FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots need a lot more than the return of Tom Brady.
The team that was nearly perfect needs a defense that doesn't give up three drives of 70 yards or more and special teams that don't allow two kick returns for touchdowns -- all in the first half.
The Philadelphia Eagles did all that Friday night and won 27-17, a score that was closer than their domination of a team that was 18-0 before losing last season's Super Bowl but is 0-3 in exhibition games.
"I've only been here two games and things haven't been good," said Patriots safety John Lynch, who signed after being released by Denver. "I don't think you put too much stock on results, but we've still got to regroup."
Brady has yet to play in a game while nursing a right foot injury. Coach Bill Belichick wasn't asked about his condition, but it doesn't appear to be serious and the NFL MVP could be back for the season opener Sept. 7 against Kansas City.
The Eagles returned two kicks for touchdowns in the last 1:35 of the first half, Donovan McNabb led three long drives, and backup Kevin Kolb directed a 90-yard march to David Akers' second field goal on their opening series of the third quarter.
"My confidence comes from how the team feels and I think the team is really on a high right now," McNabb said.
After Akers' 24-yard field goal made it 27-3, Matt Cassel was done for the night after failing for the third straight game to show he deserved to remain as backup to Brady.
Cassel completed 8 of 14 passes for 60 yards and hasn't led a touchdown drive on any of his 15 series, although starting linemen Matt Light and Stephen Neal have been sidelined all three games. Cassel hobbled off after being sacked on his last play with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Cassel did "some good things, some could have been done better," Belichick said. "Protection at times was a problem."
He gave Matt Gutierrez a better review after the second-year pro threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 1 yard to Chad Jackson and 6 yards to C.J. Jones against backups.
"Matt did a good job of leading the team," Belichick said of Gutierrez. "He hung in there well."
But, Gutierrez said, "one or two good plays weren't enough."
While Cassel, entering his fourth season, struggled, five-time Pro Bowler McNabb rebounded from an unproductive game to go 13-for-17 for 180 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jason Avant.
The Eagles (2-1) beat Carolina 24-13 in their previous game, although McNabb and the first-team offense were scoreless in six possessions on a wet, sloppy field.
"Last week was kind of mixed emotions because of the conditions and the weather," McNabb said. "We had several key mistakes so we were able to learn from that."
McNabb missed two games last season because of ankle and thumb injuries but led the Eagles to wins in their last three games that left them at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. He also missed some offseason practices with a shoulder injury.
Leading 10-0 Friday, he nearly threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Hank Baskett. But Belichick challenged, and replay officials ruled Baskett lost the ball before crossing the goal line and it went out of bounds, giving New England a touchback.
The Patriots managed a 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski on the next series -- with the big play a 47-yard gain on a defensive pass interference call.
Then it was the special teams' turn to collapse.
Quintin Demps returned the kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown that Patriots fullback Heath Evans took the blame for.
And when Cassel couldn't get a first down on the next possession, DeSean Jackson ran back Chris Hanson's punt 76 yards for another touchdown on the final play of the half, making it 24-3.
"The punter got a good kick and kind of outkicked his coverage," Jackson said.
Belichick threw his headset to the ground and bellowed at Hanson on the sideline. Had he punted out of bounds, the Eagles would have had time for no more than a play or two before halftime.
The Patriots could have another problem. Wes Welker, who tied for the NFL lead with 112 receptions last season, left with a rib injury in the second quarter and didn't return. The team did not comment on his condition.
Eagles right guard Shawn Andrews, who revealed recently that he has been diagnosed with clinical depression, played his first exhibition game.
"I was very pleased, with the exception of a couple of plays," he said. "I really feel like I'm close to where I need to be for the opener."
An early sign of the Patriots' futility came on their first offensive play when Randy Moss was thrown for a 5-yard loss on an end around. The tackler? Former Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, who signed a $58 million, six-year contract with the Eagles in the offseason.
"It was fun," Samuel said. "I have something to call him and joke about with him."
Now the Patriots have just one more game to get things straightened out before the regular season - an exhibition against the Super Bowl champion Giants on Thursday night.
"I know one thing," Evans said. "We're a Bill Belichick-coached football team and we're going to find a way to get better."
|Fri. Aug. 22||Final|
|PHI - Pass: D. McNabb (13-17, 180), Rec: D. Jackson (4-67)|
NE - Pass: M. Gutierrez (14-20, 217), Rec: C. Jones (3-70)
|FG||David Akers 24 Yd, 8:17. Drive: 14 plays, 76 yards in 6:43.|
|TD||Jason Avant, 7 Yd pass from Donovan McNabb (David Akers kick is good), 9:36. Drive: 11 plays, 73 yards in 5:54.|
|FG||Stephen Gostkowski 35 Yd, 1:48. Drive: 6 plays, 63 yards in 2:31.|
|TD||Quintin Demps, 101 Yd kick return (David Akers kick is good), 1:35.|
|TD||DeSean Jackson, 76 Yd punt return (David Akers kick is good), 0:00.|
|FG||David Akers 24 Yd, 4:09. Drive: 12 plays, 90 yards in 5:16.|
|TD||Chad Jackson, 1 Yd pass from Matt Gutierrez (Stephen Gostkowski kick is good), 13:49. Drive: 11 plays, 71 yards in 5:20.|
|TD||C.J. Jones, 9 Yd pass from Matt Gutierrez (Stephen Gostkowski kick is good), 0:41. Drive: 9 plays, 99 yards in 2:20.|
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