Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. All Eagles fans wanted was for the team to control its own fate. The Chargers' win at Tampa on Sunday gave the Eagles such control. All they had to do was win out and they were in the postseason. Eagles fans got what they asked for and then the team went and blew it by losing to the Redskins.
Sunday's game was painful to sit through. The offense was dreadful. The defense was good, but they couldn't make a big play on a day when we needed them to be more than good. Washington gave them several chances, but apparently our defense believes it is better to give than receive. Special teams failed to deliver any momentum-shifting plays.
The offense is the primary focus, as it should be on a day when you score three points. Donovan McNabb's final numbers look OK, but he didn't play great. He never looked right to me. McNabb played with excellent command and confidence during the winning streak, but I didn't see that guy on Sunday. I saw the McNabb from the middle of the year. Too many passes were off-target, especially low. Too many passes were check-down throws on third down. The offense never looked crisp.
The receivers didn't help McNabb. They failed to get open consistently and they dropped several passes. DeSean Jackson had a couple of very costly drops. The first came on a deep ball down the left sideline. McNabb didn't make a great throw, but he put it out where Jackson could make a play on the ball. Jackson just wasn't able to haul it in. The other drop was huge. Jackson ran a streak route down the right sideline. McNabb made a great throw. He put the ball out in front of Jackson in the end zone. Jackson went up for the ball, but it hit his forearm and he wasn't able to secure it. That catch would have tied the game at 10-10.
On a day when the quarterback isn't throwing all that well and the receivers are struggling, the natural inclination is to turn to the running game. Or not. Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter combined for 13 carries for 47 yards. I'm sure the coaches had some plan in mind that led to all the passing, but I think they should have run the ball more.
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The game was a defensive battle. Neither side showed the ability to create big plays. Why not feed the ball to Westbrook and Buckhalter and see if they can bust off a long run? Both guys have the ability to give you a 20-yard run with one or two key blocks. We're not talking about handing the ball to a bruising fullback who will only get a yard or two. Any kind of success at running the ball would have also helped the passing game.
Even if they wanted to throw more than run, the ball should have gone more to the running backs. Westbrook and Buckhalter combined for 21 touches. Clinton Portis alone had 22 carries. He and Ladell Betts combined for 35 touches. Throw short passes to the running backs and let them create some yards for you. When the downfield passing game isn't working, throw the ball to guys who excel at breaking tackles and making defenders miss. Let your weapons work for you. Instead we saw dump off passes going to tight ends and the fullback or incomplete passes to the wide receivers.
That was an extremely aggravating performance to watch. There is no way a team with McNabb, Westbrook, Jackson, L.J. Smith, Reggie Brown, Jason Avant and a good offensive line should be controlled the way they were. Everyone is to share in the blame for this one.
The defense limited Washington to 249 yards and 10 points. Normally, that is a great game. The guys did play very well. The only problem is that on a day when the offense is struggling the defense must come up with a big play or two. That didn't happen.
Washington gave us numerous chances. Jason Campbell fumbled on the first drive, but they recovered it. Campbell threw a pass into traffic in the end zone. Quintin Mikell got his hands on it twice, but couldn't make the catch. An interception by him would have prevented a field goal. McNabb fumbled the ball when he was sacked from behind and Washington got the ball deep in our territory. This was the one time all game when the defense desperately needed to make a stop. They didn't. Portis ran for a score to cap off a short drive.
The most frustrating moment on defense came in the fourth quarter. Campbell was pressured and fired the ball downfield. The pass went right to Asante Samuel. Right to him. All he had to do was make the catch. The question then would be whether he would step out of bounds or manage to stay in and return it for a touchdown. I mean, this is Asante Samuel we're talking about. He's got great hands for a cornerback. He's picked off 20 passes in the last three years. And you know what happened. He dropped it.
How can a team make so many crucial errors with its playoff life on the line? That really is the question. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer. Samuel has excellent hands, but dropped the ball. Mikell has picked off a couple of passes in the end zone in the last 20 games, but couldn't make the catch. Jackson has gone up for a downfield ball several times this year and normally makes a clean catch. It isn't as if these players were being asked to do something above and beyond what they can do or have done.
The one thing we can't lose sight of is that the Redskins played very well. Their defense tackled well all game. Their secondary was great in coverage. Free safety LaRon Landry owned the middle of the field. The box score showed five tackles and a couple of pass breakups, but that doesn't do him justice. He controlled the deep middle, but would also come flying up to the line when needed. I knew the Eagles were in serious trouble when Jackson took a hand-off from McNabb and rounded the left side with a lot of running room, only to be stopped by Landry for a gain of seven yards. What looked like a big play was shut down very quickly.
Next week's game with Dallas will mean something because it is the Cowboys, but it might not mean a thing in regard to us getting into the postseason. We have to sit and watch to see how things play out. I am curious how the team will respond to the loss. Was that loss a speed bump or us hitting the wall? I guess we'll find out on Sunday.