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Getting three offensive starters back isn't enough for the Eagles

Tom Moore
Bucks County Courier Times
Eagles running back Miles Sanders picks up yardage against the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

With the Philadelphia Eagles coming off a bye and key offensive starters Lane Johnson, Miles Sanders and Alshon Jeffery back from injuries, there was reason to be optimistic heading into Sunday afternoon’s game against the New York Giants.

But the Eagles found themselves trailing by 11 points in a first half in which New York controlled and the Philadelphia offense only produced a Jake Elliott 40-yard field goal.

Though the 3-7 Giants have made a habit of jumping out to a double-digit lead and losing this season, including the previous meeting with the Eagles in October after being ahead by 11 with 6 minutes, 17 seconds remaining, Doug Pederson’s team didn’t expect to be in that position.

The Eagles couldn’t overcome the deficit this time, falling 27-17 at MetLife Stadium.

Carson Wentz, for one, didn’t expect the offense to have so much trouble when their top tackle (Johnson) and feature back (Sanders) were returning,

“Obviously, we are surprised,” Wentz said. “We don't go into a game thinking we're going to struggle like that and score so few points.”

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Sanders didn’t think the changes in personnel were responsible for managing 17 points, which tied a season-low from the opening loss to Washington.

“I saw an offense that just wasn’t disciplined today,” Sanders said.

The Eagles’ 11 penalties for 74 yards speaks to that.

"(We were in) too many third-and-longs," Pederson said.

Some of their complementary players made significant contributions in the disappointing defeat, with two of the three returning players also having good days.

Running back Boston Scott scored the Birds’ first touchdown on a 56-yard run down the left sideline on the initial possession of the third quarter.

Receiver Greg Ward (five catches for 39 yards) had a crucial 16-yard completion from Wentz the next time the Eagles had the ball, setting up a 5-yard TD run by Corey Clement after New York had scored to regain a 10-point advantage.

Tight end Richard Rodgers, who is playing a more prominent role due to Zach Ertz’s ankle injury, had four receptions for 60 yards.

I understand why Pederson went for the two-point conversion after Scott’s touchdown – to close the deficit to three points, which the Eagles did when Sanders ran it into the end zone. But he did it again after Clement’s score when down by four and Wentz was sacked, rather that kicking the PAT to pull within a field goal.

Pederson insists the analytics support his decision, but it didn’t seem to be the most sensible move.

"I trust my guys upstairs," Pederson said. "We had just converted one before (and) felt good with the play call. You go for it and you make it, a field goal can win the game for you later. It lets you know what you need to do to win the game."

In what has been a recurring 2020 theme, the Eagles’ defense failed to prevent the Giants from driving down for a pair of Graham Gano field goals, including a 44-yarder to extend the lead to 10 points with 3:06 remaining.

“We didn’t make the plays at the end to stop the bleeding,” said defensive end Brandon Graham.

It certainly benefited the Birds that right tackle Johnson, who has battled knee and ankle injuries, made it through an entire game for just the second time this season and that Sanders carried 15 times for a game-high 85 yards (5.7 average).

“I feel good coming out of my first game being back,” Sanders said.

Jeffery was a non-factor, however, with no receptions and just one target after sitting out the first nine games with foot and calf injuries.

"I thought he did some good things," Pederson said of Jeffery. "It was good to have him back."

The Eagles figure to need those guys over the next five weeks, when winning could be difficult. They visit the Browns on Sunday, then host the Seahawks, travel to Green Bay to face the Packers, host the Saints and visit the Cardinals. They close out the campaign with a pair of NFC East games — at the Cowboys and home against Washington on Jan. 3.

While the 3-5-1 Birds are still sitting atop the atrocious division, a win against the Giants would have put them in good position heading into the toughest portion of their 16-game schedule.

That New York became the first NFC East team to win two straight this season in Week 10, coming off of last week’s drubbing of Washington, is both sad and somewhat encouraging for the Eagles.

Believe it or not, they could still win the division with a 6-9-1 record — assuming the Eagles can find a way to win three of the final seven games.

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes.com; @TomMoorePhilly

Giants cornerback Isaac Yiadom breaks up a pass intended for Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert on Sunday.