PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Now the Philadelphia Eagles can go back to being underdogs again.
After embracing that role last year and overcoming huge odds to win their first Super Bowl title, the Eagles haven’t lived up to expectations as defending champions. They blew a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter and lost 21-17 to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“Pressure’s off, so we can go play, have fun and just relax,” coach Doug Pederson said. “A lot of football ahead, too. Anything’s possible, anything can happen.”
Pressed on the topic, Pederson continued: “I think no one has really given us a chance, anyway. Whether we’re putting pressure on ourselves to perform, to play, whatever it is, live up to a certain expectation. … I think sometimes we force issues. We try to press just a little bit.”
Despite their struggles, the Eagles (3-4) are in the mix in the NFC East. They’ll quickly try to forget about their disappointing loss and focus on a trip to London to face the equally struggling Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4).
“We put high expectations on ourselves every week,” Carson Wentz said. “My approach will never change, win or lose, on to the next week and that’s the way I’m approaching it.”
For Newton and the Panthers, this was a statement game.
The Panthers (4-2) were dominated for the first three quarters but rallied for an impressive win on the road in a hostile environment. It was the biggest comeback in franchise history.
“This is a confidence-booster for us,” Newton said.
Newton tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with 1:22 left and Julius Peppers sacked Wentz, forcing a fumble on fourth down from the Panthers 14 to seal the victory.
After Carolina took the lead, the Eagles started at their 30. A 48-yard pass interference penalty on James Bradberry against Alshon Jeffery put the ball at the Carolina 22. Eric Reid appeared to intercept Wentz’s overthrown pass but the play was overturned on a video review. Wentz threw incomplete to Jeffery in the end zone on third-and-2 and was stripped on the next play.
Some things we learned from Carolina’s comeback victory over the Eagles:
The Eagles wasted a 17-3 lead in the third quarter of an overtime loss at Tennessee in Week 4. They’re having trouble closing out games and beating teams they’re supposed to beat.
“It’s one play here, one play there that turns into big deals,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Margin of error in this league is tight, especially against a good team.”
Newton wasn’t happy with his performance at the end of a 23-17 loss at Washington last week and vowed to he’d make the best of another opportunity. He threw three straight incomplete passes on the go-ahead touchdown drive, but took a hit on fourth down and still completed a 35-yard catch-and-run pass to Torrey Smith to reach the Philadelphia 34. A 22-yard pass to McCaffrey gave Carolina first down at the 4. Newton ran it to the 1, setting up the score to Olsen, wide open in the back of the end zone.
“There are a lot of people depending on me to put this team in the best situation and to a degree, I think I could have been better last week,” Newton said. “And this week we were in the same situation and I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
The Eagles got 55 yards rushing on 21 carries from running backs Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams and Corey Clement. They lost Jay Ajayi to a season-ending knee injury and Darren Sproles has missed the last six games with a hamstring injury. They could try to add a back before the trade deadline on Oct. 30.
Bradberry bounced back from the penalty on the final drive to help keep the Eagles out of the end zone.
“In my head, I knew they still had to score,” Bradberry said.
Instead of working on the clock, Pederson called nine passes and no runs on Philadelphia’s two possessions with the lead in the fourth quarter.
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