Tampa Bay’s big-play offense was too much for the Philadelphia Eagles to handle, and the surprising Buccaneers are now 2-0 after dealing the visitors a 27-21 setback inside steamy Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
On a day when the on-field temperatures topped 100 degrees, Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sizzled.
He threw a 75-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson on the game’s very first play then, 12 seconds after the Eagles tied the score at 7-7 on a 15-yard run from Corey Clement with 4:51 to play in the second quarter, connected on another 75-yard score, with tight end O.J. Howard doing most of the work on a nifty run after the catch.
Fitzpatrick has been brilliant to start the season, doing something none of the NFL’s great quarterbacks have ever done, and that is throw for at last four touchdowns and more than 400 yards in the first two games of the season. His play has opened the door for him to remain the quarterback when Jameis Winston is eligible to return in Week 4 from a three-game league suspension.
Jackson, a former second-round draft pick of the Eagles who was released by then-coach Chip Kelly in 2014, did most of the damage to an overwhelmed Eagles secondary, catching four passes for 129 yards. Fitzpatrick was 27-for-33 for 402 yards, four scores and a passer rating of 144.4.
As for the Eagles (1-1), it is back to the drawing board, a drawing board that could include quarterback Carson Wentz. Reports are swirling that Wentz could be available to play when Philly hosts the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday. Wentz, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, must still be medically cleared, but that seems like a foregone conclusion at this point.
After Sunday’s game, head coach Doug Pederson said he would talk about Wentz this week. Pederson’s first media availability is Monday at noon.
The Eagles lost left tackle Jason Peters and receiver Mike Wallace early in the game with injuries; neither player returned.
Running back Jay Ajayi also suffered a back injury on the first series of the game and did not return until the opening possession of the second half. The team was already without injured running back Darren Sproles and receiver Alshon Jeffery.
“Any time you’re down a couple of bodies, it affects you offensively, it tweaks your plan a little bit, but we have confidence in the other guys to step in and we relied a little bit more on the run game and some of the things there, but the thing is we kept going backwards,” said Pederson.
“The whole first half we weren’t staying ahead of the sticks. We were getting penalties, lost yards on first or second down and just playing from behind a lot. Yeah, the injuries hurt but again it’s self-inflicted.”
It was the first meaningful loss for the defending Super Bowl champions since losing to the Seattle Seahawks, 24-10, in Seattle on Dec. 3.
This loss was the second straight game in which the Eagles’ offense came out slowly. Last week in the 18-12 win over the Falcons, the offense picked up the pace. This time the hole was too deep. In two games, they have had 12 first-half possessions and have scored points on just two.
“It’s an area we have to address the next couple of days,” said Pederson. “Every man has to look at themselves, me included, and start with that and make sure we are ready to go.”
The Eagles fell behind 20-7 at halftime and trailed 27-7 after Pederson opted to go for a fourth-and-four on his team’s first possession of the second half. A completion to Zach Ertz came up inches short. Tampa then went on a 54-yard scoring march from there to open up that 20-point lead.
“I was going for it, regardless of percentages,” said Pederson. “We were plus 50 (yard line), I was going for it. I felt we had a little momentum on that drive, and felt confident that we were going to get the first down, so I was going for that one.”
The Eagles tried to rally late, getting a 2-yard touchdown throw from Nick Foles to Nelson Agholor in the corner of the end zone on fourth down with 2:46 left in the game.
Needing to get the ball back to have a chance, the Eagles defense again failed, allowing Tampa to pick up a couple first downs before punting the ball away with 28 seconds to go.
If this was Foles’ final game as the starter, he went out with a decent outing. Despite losing receiver Mike Wallace early in the game, and without injured Darren Sproles and rookie tight end Dallas Goedert, he completed 35 of 48 throws for 334 yards, one touchdown and a 98.8 passer rating.
Tight end Zach Ertz was his top target, with Ertz making 11 catches for 94 yards. Agholor made eight receptions for 88 yards, including his first TD of the season.
The Eagles ran for 91 yards, with Clement getting 30 yards on seven carries and Ajayi scoring his third rushing touchdown of the season.
The Bucs had just 43 yards on the ground, but with Fitzpatrick lighting it up in the air, Tampa didn’t need much of a rushing attack.