LANDOVER, Md. – It's all too ironic that the Philadelphia Eagles, a team beaten to within an inch of its life three weeks ago, had regained just about every ounce of strength possible to mount a playoff run. At FedEx Field on Sunday, the only thing missing was that one inch.
A 17-yard strike from Donovan McNabb to Reggie Brown left the Eagles a tragically-short distance from the goal line as time expired, leaving the Eagles 10-3 victims to a Washington team they have just not been able to figure out in 2008.
Brown, running his route parallel to the goal line, leapt to catch a high throw from McNabb, but defensive backs Fred Smoot and LaRon Landry met him immediately in midair. A booth review upheld the call on the field – Brown was no more than a nose of the football short of breaking the plane.
A nose of the football shy of the Eagles heading into next week's game with Dallas controlling their own playoff destiny. Photo Gallery : PHI vs. WAS 12-21-08
"I wasn't thinking about anything else but catching that ball," Brown said. "They reviewed it, but I knew in the back of my mind that I was (short)."
The Eagles lined up for a second-down play with 12 seconds remaining in the game. With no timeouts, only a strike at the end zone or a throw to the sidelines could have left the Eagles with more time on the clock to complete another play.
On Brown's route, the idea was right and the throw was the correct one. It was just short – painfully short. Brown hit the ground with four seconds remaining on the clock, not enough time for his offense to run up and spike the ball inside the 1-yard line.
"Reggie found a spot in there, and I just tried to put it on his body," McNabb said. "Reggie did a great job catching it, but you have to give (the Redskins) credit for converging on the ball."
But it wasn't just that play that cost them the game; in fact, it capped off what was one of the Eagles' most successful drives of the game. The Eagles picked a bad time to fall into some old habits.
On the heels of a three-game win streak in which they dominated on third down, controlled the time of possession and held onto the football, they were unable to do so against Washington. Critical dropped passes, including one by rookie DeSean Jackson that could have provided the game's tying touchdown just six plays before Brown's near miss, plagued the offense.
The Eagles converted just three-of-14 third-down attempts – they were 33-of-50 during the win streak. They fell behind for the first time in four games, leading to a 14-50 run-pass ratio.
Washington decisively won the time of possession battle –33:14 to 26:46 – similar to what they did in the first meeting back on Oct. 5
And not being able to get anything going led the Eagles to start 10 of their 12 offensive possessions at or inside their own 20 – never really changing the field position on the Redskins. Though the Redskins gave the Eagles ample opportunities with their own mistakes, they never took advantage.
The Redskins were able to capitalize on the Eagles' biggest blunder – a McNabb fumble inside the Philadelphia 20 that led to the games only touchdown.
All that, and Philadelphia still ended just barely short of forcing overtime. That's what's going to sting.
"There were too many opportunities that we didn't take advantage of," McNabb said. "But we can't afford to put our heads down right now. We've got to learn from this and be ready for next week."