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Some Clarity After A Wild Sunday

Posted Dec 15, 2013

It's time to move on and learn and bounce back and prepare for two weeks of playoff football. An Eagles loss in Minnesota combined with a Dallas loss keeps the NFC East picture the same and sets up fascinating scenarios ...

The sense of disappointment was palpable after a 48-30 loss in Minnesota. The Eagles didn't do a whole lot right and they paid the price. The defensive intensity and focus wasn't there. The offense blew early chances and failed to take over the game in the second half. The special teams tried to kick off short to keep the football out of the hands of Cordarrelle Patterson, but it left the Vikings with favorable field position. Coaching decisions didn't pay off and, well, the Eagles left the Mall Of America Field bumming.

In the course of a plane ride home, the Eagles learned that Dallas blew a 26-3 halftime lead and imploded in the fourth quarter before losing to Green Bay, and Philadelphia ended Sunday as it began, leading Dallas by one game.

The Eagles, at 8-6, hold a one-game advantage over Dallas, at 7-7, with two games to play.

And the picture is every bit as fascinating as you might imagine.

Dallas has a 1 p.m. game on Sunday at Washington, and the Redskins are playing absolutely dreadful football. But the change at quarterback pumped a little life into Washington on Sunday at Atlanta and Kirk Cousins had a very good first start, and the way the Cowboys are playing defense, it certainly provides some hope that Washington will buck up and play its most hated rival with some pride and effort and intention to upset the Cowboys at FedEx Field.

If Washington beats Dallas at 1 p.m. -- and I understand how big of an "if" that is -- the Eagles could wrap up the NFC East by defeating Chicago in the nationally televised 8:30 p.m. (NBC) game.

Of course, if the Cowboys beat Washington, the Eagles' game against Chicago is, as far as the standings are concerned, meaningless. A wild-card playoff berth is not going to happen for the Eagles, so it's win the NFC East or no playoffs for Philadelphia, and a Dallas win at Washington gives the Cowboys eight victories, so it wouldn't matter what the Eagles do against Chicago because the Eagles and Cowboys square off a week later in Arlington, Texas, and the Eagles would need a win to take the division.

Got all that? It's as simple as this: The Eagles need to have a better record, and not an equal record, than the Cowboys, because Dallas owns the tiebreaker by virtue of A) the head-to-head record should the Eagles hold a one-game lead heading into the regular-season finale and then lose to Dallas; and B) Dallas has the NFC East record (4-0 now) should both teams finish with the same overall record and one win against each other.

You wonder, then, how Chip Kelly plays it should Dallas beat Washington at 1 p.m. Knowing that the Bears game doesn't clinch a thing, would Kelly rest some of his regular players?

That's certainly not in the minds of the players or coaches right now. They are smarting from the 48-30 loss in Minnesota against a Vikings team that was significantly undermanned because of injury. The Eagles were porous on defense, specifically against quarterback Matt Cassel and the talented Minnesota receivers, and with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery coming to town on Sunday, things have to tighten up, and in a hurry.

Let's hope Sunday's loss serves as a wakeup call for a defense that just didn't have the same intensity and sense of purpose as it had in the nine previous games when the Eagles allowed no more than 21 points in a game. Cassel escaped the minimal pressure the pass rush generated and got rid of the football quickly and his receivers dominated the Eagles' secondary.

Why did the Eagles not have the necessary edge? Was it just one of those games that was inevitable after five straight victories? Did the defense lose its urgency when Minnesota announced that running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart would miss the game? Or did Minnesota find something that other teams will try to copy?

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis is charged with providing the answers. He's done an outstanding job getting the most out of this defense for much of the season, and one of his most demanding tasks waits in the Bears. Chicago is loaded on offense with its group of excellent pass receivers, a great running back in Matt Forte and a strong-armed franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler.

The players didn't have answers for the drop in performance on Sunday. They wanted to wait until they watched the film, and no doubt they won't like what they will see. Minnesota's receivers had some big catch and runs, breaking too many tackles, and the secondary just didn't play the ball very well. It was a poor performance, one that needs to improve.

But the truth is that the loss in Minnesota was on the entire team, coaching staff included. The Vikings offense worked with a short field much of the game thanks to the strategy to kick short, and the defense couldn't get off the field. The offense was ineffective in the red zone. Quarterback Nick Foles had big numbers, but also held on to the ball too long at times and took sacks, and then he fired off target on some occasions when receivers were open. The offensive balance wasn't there and the Eagles ... just ... didn't ... have ... it.

It's a new day, though. Dallas lost to Green Bay and the Eagles still hold a one-game lead in the division. Bad games happen, as we all know. The top teams bounce back from those games and play their best football in key December moments.

That first moment is here for the Eagles. Chicago comes to town on Sunday as one of the conference's hottest teams with a standout offense. How do the Eagles bounce back from the loss in Minnesota? Head coach Chip Kelly said it best after losing to the Vikings and before the Cowboys completed their epic loss: He said the team will continue to stick together and learn from the loss.

There isn't much to add from what Kelly said. He isn't one to make excuses for a poor performance. The Eagles didn't play the kind of game on Sunday that we've become accustomed to seeing this team play. But there is plenty of life left in this team, and in this season.

The Eagles need to be a whole lot better against Chicago and then in Dallas than they were in Minnesota. That was an unacceptable performance, one not to be repeated.

How great is it, though, that we're here, with playoff scenarios to discuss and the pressure of the postseason staring the Eagles in the face? It's been too long to get back to this position, but now we're here. And it's important that the Eagles take advantage of the chance and grow up and understand just how much winning down the stretch means for a franchise with huge goals in the short term and in the big picture.

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