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A Familiar Loss In Home Finale

Posted Dec 23, 2012

The home schedule ended, appropriately enough, with a drive that died at the Washington 5-yard line, another missed chance in the red zone that led to an Eagles defeat, a 27-20 to the Redskins …

This time it was rookie quarterback Nick Foles rolling left, rolling left, trying to find an open receiver as the play started with 8 seconds left on the clock. Nobody came free. The pressure from defensive end Stephen Bowen closed in on Foles and he threw the ball away into space and was penalized for an illegal forward pass – the pass did not reach the line of scrimmage – and the game was over.

Just like that. All gone.  A team that has had so many troubles scoring touchdowns in the red zone had its home season end in the dead zone. The Eagles were 1 of 4 in the red zone – the lone score was a 17-yard touchdown run by Dion Lewis in the fourth quarter to bring the Eagles to within 27-20 – and, well, we’ve talked about the troubles in the red zone many times over the last few seasons.

On that last play, the Eagles went with an empty backfield and lined up Riley Cooper on the right side of the formation, with Lewis in the slot. Brent Celek and Evan Moore were the tight ends – Celek was tight in protection and Moore was in the slot at the top of the formation – and Jeremy Maclin was at the top of the formation outside of Moore.

Foles rolled left, so any chance he might have had to throw across the field to the right side to Celek on a crossing route went out the window as soon as the quarterback made his first move left. Foles held the ball and drifted back to the 15-yard line before he threw the football.

“I tried to get it past the line of scrimmage, but it didn’t get there,” said Foles, who was hit by Bowen as he released the pass. “It’s a situation that I will handle better the next time.”

Actually, Foles had a couple of chances to tie the game. A throw to Maclin from the 17-yard line was short by a yard or two as Maclin came free in the right corner of the end zone. And a throw to Moore, signed during the week to replace Clay Harbor on the roster, was right on the money at the goal line, but Moore didn’t hang on to the football.

So it went down to the last play, and the Eagles failed to convert. And they failed to win, dropping to 4-11 on the season and 2-6 at Lincoln Financial Field.

What did we learn in the loss to Washington? Foles had his strong moments under pressure, but he also turned the ball over twice, held on to the football too long at times and scored just one touchdown in four red-zone trips. He’s a rookie, remember, so maybe the highest compliment of all is that when the Eagles drove at the end of the game, everyone expected a touchdown from Foles and the offense.

He’s come a long way, with a bright future ahead. Foles has his flaws – he needs to be a bit faster, and he has to be more consistent driving his legs through throws and he needs better footwork throwing the football down the field – but there are plenty of positives. With one game to go, Foles owns the franchise records for passing yards, completions and attempts for a rookie quarterback.

The Eagles rang up 411 yards of offense, but because the red zone offered so many troubles, they put up only 20 points. LeSean McCoy made a fine return to the lineup, rushing for 45 yards and catching 9 passes for another 77 yards to account for 122 yards from scrimmage. He was as elusive as ever in the open field and showed again how special he is. Maclin had eight catches and a touchdown and Jason Avant added eight receptions. They've clicked nicely with Foles.

Defensively, the Eagles were much better the second time around against Washington. They still missed too many tackles and failed to capture and keep momentum, but Colt Anderson’s interception early in the fourth quarter – the team’s first since the Detroit game – helped spark some momentum and give the Eagles some mojo down the stretch.

What else to take from this game? The fans gave head coach Andy Reid a wonderful ovation as he left the field following the loss, and he acknowledged the response and said that “I understand the situation,” and that’s all there is to say about that.

In the big picture, the same ailments plagued the Eagles. There were two turnovers – Foles fumbled when he left the pocket and held on to the ball too long, and then was intercepted when a pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage – and those giveaways led to 10 Washington points. And the play in the red zone was again poor enough to cost the team the game.

Other than that, the Eagles – with so many reserves playing on offense – were just as good as the playoff-bound Redskins, who have won six consecutive games.

What else can you say? The Eagles have one game remaining on the 2012 schedule, at New York on Sunday. It’s another chance for Foles to grow. It’s another game for Reid to win in the division.

It’s the last game of the season, after which so many of the questions we now have will be answered, and so many of the shortcomings on this team – red-zone play, turnovers, defensive stops and takeaways – can be addressed as the Eagles build for a brighter tomorrow.

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