On Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles were within seven yards of ending a game's first half in the most improbable of ways again.
But thanks to Hank Baskett, that's only happened twice this season - so far, at least.
Just one week after the Eagles' first half ended with the Giants' Kevin Dockery returning a blocked David Akers field goal for a bonecrushing score – the second time this has happened to Akers this season (at San Francisco) – the Browns' Brandon McDonald came within 21 feet of sending the Browns into halftime with their own dose of momentum.
With the Eagles resting at the Browns' 1-foot line with nine seconds remaining in the first half, McDonald jumped in front of a Donovan McNabb pass intended for Baskett on a fade route halfway into the end zone. McDonald seemed to have a clear path to a touchdown, but Brian Westbrook slowed him down just enough for Baskett to recover and push him out 98 yards later – seven yards shy of another unbelievable score.
It helped the Eagles to preserve a 17-3 halftime lead that never really came within Cleveland's striking distance for the remainder of the game.
"You saw what our No. 1 option was right there, and that was to throw the ball up," Reid said. "We just came up short on it." Photo Gallery : CLE VS. PHI 12-15-08
As expected, the Eagles dominated a straggling Cleveland team down to its third-string quarterback, but the missed opportunities, entirely too reminiscent of the Eagles' early-season struggles, prevented the game from being essentially over by halftime.
Despite another impressive third-down conversion ratio (11-for-17), the Eagles blew two chances inside the Cleveland 10. In addition to the near pick-six, the Eagles coaches had wide receiver DeSean Jackson attempt the first pass of his career ("The last," Reid joked) from the Cleveland 7. Lined up in the Wildcat formation, from which Jackson typically runs, the diminutive rookie saw Baskett across the middle, but not Browns safety Sean Jones, who dove in to make the interception.
In all, despite 418 total yards of offense, the Eagles finished just 2-for-6 on touchdown chances inside the red zone.
"Well, we didn't do very well. So obviously, we've got to address that and take care of it," Reid said. "I'm worried about this (game), and we'll get it answered and get ready for the next one."
Still, the Eagles moved the ball efficiently on both the run and pass. Westbrook continued carrying the yeoman's share of the offense, with 19 touches and 67 yards from scrimmage. But backup tailback Correll Buckhalter was the most explosive entity on Monday. He was back from a knee injury, and he contributed a team-high 55 rushing yards to the cause, while breaking off two longer runs. Though the running game wasn't dominant, its consistent gains of three or four yards allowed the Eagles to control the clock and extend drives. As a result, punter Sav Rocca wasn't used until 7:33 remaining in the fourth quarter – after the Eagles' offensive starters had been pulled.
And, aside from the interception, McNabb was sharp. He finished 26-of-35 for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
But the quarterback knows the mistakes have to stop if his team's improbable playoff run is to continue. But for Monday, things were good enough.
"We're converting on third downs, we're getting good pass plays, we're getting some positive run yards, and we're moving the ball down the field," McNabb said. "And that's something which we needed to do today, and we need to do that in the next couple weeks as well."