PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Brown sprinting down the visitors’ sideline on Monday night past overmatched defenders is evidence that there could be something more entertaining during the next month than simply waiting for the final decision on Andy Reid’s future.
The record-setting performance of Brown, who played at the University of Tennessee for Lane Kiffin in 2009 before transferring to Kansas State, in a 30-22 loss to the Carolina Panthers, along with the development of other rookies, will be among the reasons to pay attention to the final five games of the season.
There certainly will not be any chance of a winning season. The Eagles, thanks in large part to Brown’s two crushing fumbles, ensured that was not a possibility with their seventh consecutive loss, to a team that entered the game with a 2-8 record. Before the season, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said an 8-8 finish would be unacceptable. At that point, there was reason to wonder if Reid would be fired this season if the team failed to deliver.
Now the question only seems to be when.
“We understand we got eight losses,” Reid said. “We completely understand that. But what we’re going to do is continue to fight and continue to get better.”
Reid will remain resolute, because that’s how he is wired. He coaches the next practice, the next play, the next game. But the most important part of what’s shaping into what may be his final five games in Philadelphia might be the development of young players, such as Brown and quarterback Nick Foles.
Brown started at running back for LeSean McCoy on Monday, while Foles replaced Michael Vick for the second consecutive game. Both McCoy and Vick were out with concussions.
Brown finished with an Eagles rookie-record 178 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“Given the opportunity, I wanted to take the advantage of it,” Brown said.
Foles completed 16 of 21 passes for 119 yards. The Eagles top receiver was Jeremy Maclin, who responded from last week’s no-catch performance with five receptions for 55 yards.
Brown’s presence was felt from the opening drive, when he rushed twice for 26 yards to help the Eagles to a 3-0 lead. The Panthers delayed Brown’s impending highlights by scoring touchdowns on consecutive drives, both of which included breakdowns by the defense.
The Eagles pass coverage — celebrated before the season, ridiculed since — continued its string of games in which cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers are left looking at each other after big plays from their opponents.
Momentum for the Eagles resurfaced in the second quarter when Brown took a handoff around the right end and outran everyone on Carolina’s defense for a 65-yard touchdown. It was the longest rush of the Eagles season and served as Brown’s introduction to Eagles fans — the most devoted of whom only knew him as a college flameout with a name bigger than his production.
Brown was productive on the Eagles’ next drive, which concluded with Alex Henery’s 45-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 15-14 halftime lead.
The Panthers opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 95-yard touchdown drive to take the lead, yet the Eagles responded to regain the lead after Maclin drew a 51-yard pass interference call and Brown ran for a five-yard score.
Brown’s, however, made major mistakes. He fumbled twice in the third quarter. One came on the Eagles 43-yard line after the defense forced a three and out and the Eagles were holding a 22-21 lead.
“You get caught up in fighting for extra yardage and giving your all ... and fumbles are going to occur,” Brown said. “I’ll bounce back.”
The Panthers took a 23-22 lead on the ensuing drive with a 23-yard field goal. The Eagles could not answer after Brown was stuffed on a fourth and one, and Carolina took over.
The Panthers answered with a touchdown — one that would have put the game out of reach, but they missed the extra point.
Even this gift was spoiled. Brandon Boykin, another rookie, fumbled the kickoff return to give the ball back to the Panthers. And when the Eagles could have potentially forced the Panthers off the field, rookie Mychal Kendricks was whistled with a costly penalty to give Carolina a first down.
That’s the problem with playing so many inexperienced players. They make rookie errors.
“We’ve got to learn. We’ve got young players who are playing in here. We’ve got to keep working to get better,” Reid said.
©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer