PHILADELPHIA -- The cardboard cutouts of fans flapped in the Lincoln Financial Field breeze, and for that, the Philadelphia Eagles should be grateful. The cutouts did not have quote bubbles attached -- good decision by whichever marketing person came up with this otherwise-charming idea -- because they would probably have contained something more colorful and less printable than the pre-recorded fan booing played as part of the game broadcast. Again, the Eagles should be happy that COVID-related wrinkle was introduced strictly for the benefit of the at-home experience.
If this were a normal season, with a normal crowd, with normal moods, the unfiltered two-week reaction on the Eagles would be loud and ugly. And they would deserve it. One week after the offense yielded eight sacks in a collapse to the Washington Football Team, the Eagles' banged-up offensive line managed to keep Aaron Donald from obliterating the game plan, only to watch their defense get shredded by Sean McVay and Jared Goff.
The 37-19 loss to the Rams on Sunday drops the Eagles to 0-2, their worst start since 2015, and their only solace is that -- this may sound familiar -- the rest of the NFC East is an early mess, too. Still, this should provide an opening for Philadelphia, which, theoretically, has a decided advantage, because it is the only division team that did not change coaches this offseason. Instead, the defense has yielded 57 points in its last six quarters, Carson Wentz has thrown four interceptions in two games after throwing just seven last season, and the only consistency so far is an inability to put a complete game together.
"We're obviously frustrated," Wentz said. "You never want to start 0-2. Last week, the way we lost to Washington, starting 0-1, obviously not what we want and not how we expect to finish ballgames, and then today, coming out behind again. ... There's enough things through two games, offensively speaking, that we can put on the tape and know we're right there. ... Don't panic; we'll be OK. I've always had all the confidence in the world in our defense.
"We're not panicking."
Philadelphia mostly double-teamed Donald, who has never had a sack against the team, and center Jason Kelce said the Eagles could sense that he was growing frustrated by his inability to get free to disrupt Wentz, who was not sacked after enduring last week's sack-frenzy. But Kelce said Philly's offense also knew it had to hold the ball to keep it away from McVay and the Rams' offense.
"We're obviously frustrated. You never want to start 0-2." Eagles QB Carson Wentz
That part of the plan fell apart less than two minutes into the game, when Miles Sanders fumbled on the opening drive to give the Rams the ball in Eagles territory. That is when McVay unveiled Los Angeles' usual array of bootlegs, misdirection and stretch runs and play-action passes. It was, safety Rodney McLeod said, exactly what Philadelphia practiced for, exactly what everybody practices for when they play McVay's Rams. Just minutes into the second quarter, L.A. was up 21-3.
"We're dangerous right now whenever we have the ball, and it's fun," said Goff, who started the game going 13-for-13 passing. On the sideline, his teammates joked they couldn't talk to him, like baseball players who won't talk to a pitcher working on a no-hitter.
The Eagles, who gave up 191 yards rushing and 449 yards overall, had a different reaction.
"We started to chase plays rather than being in the moment and trusting one another consistently," McLeod said.
"[It's an] unconventional-style offense. ... We knew that coming in. ... You're playing the last play rather than playing the play at hand and what you see right in front of you. We have to make sure, moving forward, [to] just be present."
Most maddening for the Eagles is that they created chances to come back and blew those, too. After scoring the last 13 points of the first half -- including a touchdown that followed a Rams muffed punt -- Philly was driving with a chance to take the lead midway through the third quarter. On first down from the Rams' 21-yard line, Wentz rolled to his left and, by his own admission, tried to force the ball to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone. Cornerback Darious Williams dove in front for the interception. The Rams followed with a 16-play drive for a field goal that gave them an eight-point lead.
The interception was a microcosm of what has plagued Wentz so far, a cause for concern for a franchise quarterback who should be beyond these foibles in his fifth year as a starter: poor decision-making that has put his team in a hole.
"If plays are not there, don't look to try to make something happen," Eagles coach Doug Pederson told reporters. "Just throw the ball away in that situation or run. ... I thought there were some good plays there, some good decisions. He did a nice job handling the run game ... [He] got us in and out of some throws ... The one thing again that we all have to take a look at, especially offense, is just the turnovers. We had the fumble early and then of course the interceptions. That's kind of been, I think these first two weeks of the regular season, that's been the tale of the tape."
In the fourth quarter, Pederson opted to kick a 33-yard field goal rather than try for a first down on fourth-and-8, believing that the defense had created some momentum when it held the Rams to a field goal after Wentz's interception and gotten it to a five-point game.
That was an illusion. The Rams drove 75 yards on three plays, starting with a 40-yard burst by running back Darrell Henderson.
"The defense was eager and ready to go back out on the field," Pederson said.
"We've got to do better there. We've got to coach it better and play better in those situations. ... Get one stop in those situations and give it back to your offense, and you've got a chance to take the lead on the next possession."
Sure. Except even when the offense trailed by just 12 points with 10:45 remaining, it couldn't score.
The postgame message from Wentz was an odd one for so early in the season, but maybe it is reflective of just how underwhelming these two games have been.
"The sky is not falling," Wentz said.
Perhaps Kelce had the better message when he was asked about starting 0-2.
"I try," he said, "not to look at it big-picture."
That view, just like for those cardboard cutouts, is a lot more pleasant.