Dexter McDougle, an Eagle last season until he was released in November, returned to the team last Tuesday evening, and on Sunday there he was, starting in the 21-17 loss to Carolina. The Eagles came out in nickel and McDougle played the slot, normally manned by Sidney Jones, who is out with a hamstring injury.

That's how thin the Eagles' secondary is right now. Jim Schwartz doesn't seem to want to play Rasul Douglas, a corner who filled in at safety in the win over the Giants after Jones went down, and Avonte Maddox moved to nickel corner from safety.

Maddox, of course, is playing because Rodney McLeod is out for the season with a knee injury. He was strictly a safety Sunday, a position he had never played three weeks ago.

McDougle, Maddox, and the entire defense seemed to be doing just great until the third quarter. What happened then is hard to describe.

Basically, a front four that had been generating the best pressure it had managed this season just stopped getting anywhere near Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Newton, who had 24 passing yards and 24 rushing yards in the first half, suddenly had all the time in the world to survey his options. Newton was 16-for-22 for 201 yards in the fourth quarter, and it's hard to remember a contested catch. His receivers were running wide open all over the field, even though Schwartz did not blitz, leaving seven defenders in coverage.

>> READ MORE: How did the Eagles manage to blow a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the Panthers?

McDougle coming in on the fly this week probably didn't help; ditto Maddox's lack of experience, despite all the effusive praise the rookie got during the week leading up to the game. But the Eagles' linebackers didn't seem able to cover anyone — the contrast between them and the Panthers' linebackers was stark — and corner Jalen Mills slipped on a crucial fourth-down conversion, when Newton flung the ball desperately to avoid being sacked.

The defensive line's late problems also might have had to do with injuries. Haloti Ngata (calf) didn't play for the third game in a row, leaving Treyvon Hester, who came up from the practice squad Oct. 2, to start next to Fletcher Cox. The only other healthy defensive tackle was Bruce Hector, who came back up from the practice squad last week. Michael Bennett moved inside quite a bit and played well.

>> UP-DOWN DRILL: Michael Bennett trending up, Jim Schwartz trending down

Other than Ngata, inactives were linebackers D.J. Alexander (quadriceps) and Nate Gerry (knee, ankle); safety Corey Graham (hamstring); running back Darren Sproles (hamstring); and offensive lineman Matt Pryor, who was the only healthy scratch.

Rookie offensive tackle Jordan Mailata was active for the first time in his NFL career but did not take the field. Ditto fourth-round rookie defensive end Josh Sweat, despite the thin D-line.

>> LESSONS FROM A STUNNING LOSS: The Eagles need running and defensive backs to protect their leads | David Murphy

Dawk talk

Brian Dawkins was back in Philadelphia on Sunday to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence and serve as honorary captain. Dawkins, one of the franchise's icons, left his front office role after last season. He has kept track of the Eagles from afar and offered a different spin to their inconsistent start.

"This is going to sound crazy, but I'm so happy they lost some games early," Dawkins said. "I am. Because I believe in those losses you really can have tough conversations. I've always said this, and I'll continue to say this: You can have tougher conversations when you lose – especially when you lose two games in a row. So when you start losing those close games and should have won those games, you can really begin to not just hold one another accountable, you can hold yourself to an even higher stage of accountability.

"Now they get a chance to learn who they are, this nucleus, this new team, there's some new faces there, so you get a chance to see how those individuals handle themselves in tough situations."

Dawkins made his comments before Sunday's loss and hoped that the Giants win would propel the Eagles. It didn't happen. But if he is correct in his assessment, there ought to be some great conversations this week.

>> FROM THE ARCHIVES: Our favorite stories from Brian Dawkins' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Birdseed

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was credited with a dozen solo tackles. … The Eagles dusted off rookie running back Josh Adams for four carries, which netted 17 yards, three of the carries and all of the yards coming before halftime. … Carson Wentz lost the ball bringing it back to throw on the first series but recovered his fumble. Later, Wentz pounced on a Corey Clement fumble, but he couldn't get to the one he lost with 21 seconds remaining. … Cam Johnston punted just three times, for a team that scored 17 points. That shouldn't be possible. … No targets whatsoever for Jordan Matthews. … Wendell Smallwood led Eagles rushers with 32 yards on nine carries.