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In Search Of Closing Mentality

Philadelphia is going to bounce back from the 35-31 loss to the Falcons, and quarterback Michael Vick is going to be OK. Whether or not he plays on Sunday against the Giants remains to be seen, but the star quarterback is going to be fine and the Eagles are going to win a lot of games this season and they're going to be in the NFL's postseason, and hopefully they use what happened on Sunday night in the Georgia Dome as a lesson from which to learn.

There the Eagles were, leading 31-21 in the fourth quarter, Vick sidelined with what was initially announced as a neck injury but later determined to be a concussion. The defense had been awesome in the second half. The offense was unstoppable.

But with Vick out because of injury – and after backup Mike Kafka finished off a drive with two handoffs that resulted in a LeSean McCoy touchdown – the Eagles fell apart.

The Falcons put together touchdown drives of 12 plays, 80 yards and then 7 plays, 80 yards and the visitors were down, 35-31 with 4 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the contest.

Kafka led the Eagles into Atlanta territory, all the way to the Falcons 21-yard line, but the last-minute win scenario ended on a fourth-and-4 incomplete pass to Maclin, who was open on the play. The pass should have been caught by Maclin, who otherwise had a brilliant game with 13 catches, 171 yards and two touchdowns, a career game.

A last-play heave into the end zone was knocked down to the ground as the Eagles officially went down, snorting and fighting all the way.

It was a disappointing ending to a marvelous, back-and-forth game. Vick's injury clearly took the wind out of the Eagles' sails and moved them to 1-1 in the young season. This is a loss from which the Eagles can bounce back, but for now the sting is heavy: The Eagles had no business losing this game.

They turned the ball over three times. They allowed two 80-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. The defense gave up 5 touchdowns in 5 Falcons trips into the red zone, shades of last  year's awful red-zone D.

Kafka came in and completed 7 of 9 passes for 72 yards, but the offense failed to score points and sustain drives; Philadelphia compiled just 3 first downs in the fourth quarter.

"We have to finish it off. No excuses," said Maclin. "It's very disappointing. We felt we had the game."

They did have the game, right there, in the palm of their hands. Vick was lost late in the third quarter when he was hit after completing a 9-yard pass to Maclin, and as Vick went down his head whipped around the banged into right tackle Todd Herremans. That was the end for Vick and, while Kafka ended the drive and the Eagles put the ball in the end zone to go up 31-21, Vick's departure dramatically changed the momentum of the game.

"I didn't feel anything like that," said defensive end Jason Babin. "It doesn't matter who is out there. We feel like we need to close it out. We had our chances."

They sure did, but the defense, which did a monster job against the run after Atlanta's first two rushing attempts in the game gained 23 yards, broke down in the critical fourth quarter.

Immediately after McCoy's second touchdown of the game, the Falcons marched 80 yards in 12 plays and twice converted third-down plays. One was a third-and-12 situation in which quarterback Matt Ryan found tight end Tony Gonzalez – who had 7 catches for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns – for 13 yards to keep the drive alive.

The drive ended in a Ryan touchdown pass, his third of the game, and the Falcons were within 31-28 with 10 minutes, 45 seconds to go in the game.

A McCoy 19-yard run gave the Eagles a first down on their next possession, but the drive stalled and Chas Henry boomed a punt that bounced into the end zone for a touchback. A holding penalty moved Atlanta back 7 yards, where on first and 17 from its 13-yard line, the entire game changed.

Running back Michael Turner, who had been bottled up for the most part the entire game, took a handoff and raced through a gaping hole on the left side of the Eagles' defense and didn't stop running until cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dragged him down 61 yards later, at the Philadelphia  26-yard line.

From there, Ryan and the Falcons mixed the run and pass to set up a first-and-goal at the Philadelphia 3-yard line. Turner finished off the drive with a run to the right side and the Falcons led 35-31 with 44:48 to go in the game.

Dion Lewis appeared to break the ensuing kickoff deep into Atlanta territory, but Colt Anderson was called for a questionable holding penalty and the offense had a first down at its 9-yard line.

You know the rest. The Eagles lost. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against an outstanding Falcons team, one that was very beatable had the Eagles taken care of their business the right way.

"We didn't execute the way we needed. That's the bottom line. You can't make those kinds of mistakes and win in this league," said McCoy, who had 95 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards. "It's frustrating, man. We know we are better than that."

Maybe, but they have to prove it for four full quarters. Taking a lead and losing it in the fourth quarter is not the mark of the great teams. In time, we hope, the Eagles prove they are a great team. At times this season, they have looked the part.

But it takes 60 minutes, and until the Eagles put it all together week after week, they are just another team trying to find its true identity.

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