Patriots suffer second consecutive loss
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — Eight days ago, the New England Patriots were thinking about an unbeaten season.
Now the defending Super Bowl champions are trying to recover from their first back-to-back losses in more than three years.
Najee Goode scored on a blocked punt, Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception 99 yards for another touchdown and Darren Sproles took a punt return all the way on Sunday before the Philadelphia Eagles held on for an improbable 35-28 victory over the Patriots.
After giving up 45 points in back-to-back games, the response from the Eagles defense and special teams was just what coach Chip Kelly needed to snap a three-game losing streak and propel Philadelphia (5-7) back into the NFC East race.
"It takes those things to win in this stadium," Kelly said, "against that coach and that quarterback."
The Patriots took a 14-0 lead before Philadelphia scored five straight touchdowns. Then New England (10-2) came back, taking advantage of an onside kick and a fumble to have a chance to tie the game in the final minute.
That's when the Patriots receivers dropped three passes in a row to turn the ball over on downs.
"Sort of had a chance there at the end. A comeback," coach Bill Belichick said unenthusiastically. "But when you give up 21 points when your defense isn't on the field, you're going to lose 98 percent of those games."
The Eagles moved into a tie for second in the division with the New York Giants, just a half-game behind Washington, which plays Dallas on Monday night.
The Patriots hold a three-game lead over the New York Jets in the AFC East. But what two weeks ago was a comfortable cushion for an undefeated team has shrunk and could, at the very least, cost New England a chance to rest its injured players for the postseason, as Belichick likes to do.
And they need it.
Just eight days removed from talk of an undefeated season, the Patriots' injuries began to take their toll. Brady was without tight end Rob Gronkowski, top receiver Julian Edelman and No. 1 running back Dion James, and playing behind a reshuffled offensive line that couldn't protect him.
"We'd love to have everybody healthy. I think everybody would love that," Brady said. "It's just not the reality at this point."
Still, the Super Bowl MVP gave them a chance.
After blowing a 14-point lead for the second straight week, the Patriots snapped out of it for a late charge in the final minutes.
Brady threw for a touchdown to make it a two-score game and then, after an onside kick, ran it in from the 1-yard line to cut it to seven points with 3 minutes left. New England's second onside kick failed, but the Patriots stripped the ball from Kenjon Barner on third down to give Brady one more chance.
But the comeback fell short when Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin all had passes come out of their hands in the final 34 seconds.
"You have a first-ballot Hall of Fame coach, and you have a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback — maybe the best quarterback to ever play the game. Of course you're aware of that," Kelly said. "(But) if you spend too much time patting yourself on the back, you're going to lose focus."
Darren Sproles had 66 yards rushing, 34 receiving and 115 more on punt returns — including an 83-yard touchdown that made it 28-14 with 4:18 left in the third quarter. After missing the previous two games with a concussion and left shoulder injury, Sam Bradford completed 14 of 24 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Eagles won this one with defense and special teams.
The Patriots took a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter before deciding on the ensuing kickoff to have former rugby star Nate Ebner drop-kick the ball off. It floated behind the first line of defenders, where Seyi Ajirotutu fielded it at his 41.
It took eight plays for the Eagles to go 59 yards, with Bradford connecting with Zach Ertz from the 5 to make it 14-7.
"We threw stuff at them and they handled it," Ebner said. "They threw stuff at us that we didn't."
The Patriots had a chance to run out the clock, but Brady was sacked and New England was forced to punt with 15 seconds remaining. Ryan Allen's kick was blocked by Chris Maragos; Goode scooped it up and ran it 24 yards for the touchdown to send the teams into the break tied 14-all.
Brady had thrown just four interceptions all season, but he was charged with one when Jenkins grabbed a deflection and gave the Eagles a 21-14 lead midway through the third quarter.
When the Patriots were forced to punt on their next possession, Sproles broke free for an 83-yard touchdown.
The Patriots moved the ball thanks to a direct-snap, end-around pass to Brady that gained 36 yards — his first reception since 2001. But on the next play, Brady lobbed the ball into the end zone and it was picked off by Byron Maxwell.
Bradford led the Eagles on a 12-play drive to make it 35-14 on a 10-yard pass to Jordan Matthews.
Then the Patriots rallied.
Brady made it a 14-point game on a 14-yard pass to Scott Chandler, then the Patriots recovered an onside kick. Brady's 1-yard sneak with 3 minutes left made it 35-28.
The ensuing onside kick attempt went out of bounds, and Philadelphia ran the clock down to just over 1 minute. On third down, with a chance to run off all but 20 seconds left on the clock, Barner fumbled.
NOTES: Brady had never in four previous games against the Eagles thrown an interception. ... It was the 71st 300-yard game for Brady, third-most all time. With his 30th touchdown pass of the season, Brady has six seasons with 30 or more, joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. ... It was Brady's first multi-interception game since the Super Bowl. . Brady was 40-8 after a loss in his career. . The Patriots were 38-4 following a loss since 2013. . Ebner attempted two onside kicks, and neither was successful. Stephen Gostkowski's one onside attempt was recovered by New England.
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