PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles officially became the worst team in the NFC on Monday night.
They sank to the bottom of the conference standings with their seventh straight loss, 30-22 to Carolina at chilly Lincoln Financial Field.
“I’m embarrassed, to be honest,” tight end Brent Celek said. “To be a team that was considered to be a powerhouse and now have other teams coming in here and laughing at us, it makes me sick.”
Most of the fans seemed to have a similar reaction at the stadium.
They showed support for most of the game, hoping that the Eagles would finally find a way to pull out a win. But when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard run to put them ahead by eight points with 4 minutes, 40 seconds left in regulation, they headed for the parking lots.
“I can’t blame them,” Celek said. “This is a critical town and rightfully so. If I was a fan, I’d be angry, too.”
The Eagles (3-8) are now in the midst of their longest losing streak since they dropped their final seven during coach Rich Kotite’s final season in 1994. Coach Andy Reid almost certainly will be gone after this season, given owner Jeffrey Lurie’s preseason mandate that the Eagles needed to significantly improve upon last year’s 8-8 record in order for Reid to return in 2013.
The Eagles can do no better than 8-8 now. This will mark the first time they have failed to post a winning record in back-to-back seasons since they went 3-13 in 1998 under Ray Rhodes and 5-11 under Reid in 1999.
“We’re going to keep battling,” Reid said. “I’m going to control what I can control and that’s (getting) better as a team. I’m not worried about all the other things. I’m worried about winning football games.”
The Eagles showed a fight and desire against the Panthers that had been missing in recent weeks but still couldn’t stop the slide. Carolina (3-8) earned the win by outscoring the Eagles 9-0 in the fourth quarter on Graham Gano’s 23-yard field goal and Newton’s 2-yard run. Three consecutive offsides penalties by the Eagles’ defensive line set up Newton’s TD.
Newton accounted for all four of the Panthers’ touchdowns by throwing two TD passes and running for two scores. He completed 17-of-27 passes for 295 yards.
His exploits overshadowed Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown’s remarkable performance.
Brown, who made his first career start in place of injured LeSean McCoy (concussion), rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries but also fumbled twice. The seventh-round draft pick set the Eagles’ single-game rookie rushing record, breaking the mark of 134 yards set by Correll Buckhalter against Arizona in 2001.
Brown provided the team’s only first-half highlight with an electric, 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He used a solid block from rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson to break into the Panthers’ secondary, broke a tackle and then outran safety Charles Godfrey down the right sideline.
Brown’s run was the longest by an Eagle since McCoy had a 66-yarder against the New York Giants on Nov. 1, 2009. It was also the seventh-longest run by a rookie in franchise history.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Brown said. “I was grateful to get the opportunity and I wanted to make sure I took advantage of it. I thought I played pretty well except for the fumbles. You can’t turn the football over in this league.”
Until their fourth-quarter collapse, it looked as if the Eagles may finally give their fans a reason to celebrate.
Trailing 21-15, the Eagles took the lead at 22-21 on Brown’s 5-yard TD run with 3:30 left in the third quarter. A 51-yard pass interference penalty on Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura against wide receiver Jeremy Maclin led to Brown’s TD burst to the right corner of the end zone.
But Brown lost his second fumble of the game on the next possession, which gave momentum back to the Panthers.
“I thought Bryce really did well,” Reid said. “He’s a talented kid. It stinks that he had those two fumbles. They cost us, but he’ll learn from that. He’s a smart kid.”
Brown was among several young players who saw significant playing time for the Eagles.
Quarterback Nick Foles made his second straight start in place of injured Michael Vick (concussion) but spent more time handing off to Brown and Dion Lewis than throwing passes. The Eagles had 26 rushing attempts for 204 yards while Foles completed 16-of-21 passes for 119 yards with no TDs and no interceptions.
The Eagles’ defense caused most of their problems.
Opponents have scored 30 or more points in five straight games. Carolina exposed the weaknesses in the Eagles’ secondary in the first quarter. Newton spotted gaping holes in the coverages and took advantage of them with a 24-yard TD pass to Gary Barnidge and a 43-yarder to Brandon LaFell. After the latter touchdown, Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans threw his hands in the air in disgust as LaFell and Newton celebrated in the end zone.
“Sometimes it’s miscommunication, sometimes it’s missed assignments,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said. “It’s pretty frustrating, but mistakes happen in every game. You just have to stay positive. As football players, you develop tough skin. You have to be mentally strong to play this game.”
The Eagles won’t be be playing much longer this season.
They needed to beat the Panthers and then win their next five games to have even as shot at winning the NFC East or possibly sneaking into the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Now it’s a matter of just playing out the string and waiting for Reid to either step down or get fired.
“I have the utmost respect for Andy because he’s a tremendous coach,” Celek said. “I feel bad for him because he’s in a horrible situation. We all are. I grew up dreaming of winning a Super Bowl. I doubt we have a chance now and that hurts.”
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