CINCINNATI –It was a tie, which is like a, well, a tie which isn't what you focus on after a game like this. Everybody felt disappointment, embarrassment, whatever. A 13-13 game ended at Paul Brown Stadium and the gloomy locker room peeled back to Philadelphia wondering what is next.
What IS next? A major shake-up? Something to rattle the bones of the locker room? A way to get the Eagles to be the team the coaches think it can be?
Or, maybe, this is what the Eagles are – a team that just didn't beat the 1-8 Bengals at a stadium with just as many Eagles fans as Cincinnati fans.
For the sake of focus here, the focus has to be on the offense. And it has to be on the man running the offense, quarterback Donovan McNabb. It was certainly not his fault alone that the Eagles managed just 13 points, and that they were unsuccessful on three third-and-1 plays and that they continue to founder in the running game. The only conversion in short yardage? A fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak.
And that the pass/run ratio was completely out of whack, as McNabb attempted 58 passes and ran the ball just 18 times – one of them a McNabb sneak to convert a third down and one of them on DeSean Jackson's run out of the "Wildcat" formation when it looked like the young wide receiver wanted to throw the football.
But, hey, McNabb is the guy here, and the quarterback gets a lot of the credit and a lot of the blame. Right now, McNabb has a bunch of heat on him, and that is understandable.
He insisted after the game that he felt no such pressure – "It's not weighing on me at all," said McNabb when asked if his slow starts are weighing on him. "It's not how you start, but how you finish … Sometimes that is going to happen. But it's about having short-term memory and moving on."
OK, but …
McNabb struggled. Sunday, he more than struggled. Big time. He threw three interceptions and lost another turnover when he was sacked deep in his own territory and the Bengals recovered at the 1-yard line. Hey, the defense held – as it did most of the day – and the Eagles lost just three points, but the tone was set there.
As he had in his previous three games, McNabb came out playing very poorly. He completed one pass in the first quarter, a quick hitter to Reggie Brown that was tackled for no gain. The Eagles had a total of minus-3 yards in the entire first quarter.
The boiling point came late in the first half when McNabb's pass glanced off the back shoulder of wide receiver Kevin Curtis into the hands of a Bengals defender, the second interception thrown in as many series for McNabb and the Eagles offense. As the team trudged off the Paul Brown Stadium field trailing the woebegone Bengals by seven points, it was fair to wonder if this was as low as it could get for the Eagles, for McNabb, for the offense.
McNabb has been bad in the first half of recent games – it has been well documented – and on Sunday he carried that into the second half with a killer interception on a pass intended for L.J. Smith that ended an Eagles drive in Cincinnati territory and gave the Bengals great field position. The defense held, gave the Eagles another shot and basically saved the day, as it did all game.
It was McNabb's third interception of the game, the first three-pick game he has had since the awful loss in 2006 at Tampa Bay. And it was a play typical of McNabb's troubles: The Bengals lined up seven players on the line of scrimmage on a third-and-5 play from the Cincinnati 36-yard line, then dropped safety Chris Crocker into coverage. McNabb took a quick drop and threw for Smith in the right seam. Smith was, by the time the ball got there, covered by Crocker on the under side and by deep help over the top. McNabb's throw was flat and intercepted by Crocker.
The game went into overtime and the offense sustained nothing against a Bengals team that was not afraid one bit to blitz McNabb. The Eagles failed to counter. They threw a couple of screen passes. They tried to get the ball out quickly, but McNabb had a half-dozen of his passes batted down or tipped at the line of scrimmage.
It was just a very poor performance, so incredibly disappointing. What it means to the playoff chances isn't even worth considering right now. The Eagles need something good to happen. They need to make some good fortune for themselves.
They have McNabb, who in his 10th season and is going to take all kinds of heat for admitting after the game that he wasn't aware that regular-season games in the NFL end – even when the score remains tied – after one 15-minute overtime period.
"I never knew that was in the rule book," said McNabb.
Reporters rolled their eyes and shook their heads when McNabb said that, and when he also said that "I would hate to see what would happen in the Super Bowl or in the playoffs if they settled for a tie."
Amazing. McNabb wasn't the only player unaware that a regular-season game ends in a tie after 15 minutes of a scoreless overtime, but that is almost besides the point.
The Eagles are at a critical crossroads.
"We have to do it. It's got to get done now. I have confidence that we can get it done, but it has to get done on the field," said McNabb.
Words are just words right now. The Eagles were out of whack on Sunday when they had the football, and they have a lot of problems they want to solve in a short period of time. Andy Reid was a very unhappy man after the game – "I have to do a better job," he said. "Everybody has a little piece of the pie. We all have to do our jobs a little bit better. I wish I could point one finger at it." – and he clearly understands that the team is in a rocky place right now.
So what are the Eagles going to do about it? With Baltimore's aggressive defense waiting on Sunday, they aren't going to have much time to shift gears. The Eagles really have to hope McNabb finds some kind of rhythm. I know there is going to be a drum beat for Kevin Kolb, but throwing him in against Baltimore isn't the right move.
Not right now.
Certainly, though, it is fair to expect more from McNabb and from the offense and from everybody. The Eagles wasted a dominating performance from a defense that garnered eight sacks, shut down the running game and kept the Bengals offense – which had good field position for most of the game – completely shut down other than a Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
This one was on the offense. The Eagles aren't having success throwing the football, which puts a huge crimp in the plans when the emphasis is on throwball. The running game? Brian Westbrook had 60 yards on the ground on 14 carries, but the Eagles are so far skewed from trying to develop the ground game the numbers are almost inconsequential.
At 5-4-1, anything is possible. But what have the Eagles done to make anyone think they can get on some kind of magical roll? Let's hope it happens. I'm praying. This offense has been tough to watch in the last month. McNabb comes out throwing bullets all over the yard and the three-and-out series pile up.
A tie in Sunday's game was like a loss to a bad, bad Bengals team that did everything it could to hand the game to the Eagles. The Bengals went for first downs with strangely-conservative play calls, they failed to capitalize on great field position and they just generally stumbled around as the Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage when Fitzpatrick and Co. were on the field.
What is alarming is the Eagles' offense. There are major, major question marks. The Eagles need something to go right immediately. I wish I had the answer. I wish I could snap my fingers and see how this turns out. But for 75 minutes on Sunday, the offense labored as badly as at any time in the Reid/'McNabb era.
The Eagles have gone backwards on offense. What will it take to get them going in the right direction?