When Alex Henery kicked a 33-yard field goal with 9:30 left in the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, all seemed well for the Philadelphia Eagles as they were up 23-3 and on their way to victory.
Except that it didn't quite turn out that way. For the third straight game, the Eagles blew a lead in the fourth quarter and saw their 23-3 lead turn into a 24-23 defeat and a 1-3 record. Not exactly what people expected from a team that has aspirations of being in Indianapolis in early February.
And they won't be there unless they get better play on the line of scrimmage. While it was a positive to see the Eagles' passing game enjoy success against the 49ers as Michael Vick recorded 416 passing yards and connected on deep balls with Jeremy Maclin (46 yards) and DeSean Jackson (35 yards), their rushing attack enjoyed no such success. LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown combined to rush for 33 yards on 12 carries. While the former at least scored on a shovel pass from Vick, Brown's biggest contribution was when he inexplicably threw away three points in the second half.
Perhaps worse was the Eagles' rush defense—or lack there of. The NFL's 30th ranked rush defense was chewed up by Frank Gore, who ran for 127 yards on 15 carries. Overall, the 49ers averaged 6.6 yards per rushing attempt.
And now the next two weeks could determine the Eagles' season. The next two weeks see the Eagles going on the road to face the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins, who are both 3-1. The Bills obviously seem better they have been in past years, having pulled out close victories against the Raiders and Patriots. But Buffalo came back to Earth yesterday against Cincinnati. It remains to be seen if the loss to the Bengals was a hiccup or the start of a slide. The Bills do feature the NFL's fifth best rushing attack (in terms of yards of per game).
As for the Redskins, many laughed when quarterback Rex Grossman said he felt his team was going to win the division. But strong play on both sides of the line of scrimmage—the Redskins are sixth in the NFL in both rushing yards gained and allowed per game—have vaulted them to the top of the NFC East along with the Giants.
Despite the fact this season is pretty much Super Bowl or bust for the Eagles, their slow start shouldn't be cause to think the season is lost. In 2008, Andy Reid's team started 2-3, but finished the season 9-6-1 and reached the NFC Championship game. Five years prior to that, the Eagles stared 0-2 but finished 12-4, also reaching the NFC Championship game.
But a 1-5, or even a 2-4 start may be too much to overcome.