials give the Eagles a VERY opportune spot and the drive continues. Even LeSean McCoy’s 5 yard run, his best of the day, somehow felt like a huge play.

We’d come 90 yards, and with the ball on the 1-yard line it appeared the lead, and potentially the game, was there to be taken. We had two chances to punch it in. Forget everything we had done up until this drive. We had two chances to steal a win. The thrill of taking the lead would be sweet. But the thud of falling short loomed, and it was going to be equally painful.

Chip Kelly admitted after the game he had no faith in being able to run the ball in that situation. And perhaps he was right. Perhaps we wouldn’t have succeeded trying to run the ball twice. Perhaps his idea of getting Foles out of the pocket with time and room to make a play was better.

But after two attempts that failed miserably, and the ball turned over on downs, there was an overwhelming feeling that we’d blown it. No longer was it a matter of not being able to get things going because of great defensive pressure and an inexperienced O-Line. That would have been a convenient excuse. We had blown it. The game had somehow come to a point where we could win, and we didn’t salute.

The blame fell squarely on the Eagles offense not showing up to the party. Even if the fight was hard, I don’t think we put up enough fight. I felt no shame in having lost on the road to a great 49ers team, but I didn’t feel much pride in the fact our only impact all day came in the form of scores created by the special teams and defense. Not that those scores were a fluke in any way, but if the offence is gifted 21 points you definitely count yourself lucky.

In looking back over the first month of the season, I’m happy with what I’ve seen, even if it hasn’t been pretty. I had the Eagles at 2-2 after the first month, and given some of the injuries we’ve had, I would have been happy with 2-2. So to walk away 3-1 and having flirted with 4-0, I feel the season has been set up nicely.

Two major road trips down, a winning record and a division lead. The next two games are at home, against the Rams in Week 5 and then our second NFC East battle in Week 6 when the Giants comes to town. Week 7 is our bye week. And it cannot come soon enough. Add to that the addition of Lane Johnson back into the offensive line from this point on after serving his four-game suspension, and the short term outlook is good for this team. Here’s hoping the short term results are too.

Sept 28
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara CA (70,799)

Philadelphia 7 14 0 0 – 21
San Francisco 3 10 10 3 – 26

Passing: Colin Kaepernick (SF), 218 yds, 2 TD’s, 1 INT
Rushing: Frank Gore (SF), 24 car, 119 yds
Receiving: Anquan Boldin (SF), 5 rec 62 yds
Pigskin Almanac “Meat Loaf” award: Eagles defense & special teams

About Scott Langford

Australia's Most Famous SUNY Cortland/Syracuse Alum Melbourne boy who belongs back in New York. Eagles fan who for some reason once wore a Giants Super Bowl ring. Current US collegiate athletic recruiter and advisor.

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