After being almost automatic in the red zone all season, the Philadelphia Eagles experienced two epic failures at the 1-yard line on Sunday night, resulting in a 24-10 loss to the host Seattle Seahawks.
The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak, dropping the Eagles to 10-2 and into second place in the race for the top seed in the NFC playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings, who also are 10-2, are No. 1 now by virtue of the fourth tiebreaker: strength of schedule of opponents beaten.
Four games remain, however.
A fumble by quarterback Carson Wentz just short of the goal line on the opening series of the third quarter rolled through the end zone for a touchback. That enabled the Seahawks (8-4) to maintain a 10-3 lead, and they responded by driving 80 yards for a touchdown to turn what could have been a 10-10 tie into a 17-3 advantage with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
Not surprisingly, quarterback Russell Wilson inflicted just about all the damage, particularly on that drive. On third-and-10 from the Eagles' 48, he made them pay for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's ill-conceived decision to blitz by hitting Doug Baldwin for a 47-yard gain. The play was originally ruled a touchdown but changed when replays showed Baldwin stepped out at the 1.
No matter. Seattle scored three plays later when Wilson hit Tyler Lockett in the end zone.
On a night when a wounded but prideful Seattle defense came to play, that proved to be too much to overcome.
Faced with a fourth-and-3 at the Seattle 25 on the next series, the Eagles basically had no choice but to go for it and were stuffed when unblocked linebacker K.J. Wright forced Wentz to overthrow a wide-open Kenjon Barner in the left flat. Barner might have been able to score had he caught it.
The Eagles finally found the end zone early in the fourth quarter on a 27-yard pass to Nelson Agholor to make it 17-10.
Too little, too late on this night, as the Seahawks proved by driving 73 yards for another touchdown and a commanding 24-10 advantage with 7:29 remaining.
Wentz completed 29 passes in 45 attempts for 348 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But he was outplayed by Wilson (20-for-31, 227 yards, three TDs, 31 rushing yards).
“It’s tough to [fumble at the 1-yard line] on the road in close situations like that and … expect to win,” Wentz said, “especially on that first drive of the second half, the way we were kind of rolling there. You just can’t put it on the ground.”
Wilson was the biggest difference, however, scrambling time after time to counteract the advantage the Eagles had in their matchup with Seattle’s offensive line.
Their defensive backs stuck to receivers for much longer than required, just not the time necessary to prevent Wilson from killing them with his legs. Wilson routinely turned 3-second opportunities into 6 and 7.
“It put a little pressure on us,” cornerback Ronald Darby said, “but … it’s something we worked on all week with the plaster drill. You’ve just got to stay on your guy. He made some good plays.”
Plays that were impossible to defend by even the most super human beings.
Nevertheless, the Eagles instead chose to focus on the plays they did have a chance to make and didn’t.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” safety Corey Graham said. “[Wilson] made some plays, but at the same time it was opportunities that we left out there as far as what he did and when he did it. It was on us. It wasn’t nothing that he did.
“We already knew what he could do. He’s been doing that since he’s been in the league. We’ve just got execute, you know what I mean?”
Actually, it was.
The coup de grace came when Wilson was flushed out of the pocket on a third-and-8 from the Seahawks’ 42. He sprinted past the line of scrimmage before improvising a lateral that replays suggest was a forward pass to running back Mike Davis, who went another 17 yards for a first down to the Eagles 35 on their way to their final touchdown.
The referees ruled it a lateral. Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who had lost a replay challenge earlier, didn’t challenge this one because he said they didn’t get a good-enough look at it before Seattle quickly ran its next play to pull the trigger on it.
A stop on that play would have given the Eagles possession with more than eight minutes remaining and down by only a touchdown.
The game began as a defensive scrum, even though Seattle took the opening kickoff and drove for a go-ahead field goal.
A big return by Barner on the ensuing kickoff was called back due to a clipping penalty on Najee Goode, burying the Eagles at their 10-yard line. But they were able to flip the field anyway, thanks to Wentz scrambling for a first down and then being targeted for a head shot by Bradley McDougald when Wentz slid for the first down.
Though they couldn't score on their first possession, their defense forced Seattle to punt out of its end zone, and the Eagles were able to begin their second possession in Seattle territory.
Once again, they were unable to capitalize. The key play was the first one, when Wentz overthrew a wide-open Agholor on a beautifully designed play-action pass. A sack by Frank Clark, who froze left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai with an inside stunt, forced the punt.
An 11-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham and the extra point with 14 seconds left in the first quarter gave Seattle a 10-0 lead. It was the first TD the Eagles surrendered in the first quarter this season and the first time since Week 2, when they lost to Kansas City, that they trailed by double digits.
A questionable pass interference call on Darby proved to be the key play on the drive. Darby and receiver Paul Richardson were engaged in mutual handfighting the whole way down the field, but the call went against Darby for 19 yards and the Seahawks had a first down at the 16.
The Eagles responded with a field goal that they were forced to settle for only after the sloppy holding penalty by Jeffery, who one day earlier signed a lucrative four-year contract extension through 2021.
Though they were able to get their running game cranked up in the second quarter, going to halftime with 91 yards on the ground, the Eagles still trailed by a touchdown.
Middle linebacker Joe Walker, who was unable to practice last week with a stinger, was deactivated as expected by the Eagles. Walker had become the starter when the Eagles lost Jordan Hicks to an Achilles injury.
Also inactive for the Eagles were OL Will Beatty, WR Marcus Johnson, DE Steven Means, DT Elijah Qualls, RB Wendell Smallwood and QB Nate Sudfeld.