Things started fine, as the Eagles went 80 yards, no problem, scored a touchdown and took a lead Saturday night in a must-win game at Lincoln Financial Field against Washington. And then, mirroring the season, the game went downhill and the playoff hopes died with it in a 38-24 loss.
There really wasn’t much different in this game from so many others in this 6-9 season. The Eagles dropped a lot of passes, nine in all. They didn’t get much going in the ground game, totaling just 45 yards on 16 attempts. The defense failed to move Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins off his mark and Cousins completed 31-of-46 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns, continuing his torrid second half of the season. There were too many penalties (8 for 45 lost yards), too many missed chances to seize momentum (dropped potential interceptions, missed tackles and, on one occasion, an overthrown pass to a wide-open tight end Zach Ertz, who would have walked in for a touchdown) and, worst of all, a mismatch in the turnover department. The Eagles gave it away two times, losing 2-of-7 fumbles on the night, while Washington played a turnover-free game.
And so the playoff hopes are over for 2015 and the players reflected upon the sobering reality in the locker room after the defeat, their second to Washington this season.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “We had a chance to come out here and do something, turn this season around and we weren’t able to do that. It’s disheartening because it’s same thing that happened last year. It’s kind of like déjà vu. Playing in Philadelphia and playing in front of these fans, it’s just a sick feeling when it happens here. I can’t sugarcoat that. Our fans came, they showed up. The City of Philadelphia had our back and we didn’t put a great product on the field consistently.”
“I’m obviously very frustrated. This is not what any of us expected or wanted, but in this league you will get exposed if you are not good enough or don’t play well,” center Jason Kelce. “If you’re 6-9, you’re 6-9. I don’t get into the whole ‘Does it feel like this?’ There were times when we were moving the ball great and obviously turnovers, penalties, things like that killed us. But that’s been what it is all year. That’s why we’re 6-9. Everybody knows what it is. You can see the mistakes out there.”
Turning points on Saturday night? There were plenty of them, but none that went the Eagles’ way. After taking the opening drive 80 yards and scoring on a Ryan Mathews touchdown run, Washington put together a five-play, 69-yard drive a couple of offensive possessions later to pull to within 7-6 as placekicker Dustin Hopkins missed the PAT. No matter. After a three-and-out offensive series for the Eagles, Washington came right back with a seven-play, 61-yard drive and scored on a second Cousins touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed, who torched the Eagles with nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
The first half ended with Washington ahead, 16-10, and then it got ugly in the second half, as it did the Sunday before when Arizona came into Lincoln Financial Field and won going away in the second half.
Washington took its second offensive possession in the third quarter and marched 54 yards on 11 plays as Cousins threw for 17 yards to Pierre Garçon and then to Pierre Thomas (7 receptions, 67 yards)for 15 yards and finally to Chris Thompson for 12 yards and a touchdown. After the Eagles came right back and scored on a DeMarco Murray touchdown run to trim the deficit to 23-17, the Eagles' defense held and the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field rose, thinking momentum was about to swing to the Eagles.
Instead, on a third-and-2 play, quarterback Sam Bradford pitched right for Murray and the ball, on a drizzly night in South Philadelphia, squirted out of Murray’s hands and fell to the grass. Center Jason Kelce, pulling right on the play, kicked the football out of Murray’s range and safety DeAngelo Hall picked it up and ran 17 yards for a touchdown to put Washington ahead, 30-17.
"It's on me," head coach Chip Kelly said. "Not a good call, 100 percent on me. Not a good call. I made the call."
Washington added a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter to go in front, 38-17 as the fans headed for the exits, playoff dreams harpooned. For the second straight year, Washington knocked the Eagles from playoff contention. This time, the Redskins seized the NFC East title with the victory and the Eagles spoke gloomily about what went wrong.
“It’s a tough feeling,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “We knew it was all on the line today. For us to not play our best is disappointing.”
The feeling was shared throughout a solemn locker room. The Eagles entered the season with high hopes after an invigorating offseason that featured several franchise-altering moves – the trade of running back LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso, the acquisition of quarterback Sam Bradford, the deep dip into free agency to acquire, among others, cornerback Byron Maxwell and Murray. Even with a bumpy September and October, the Eagles were 4-4 after their big win at Dallas, primed for a strong run in the second half of the season.
Instead, they’re 6-9 with one game to play and no playoffs for a second consecutive season.
“You have to be consistent to win football games in this league and we weren’t,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “It’s a lousy feeling. We thought we had a chance to do something special and, instead, here we are. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. We created this and we have to live with it.”