Officially, the play that changed the nature of Eagles' 17-12 loss to the Washington Redskins didn't even happen. Starting quarterback Michael Vick left the game for good with what is being deemed a sore chest - he will have an MRI Monday, per head coach Andy Reid - and was replaced by Kevin Kolb after getting hit on both sides in a diving attempt to score a touchdown.
On the second-to-last play of the first quarter, Vick, flushed from the pocket, ran for 23 yards all the way down to the Washington 1-yard line. It would have been an important third-down pickup that would have put the Eagles in position to cut the lead to 14-7. But right guard Max Jean-Gilles, starting in place of Nick Cole, was called for holding. And yet, the ramifications of the play had much more to do with a slumped over Vick than the missed touchdown chance.
"It's a dramatic change with quarterbacks in there," said DeSean Jackson. "Vick is able to do so much more in the scramble game and with his arm strength keeping defenses off guard. Then when you have Kolb come in, the defense stayed in the box a little more. They tried to bring a little pressure to try and disrupt things."
Kolb played well in Vick's stead, going 22-35 for 201 yards, one touchdown and one interception (on the game-ending Hail Mary), but the Redskins adjusted their defensive game plan once Kolb took the helm. The Redskins, under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, refused to let the Eagles beat them deep, forcing Kolb to consistently hit the check-down receiver. As a result, Jackson and Jeremy Maclin combined for four catches for 34 yards. So while the Eagles were able to move the ball methodically and with some consistency, they were more vulnerable to the mistakes that, in the end, cost them the game.
"The thing that I did today was I didn't want to force anything," Kolb said after the game. "I didn't want to try to be too overly aggressive and learn from my mistakes that I made last time and take what the defense gave me. I just feel like when a team's playing that style of defense, you can't make mistakes."
Among those mistakes were a delay of game penalty at the end of the first half that cost the Eagles a 4th-and-1 chance from inside the 1-yard-line, a LeSean McCoy fumble on the Redskins' 21-yard-line, several costly holding penalties and an incompletion down the field to an open Jackson early in the fourth quarter that would have put the Eagles in scoring position. And yet, the Eagles still had a chance for a miracle win when the Hail Mary as time expired hit Jason Avant in the hands before bouncing around and getting intercepted by DeAngelo Hall.
"At the end of the day, we had a chance to win the game," said Jeremy Maclin, who only had one catch for 15 yards. "Simple as that."
On the day that Donovan McNabb returned to Philadelphia, Eagles fans will be left wondering how the game might have turned out if Vick, the team's new starting quarterback, had been able to complete the game.
"I keep telling Vick all the time, 'We don't need you taking hits like that,'" Jackson said. "With him being the kind of athlete he is, it's hard for him to get that stuck in his head. He's always trying to make plays and do certain things. I told him right before he got hurt too, 'Don't take any hits like that. We can't afford you taking hits like that.' He's our quarterback, we don't need him taking extra hits."
While the Eagles await further word on the severity of Vick's injury, they now move forward in preparation for next week's trip to San Francisco for a Sunday night tilt against the 0-4 49ers. If Vick's unable to go, the team has plenty of confidence in Kolb to continue putting them in winning positions and they'll have the advantage of a full week to build a game plan for the fourth-year quarterback.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 9:16 p.m., October 3