I wrote last week about how the Eagles' tight win over the Giants was something the team needed. I thought that facing some adversity would be good for the team. Granted, trailing by one point isn't major adversity. Still, I figured that playing in a tight game like that and needing some big plays with the game on the line would serve as a good reminder to the team that "good enough" isn't good enough. This is the time of year when playing good football is almost as important as winning. There isn't any point in getting to the postseason if you're going to play sloppy football. That will lead to a quick exit.
Teams need to start peaking in late November and early December. That doesn't mean you should blow out everyone or even win every game. The team simply needs to play good football. You must take advantage of opportunities when they arise. You must score touchdowns in the red zone. You need to come up with stops when the opponent is facing a third-and-long situation. You must cut down on penalties that end your drives or extend them for the other team. Be consistent and play up to your ability.
The Eagles did very little of this on Sunday in the frustrating loss to the Bears. We didn't look like a playoff team. They did. The Bears needed to win this game to show the rest of the league they were for real. They came out and played with a real sense of purpose. The Eagles did the same thing in blowout wins over Atlanta and Washington. The Eagles did it for part of the wins over the Colts and Giants. The team wasn't down for Chicago. The Bears played at a higher level and our guys couldn't respond.
There was a point in the game in the second quarter when we did get the upper hand. The Bears had built a 14-3 lead. I wasn't worried, but Chicago sure had my attention at that point. Michael Vick led the offense down the field and threw a short touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin. That helped me to relax a bit. We got the ball right back and went down and kicked a field goal. I was disappointed not to get the touchdown, but suddenly we had control of the game. We were all set to show the NFL that the Bears were in fact a paper tiger and that we were the force to be reckoned with.
The defense stuffed Matt Forte on a run and then sacked Jay Cutler back-to-back times to force a punt. I wasn't on cloud nine at this point, but I was in the elevator on the way there. We were ready to kill the Bears. Things got even better as the offense drove down inside Chicago's 5-yard line. It was time to take the lead.
To borrow a great line from the movie Stripes, "And then depression set in." Vick tried to hit Maclin over the middle, but the ball was deflected by defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Safety Chris Harris picked it off in the end zone and took off up the field. Instead of us taking complete control of the game Chicago had the ball, the lead and momentum. They marched down the field for a touchdown to go up 21-13 and the game was never the same. One little play. One huge change of events.
Vick had an off day. He didn't seem comfortable in the pocket. The Bears got regular pressure, but even on plays when he had time, Vick looked hurried. He missed some golden opportunities. In the first quarter we ran a play-action pass to perfection and Brent Celek was wide open for a touchdown. Vick had time to throw, but the ball was off-target and fell incomplete. We had to settle for a field goal. On a drive when we got to the Chicago 10-yard line Marty Mornhinweg decided to call a new play, a shovel pass to Celek. We've not run that this year that I know of, if ever. The play looked like it was going to give us at least 5 yards if not the touchdown. Unfortunately, Vick misfired when he pitched the ball. It hit Nick Cole, the lead blocker on the play. Celek was a yard behind him. We're talking about a serious misfire on a shovel pass. If we convert those opportunities into touchdowns, we've got a much different game. Field goals aren't good enough against good teams, unless you have a really good defense.
The Eagles defense had shown good progress in recent weeks and I was hoping to see another strong showing. The defense had a miserable day. Asante Samuel missed the game due to a knee injury and that really hurt us, but that's no excuse for the problems we had overall. The biggest problem was tackling. The Bears threw the ball to players in space and then our guys failed to bring them down. That led to a ton of run-after-catch yards and big plays.
There isn't one person to single out. Everyone seemed to miss a key tackle. Dimitri Patterson was our best defensive back in the game and he missed one. Stewart Bradley missed tackles on Forte that turned short runs into gains of 61 and 28 yards. They weren't going to be easy tackles, but those are still the kinds of stops a middle linebacker should make. Rookie Trevard Lindley played a lot in the game and struggled. All rookie corners do. He got better as the game went along, but Cutler and the Bears targeted that side of the defense to work on Lindley and Joselio Hanson, who got the start at left corner. Ernie Sims made a bad decision when he quit covering Devin Hester so he could come up to try and get to Cutler. That led to a big pass play. It was that kind of a night. We made a combination of mental and physical mistakes.
So is there any reason for optimism? Did anything go right? Antonio Dixon and Trent Cole played really well. Cole had a pair of sacks and should have had another one. He was a force off the edge. Dixon continues to be disruptive in the middle. He was credited with four solo tackles, including a pair of tackles-for-loss. He and Cole give us one heck of a tandem on the right side of the line. Brodrick Bunkley is on the bench behind Dixon, but there's good news with him. Bunkley is playing his best football of the year. He wasn't credited with any tackles, but he played the inside runs well and got pressure on a couple of pass plays. I was worried about how he would respond to being a backup, but Bunkley has made the most of the situation.
The offense failed to click the way we expected, but even in an off-game there were some positives. Shady McCoy had a great game as a pass blocker. Not good, great. He picked up blitzers and stonewalled them. He used chip blocks to slow down ends. McCoy ran and caught the ball well, but his blocking was exceptional. Brent Celek showed some signs of life. That was the best blocking game I've seen from him this year, maybe ever. He made a spectacular touchdown catch late in the game. It seemed like he was in a team photo of the Bears, but somehow got the ball and held onto it in the end zone for the score. Great throw by Vick. Rookie Clay Harbor caught a 24-yard pass in the first half. He had to adjust to the ball since Vick was a bit off-target. Harbor turned his body, made the grab, and held on as he was hit. You need good tight end play as the weather gets bad. It's good to see Celek and Harbor improving.
I do take some encouragement from the fact that we got the Bears' A-game and still almost pulled out a victory. I know that the fourth quarter was different because we played catch-up while they were playing prevent. That doesn't change the fact that we cut the lead down to five points and had an onside kick attempt. Does anyone really think the Bears will play nearly that well again, should we meet them for a rematch? Jay Cutler played his best game as a pro and they still had to hold on for dear life at the end. Kudos to the Bears for making plays and winning the game. They were the better team on Sunday. We'll see how things go the rest of the way. I think this Eagles team has some very good days ahead.