SAN DIEGO – When Donovan McNabb found Jeremy Maclin wide open in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown, it was a moment for a sigh of relief followed by the realization that more plays like that one would be needed to get the job done.
And then they started to come, but time ran out and the Eagles were on the short end of a 31-23 decision to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday to drop to 5-4 on the season.
That McNabb-to-Maclin touchdown was the Eagles' first successful red zone conversion of the game Sunday against the Chargers. The problem is that there were three golden opportunities before that ended with field goals by David Akers. It was too little, too late to overcome a Chargers offense that was able to take advantage of its opportunities inside the Eagles' 20-yard line.
"That hurt us at the end," said head coach Andy Reid of the Eagles' 2-of-5 red zone conversions.
Maclin's touchdown would not have been possible if it wasn't for the one-handed grab by Jason Avant on the final play of the third quarter. McNabb threw the ball to Avant down the right sideline, who jumped and twisted in the air and hauled in the ball with one hand as cornerback Quentin Jammer was draped all over him. From the 11, LeSean McCoy rushed for 2 yards which was followed up by an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Chargers at the end of the play. With the ball at the 5-yard line, McNabb threw an incomplete pass over the head of fullback Leonard Weaver and another incomplete pass to tight end Brent Celek in the back of the end zone before connecting with Maclin.
"We finally got a touchdown there," Celek said. "Things started rolling there, but we ran out of time at the end. We have to get things going a little bit earlier. We'll be better off."
The Eagles defense did its part by forcing a three-and-out on the Chargers' ensuing drive. On the next series, McNabb engineered a beautiful 12-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek in the middle of the end zone to cut the deficit to 5. However, it would not get any closer than that for the Eagles.
"We were moving the ball the whole game, but we just didn't finish a few times in the red zone," said Celek, who also had a fourth-and-4 conversion on the second touchdown drive. "When you can't covert like that so many times in the red zone, it's tough to win but with the yards we had we should have won."
The Eagles were successful in scoring six on 9-of-18 (50 percent) red zone opportunities entering Sunday's game. After earning just one first down in the first quarter, the Eagles settled down and drove down deep into Chargers' territory twice in the second quarter.
On the Eagles' first drive of the second quarter, McNabb connected with DeSean Jackson for a 22-yard gain and Jason Avant for a 27-yard gain to get to the Chargers' 11-yard line. After Maclin drew a pass interference call in the end zone, the Eagles had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
This is where the trouble started. Weaver took the ball up the middle for no gain. McNabb threw a pass in the back of the end zone for Celek that was incomplete. On third down, Eldra Buckley. a former Charger, got the chance, but was stonewalled.
"I'm going to go out and blame myself," Weaver said. "I should have scored and I didn't. I can't leave it to the other guys to get the job done on second down and so on. I just didn't execute when my number was called today."
The Eagles got the ball to the 9-yard line on their next drive. McNabb threw an incomplete pass to DeSean Jackson. Brian Westbrook was off the left end for no gain. On third down, McNabb threw a short pass to Celek, who had stayed in to block, and it went for only 2 yards.
In the third quarter, the Eagles got to the Chargers' 16-yard line after a 58-yard pass from McNabb to Jason Avant. However, after a 9-yard pass to Avant on second down, the Eagles were denied on third-and-1 and had to bring out Akers once again.
The Eagles amassed 462 yards of total offense, but due to the red zone woes only had 23 points to show for it.
Not enough on this day. Certainly too little, too late.
"We just didn't come out fighting from the jump like we should have," guard Stacy Andrews said. "We'll get it corrected."
--Posted by Chris McPherson, 8:55 p.m., November 15