LANDOVER, Md. -- With the opportunity to control their own playoff destiny, the Eagles fumbled on Sunday at FedEx Field. Fumbled, stumbled and eventually bumbled that good fortune away in a bitter 10-3 loss.
An offense that for three games roared up and down the field, converting third downs, keeping drives alive, showing terrific balance and potency came to a near-sudden stop against a fired-up Washington defense. There was no rhythm, no consistency. The Eagles mixed the run and the pass -- in the first half, anyway, when the tone was set (11 passes, 9 runs) but neither worked particularly well as the Redskins contained Brian Westbrook, shut down an injury-riddled wide receiver corps and forced a critical third-quarter turnover that they turned into seven huge points.
The defense played a tough game, bottling up Clinton Portis for the most part, but the Eagles failed to take the football away and Washington converted just enough third downs to win the battle of field position. The few chances the Eagles had at turnovers were simply missed -- a pass in the end zone was tipped, juggled and ultimately dropped and the Redskins ended that drive with a field goal, and Asante Samuel had a chance for an interception to give the offense great field position early in the fourth quarter, but he couldn't hang on near the sidelines and the Redskins punted to the Philadelphia 3-yard line.
Ten of the Eagles' 12 possession started at or inside their 20-yard line. Four of those possessions started at or inside the 9-yard line. The average starting field position for the Eagles in the second half, was the 12-yard line. Washington started on average at its 48-yard line. And the way the offense was struggling, moving the ball in fits and starts, long drives and big plays were too difficult to come by. Third downs? The Eagles had converted 33 of 50 of them in their three-game winning streak. On Sunday, they converted just 3 of 14 third downs.
"We needed to find ways to stay on the field, and we didn't," said Westbrook, who ran for 45 yards and caught 6 passes for 71 yards. "We never got into a rhythm at all."
It was a terribly depressing way to spend a late afternoon and early evening. Shocking. Given a path to control their road to the playoffs when San Diego went into Tampa and beat the Buccaneers, the Eagles never got started. Washington's secondary manhandled the Eagles receivers, who played without Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett. End Jason Taylor, a huge disappointment for the Redskins this season, had his game of the year with two sacks and a forced Donovan McNabb fumble that Washington recovered at the Eagles' 18-yard line and turned into seven points and a 10-0 lead.
Really, the Eagles made one big play all game -- a McNabb pass on the left sideline to Westbrook that went for 47 yards when the Eagles got the matchup they wanted, Westbrook on a defensive tackle -- but otherwise they were extremely limited. As the game went along and the Eagles sunk deeper and deeper into desperation mode, the Eagles went almost exclusively to the passing game and the receivers couldn't shake free for big gains.
Trailing 10-3, the Eagles mounted one final drive. They had a first down at their 35-yard line with two minutes remaining. Westbrook had just hobbled off the field, only to return after missing one play. It was that kind of NFC East battle -- bloody, ugly, physical.
Anyway, the Eagles had one timeout and 65 yards to cover in two minutes. A completion to L.J. Smith gained 6 yards. A throw to Jason Avant moved the ball to the 50-yard line for a first down. Another throw to Avant was low and incomplete and the clock read 1:10 remaining. On second and 10, McNabb threw to Reggie Brown for a 10-yard completion to the Washington 40-yard line.
McNabb threw a strike to Jackson on a "go" route in the right corner of the end zone and Jackson couldn't hang on. Fifty-seven seconds remaining. A completion on a crossing route to Smith moved the ball to the 29-yard line. A spike stopped the clock. A throw to Avant down the left seam was incomplete as Avant took a huge hit. Third and 10. Thirty-four seconds to go. A completion over the middle to Westbrook gained 6 yards, setting up a fourth-and-4 play. The Eagles called their final timeout with 27 seconds on the clock.
A throw to Westbrook gained 5 yards and a first down. A spike stopped the clock with 12 seconds left. Second and the season from the 18-yard line. A completion to Brown, who made a leaping catch, was stopped at the 1-yard line.
The 1-stinking-yard-line. The replays were conclusive: No touchdown. No timeouts left. The clock read zero.
At 8-6-1, the Eagles need major help to reach the postseason. They had it in their hands, their destiny that is. It slipped away, like the sands of a season.