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After Loss, How Do Eagles Play It?

Posted Nov 11, 2012

It had all the makings of something special, with rookie quarterback Nick Foles on the field, with a seven-point lead and with the Dallas Cowboys on their heels late in the third quarter on Sunday evening. In the blink of an eye it all fell apart ...

This is what happens when a team struggles through a season. Who steps up to make the big play? How can you stop momentum, and reverse the fortunes of a game?

Dallas trailed 17-10 late in the third quarter on Sunday when quarterback Tony Romo dropped back to pass and tried to spin away from pressure. He spun into the grasp of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but got away. And then Jason Babin had a chance to sack Romo, who kept the play alive. Romo eluded Cullen Jenkins and Trent Cole and stepped up and completed a pass to Miles Austin for 25 yards and a keep-the-drive-alive first down.

Three plays later, Romo went up top to Dez Bryant, who beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and made a diving catch in the end zone and, suddenly, the game was tied and the tone of the NFC East battle was completely different.

On the heels of that, early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys returned a punt for a touchdown and then intercepted Nick Foles -- more on him later -- and returned it for a touchdown and it was 31-17 and the Eagles were in furious catch-up mode.

In the end, well, you know. The Eagles lost to Dallas 38-23, and are now 3-6 on the season. Philadelphia played a spirited game, played hard football, and played well enough at times to win the battle.

But the big plays Dallas converted made the difference. The Eagles were there earlier in the third quarter, leading 17-14, in Dallas territory and Foles stepped up and away from pressure on third and 5 and made a throw to Damaris Johnson that gave the Eagles a 12-yard gain and a first down at the 2-yard line.

A flag on left tackle King Dunlap -- illegal use of hands -- nullified the play and instead of having a chance to go in for seven points, the Eagles settled for three from Alex Henery and a 17-10 lead.

And that was it. Romo made the play to escape pressure and gain the first down and the momentum went all the way for Dallas from that point forward.

What is there to say? It was more of the same from the Eagles. They scored on their first offensive drive -- a beautiful 10-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a Vick fade pass to a leaping Riley Cooper, who grabbed the pass with his left hand and came down for a touchdown and the fans went crazy. It was awesome. It was a sight to see, a moment to feel.

The defense didn't sustain that momentum, however. The Cowboys put together a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a swing pass to Felix Jones, who broke five tackles to score from 11 yards out.

Oh, the agony of it all. Five straight losses. Another blown chance to gain ground on the Giants, who were waffled by the Bengals in Cincinnati.

After the game, head coach Andy Reid insisted that Vick is still the starting quarterback and, to be honest, Vick played well in the time he was on the field. He completed 7 of 9 passes as the Eagles moved the pocket and got the ball out of Vick's hands quickly.

However, the coaches are going to look at the film and maybe think hard about going with Foles. The rookie completed 22 of 32 passes for 219 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The touchdown went to Jeremy Maclin as Foles rolled right and threw back to the left, a 44-yard heave to a wide-open Maclin. The interception was a poor throw to DeSean Jackson, who ran an "in" route and had to reach back to catch Foles' pass. Jackson got both hands on the ball and, by NFL standards probably should have caught the pass. But he didn't. The football rattled around and was intercepted by Brandon Carr, who made the interception and returned it for a touchdown and a 31-17 lead.

That touchdown came on the heels of a punt return for a touchdown, a lightning-strike barrage that turned a 17-17 tie into a 31-17 Cowboys lead in a matter of 1 minute, 10 seconds early in the fourth quarter.

Just like that, the Eagles were 14 points down after having a 7-point lead late in the third quarter.

Where do the Eagles go from here? They're taking the one-day-at-a-time approach, and it's true that the Eagles are still in the race in the NFC East, simply because no team wants to run away and hide. There is no game on the schedule that you look at and say, "No way."

But how is it going to change? Who is going to step up? How are the Eagles going to reverse the fortunes of a five-game losing streak?

Who is the best quarterback to lead this team? Foles led three scoring drives in two-plus quarters. He looked pretty darn good out there. He moved well in the pocket, he got rid of the football and he showed good timing for someone who had taken very few practice reps since the summer.

Is he the best quarterback moving forward? Or is it Vick, once he is healthy?

There are seven games to go here, people. And as much as some want to skip to the end of the chapter, the team isn't going to do that.

What they're going to do is work as hard as they can to try to make the plays they haven't made in five games, to seize momentum when it is within their grasp, to get a win at Washington and maybe starting believing, really believing, that they can beat any team, anywhere.

Surely, having the confidence to win a close game is eluding this football team. They need to get it back, something they had earlier this season, and then beat the Redskins and go from there. That's the only way, the only choice. Three and 6 is ugly and we all know it.

Sunday's game turned around so suddenly. The Eagles the advantage, and then they didn't, much like the story of this season through nine games.

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