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Rebounds in season opener by Ben Simmons, who also scores 19 points

Big-play Bucs beat Birds

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 16

Big plays added up to big trouble Sunday as the Eagles lost to the Buccaneers, 27-21.

The Bucs struck right away. On the first play from scrimmage, Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with former Eagle DeSean Jackson down the middle of the field. Jackson cut back to his right, beating cornerback Jalen Mills for the second time on the same play, and racing to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.

Fitzpatrick, starting while Jameis Winston served the second game of his three-game suspension, connected with tight end O.J. Howard for another 75-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was the first play from scrimmage after the Eagles had tied the game, 7-7, on Corey Clement’s 15-yard run.

As was the case on Jackson’s touchdown, there were mistakes on defense. In addition to Mills getting beat on Jackson’s touchdown, safety Malcolm Jenkins moved up as if Jackson were running a shallower crossing route. On Howard’s touchdown, cornerback Ronald Darby made a poor effort to tackle Howard, allowing the big tight end to get to the left sideline, which was his path to the end zone.

Although Nick Foles (35 of 48 for 334 yards) didn’t play poorly, Fitzpatrick clearly won the battle of backup quarterbacks, complete 27 of 33 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns. This is the second straight week that Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns and accumulated at least 400 yards.

Fitzpatrick connected with four different receivers for touchdowns as the Bucs built a 27-7 lead by the early stages of the third quarter.

Self-inflicted wounds

As well as Fitzpatrick played, the Eagles contributed to their own demise.

“I preach to the guys that it’s our own execution that matters,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said.

The Eagles only had six penalties that were accepted (a holding and pass interference penalty were declined), but the penalties came at key moments during the first half. During one stretch in the first quarter, the Eagles committed penalties – a crack back block by receiver Nelson Agholor, a holding penalty by Jason Peters and a tripping violation by running back Corey Clement – on three consecutive plays. That left the Eagles facing third-and-40.

“We kept going backwards,” Pederson said. “The whole first half we were playing behind the sticks.”

In addition to the penalties, Pederson lamented that the Eagles weren’t effective enough on first down. According to Peters, who left the game in the first quarter after trying to play with a quadriceps injury, the penalties affected the play-calling.

“We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Peters said in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn. “We put Doug in bad situations. Second-and-40. Third-and-40.”

For the second straight week, the Eagles managed just one score during the first half. Pederson said the slow starts are something he will have to examine. On the positive side, the Eagles offense played much better during the second half for the second consecutive week.

“We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game,” Foles said. “That’s what we wanted.”

The Eagles put together a nine-play drive that covered 84 yards at the end of the third quarter. The drive culminated in Jay Ajayi, who left the game after his first carry with a back injury, reaching the end zone on a 2-yard run.

The Eagles didn’t reach the end zone again until another 2-yard touchdown with 2:46 remaining in the game. Foles capped a 78-yard drive with a beautiful pass to Agholor in the back right corner of the end zone.

But the Falcons were able to move the chains enough to hold the ball until there were 19 seconds remaining, which didn’t give the Eagles, starting from their own 10-yard line, much of a shot.

Dealing with injuries

The Eagles’ “next man up” philosophy was tested again Sunday. Already missing quarterback Carson Wentz, running back Darren Sproles and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins, the Eagles lost Peters, Ajayi and receiver Mike Wallace to injuries during the first quarter. Ajayi returned for the second half, but, after entering and exiting the game several times, Peters didn’t play after the first quarter and Wallace didn’t play after suffering his injury.

“Any time you’re down a couple of bodies, it tweaks your offense,” Pederson said, “but we have confidence in the guy who went in there.”

Peters said he expects to play next Sunday against the Colts (1 p.m.), which is good news for whichever quarterback starts that game, but the Eagles could be facing a severe shortage at receiver if Wallace can’t play. One possibility could be troubled receiver Josh Gordon, who reportedly will be released by the Browns on Monday.

On Sunday, the Eagles relied more on tight end Zach Ertz, who caught 11 passes for 94 yards. Agholor caught eight passes for 88 yards. Kamar Aiken, recently re-signed by the Eagles, caught five passes for 39 yards.

The Eagles clearly missed having a deep threat at receiver. Even though Clement caught five passes for 55 yards, the Eagles still missed Sproles. But they weren’t blaming injuries for their loss Sunday.

“Injuries hurt,” Pederson said, “but (the loss) was self-inflicted.”

Penalties. Mistakes. Big plays.

All of those things hurt the Eagles against the Bucs. But those mistakes won’t ruin the season unless they become a pattern.

“We didn’t win every single game last year,” Foles said. “I think people forget that.”

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