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September 16, 2018

Final observations: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 21

Despite a late rally that gave them a chance to a win a game they had little business being in, the Eagles ended up falling short against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 27-21 loss. The defending Super Bowl champions have their first loss of the new season, and it came against a team most assumed they would beat fairly comfortably.

Here's what I saw in Sunday afternoon's game.

The Good

• Cameron Johnston did a great job punting the football. Not much more to say about that.

• What a fascinating path to prominence it has been for Nelson Agholor. Left for dead by plenty of fans and analysts alike, Agholor's transformation into a featured weapon for Philadelphia's offense has been stunning over the last two seasons. When the Eagles feed him the ball, the expectation has changed from expecting him to drop the ball to expecting him to make something happen with it.

The Eagles were on life support late in the third quarter, Agholor took a simple crossing route and turned it into a 50-yard play, running past Tampa Bay defenders with ease. You need guys on offense who can turn a simple reception into big plays, especially when your current quarterback has a preference to throw the ball underneath and avoid risk.

With their No. 1 wideout banged up and their assumed deep threat (Mike Wallace) out for the game following an injury, a lot of responsibility was put on Agholor to make things happen. He lived up to his end of the bargain.

• Tampa Bay looked like they were well on their way to killing off the game in the fourth quarter when Ryan Fitzpatrick found Mike Evans for what would have been first-down yardage. But just when it looked like Evans might pick up some extra yardage, Malcolm Jenkins came and gave the Eagles new life with a clutch strip.

It was not the best day at the office for Jenkins, but this is why you play 60 minutes of football. The Eagles did not have their best effort against Tampa, but they have played on the biggest of stages and know one play can shift the tide of a game.

• Philadelphia's big drive to make it a one-score game was aided by some soft coverage from the Bucs, but Nick Foles did an excellent job of taking what he was being given and moving the Eagles down the field. He had to make several plays that are decidedly outside of his wheelhouse, though when push came to shove he used his legs to buy a little extra time and find open receivers in this ragtag group.

With the game on the line, though, there was only one man to throw the ball to. On a pivotal fourth and goal, Foles threw what first looked like a sure incompletion into an absolutely perfect spot, somehow finding Agholor for six points when the Eagles needed it most. Tremendous throw and catch in any situation, let alone when failure could have ended the game.

It was up and down for Foles with the state of his protection on Sunday, but I thought he did an excellent job of shaking off some big hits to rally the troops in crunch time. That said, it will be a big boost for the Eagles if they can get Carson Wentz back next week.

The Bad

• Not saying anything that isn't being shouted at televisions around the Philadelphia area, but the extended use of Joshua Perkins was puzzling to say the least. His performance didn't exactly justify it, either.

The Eagles also didn't have the best set of options at running back with Jay Ajayi banged up and Darren Sproles out ahead of time, but the extended use of Wendell Smallwood in crunch time didn't make a ton of sense.

• With the Eagles lacking any semblance of rhythm heading into the second half, I loved the decision from Doug Pederson to go for it on fourth and four around midfield on their opening drive. What I didn't like was the play call/decision from Nick Foles to throw an underneath route short of the sticks, which ended up costing the Eagles possession of the ball.

On first glance, it looked like Zach Ertz actually picked up the first down with a stretch past the marker, but he was marked short by a pretty decent margin when the dust had settled. There was no clear replay shown by Fox's broadcast crew — this was a common theme throughout the game — and when they came back from the break, there was no follow-up on the play. 

Since the Eagles didn't end up challenging the decision and had a long commercial break to do so, you have to believe they saw he ended up short and it was the right call. But it sure would have been nice to know for sure as a viewer.

• The defense did its best to be the silver lining of the game through a quarter and a half of football, but when you give up touchdowns on three consecutive drives, you lose the right to be considered a positive for the game.

Jalen Mills was at the center of a lot of Philadelphia's futility on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles' starting corner got torched by DeSean Jackson on the game's opening play from scrimmage, and later flailed helplessly as Mike Evans left him in the dust on a pretty basic slant in the red zone. The Jackson play is expected to an extent because of the speed mismatch, but Evans is much less of a burner than his teammate, and those are the sort of battles Mills needs to win consistently if he wants to remain a starter long-term.

But before we go in on Mills too hard, no one draped themselves in glory on Sunday. The pass rush wasn't good enough, the coverage on tight ends wasn't good enough (see: 75-yard TD to O.J. Howard), the whole unit just was not good enough. This team continues to struggle defensively on the road, and unless they're banking on home-field advantage again, that needs to change.

• I can understand trying to catch Tampa Bay off guard with the run game, but the Eagles wasted a solid 90 seconds of clock when they desperately needed to save it late in the game. Down two scores, you need to merge the priorities of preserving time and putting points on the board, and the Eagles only really accomplished one of those things.

• Alright, we can mention Mills again, on second thought. He was BBQ chicken on Sunday.

The Ugly

• Foles was in a desperate situation on fourth and 10 midway through the fourth quarter, and after a series of pump fakes and second guesses, he decided to toss up a desparation hospital pass for Corey Clement down the sideline. The result was predictably bad, with the subsequent collision leaving three different players (two Eagles and one Bucs player) in pain and on the ground.

To make matters worse, there was evidently a much better option for Foles on the play according to PhillyVoice's man on the ground in Tampa.

Just a brutal result on every front.

• A lot of Eagles fans were upset about the call on Mills for pass interference late in the fourth, mainly because Mike Evans' hands definitely got into the facemask of the Eagles' corner.

The hands are definitely up there, but Mills is also hanging onto Evans' jersey for dear life here. At best it's probably offsetting penalties, in my opinion.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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