The Philadelphia Eagles received an early holiday present before their game against the Washington Redskins. A formal rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers team lost at home to the San Diego Chargers and esentially returned the Eagles control of their playoff future.
The Eagles were left for dead in late November before winning three convincing games against the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. They found themselves suddenly very much alive in the playoff hunt, and once again looking very dangerous.
All the Eagles had to do to set up a one game showdown next weekend against the Dallas Cowboys for the final playoff spot was defeat the free-falling Washington Redskins. It seemed like a manageable task considering the Redskins have recently resembled the team most picked to finish a distant last in the NFC East. After going 6-2 in the first half of the season, the Redskins lost five out of their last six games and have been all but eliminated from the playoff race.
The only problem was the Eagles team that cruised through December was nowhere to be found today. The defense came to play, but the offense was held scoreless in the first half and had trouble moving the ball throughout most of the game. The Eagles were only able to convert on three third downs, and looked very much like the slumping team that couldn’t beat the Cincinnati Bengals on November 16.
In fact, the only great drive was the final one with 3:48 remaining in the game. The Eagles took over at their own nine yard line and marched the ball down the field 90 yards, before a final 17 yard pass play to Reggie Brown left them inches short of the goal line as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
It was a demoralizing defeat, and one that likely ended their playoff run. Many will look at Brown and ask why he didn’t make sure he was across the plane before catching the ball with no timeouts and a few seconds left. Others will point to the clock management on the final drive. It’s certainly not the only reason they lost this game, but when your team is inches away from the goal line when the game ends, it does raise questions.
As an aside, I have asked myself dozens of times during the Donovan McNabb era why the Eagles (or any team for that matter) don’t run the hurry-up offense more often when their offense struggles. It seems to always catch a defense off-guard, and they can never get the proper personnel into the game.
Why don’t more teams copy what the Colts have done for years, or look at this game and see how a sputtering offense can suddenly move the ball 90 yards with relative ease? I just don’t understand why the Dolphins run a wacky, unconventional offense against the Patriots early in the year and every team suddenly has a wildcat offense trick in their playbook, but not many teams have a two minute offense that they can use to jump-start a team.
Maybe Washington was playing a softer, more conservative defense because they felt they had considerably less to lose in this game, but the bottom line is that the hurry-up seems to spark the Eagles offense every time they use it, and today was no different.
The major reason the Eagles lost this game today was dropped passes. They had several drive-killing drops, none bigger than two by DeSean Jackson in the fourth quarter. Jackson dropped four in all, but McNabb threw two beautiful well-placed deep balls, and one of them would have tied the game.
I have really enjoyed watching DeSean Jackson this season. He has the kind of speed and play-making ability that generates excitement every time he touches the ball. His arrival has breathed life into a Philadelphia Eagle receiving core that for years has been average at best (with the exception of 2004), and given McNabb little to work with.
Jackson has also been a very frustrating player at times this season. His Monday Night Football blunder against the Cowboys early in the season will likely go down as the most memorable. In his haste to celebrate his first NFL touchdown, he tossed the ball away before crossing the goal line.
Fortunately for Jackson and the Eagles, the Cowboys didn’t pick up the ball and the play was blown dead, and Brian Westbrook scored on the ensuing play. This was the prelude to many more moments during the season that would test the patience of his coach, teammates and fans.
Some of these include fumbles, interceptions, a muffed punt which set up a Bears TD in a winnable week four game, and frequent poor decisions on punt returns losing big yardage. Its amazing how you can also lose many yards quickly when you are that fast.
No matter how many mistakes he made, there was a sense of rookie forgiveness with Jackson due to several great moments he has provided this season. Jackson still has an outside chance to reach 1000 yards, a mark that only 16 rookies have achieved in the NFL. And 1000 yards for any Eagle receiver places him in fairly good company.
With top Eagle receivers Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis injured to start the season, Jackson quickly became Donovan McNabb’s favorite target. Even after both receivers returned, he still received the majority of attention from McNabb.
Jackson also ran back a punt for a touchdown in October, and has showed incredible promise and flashes of what could be a very bright future as a number one receiver in this league. It is with these positives and his tremendous upside that many of his mistakes have been overlooked.
It is unfortunate that injuries and other poor receiving options forced a rookie into this important role, but that’s how you become a star in this league. And Jackson has never been one to shy away from the spotlight, with his confident and often cocky presence in the clubhouse. He was given a big opportunity to become a star tonight, and let the Eagles down.
I’m still a fan and I have high hopes for the future, but there is no doubt that his performance today is a big reason that the Eagles are not moving on.
I’m sure some will call me out on the fact that the Eagles are still mathematically alive, but in my opinion they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs if they cant win a game like the one tonight. Or maybe this loss is still stinging and I’m not ready just yet to pin my hopes on Jamarcus Russell and the Raiders’ ability to beat Tampa Bay next weekend. Ask me on Friday.