Eagles' playoff hopes die in loss to Redskins
Hope vanished in Philadelphia on Saturday night when DeMarco Murray fumbled a pitch from Sam Bradford and watched the Washington Redskins return the turnover for a touchdown.
It was a cruel and fitting way for the Eagles to accept playoff elimination. Two key pieces of Chip Kelly's offseason overhaul took part in a play that demoralized the Eagles in a 38-24 loss to the Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field.
The loss ended the Eagles' postseason chances. It's the second consecutive season they failed to reach the playoffs. At 6-9, they clinched a losing record for the first time in Kelly's three years.
Kelly was not prepared to offer a postmortem of the season on Saturday night, instead preferring to focus on the loss. In a fitting development, the lights went out during his postgame news conference. These are the darkest days of Kelly's time in Philadelphia.
"One hundred percent, it's all on my shoulders," Kelly said. "It's the same thing I said a year ago. It's unacceptable."
It came during a season when Kelly was awarded full control of the roster and made sweeping changes. Those moves mostly backfired.
Hope had lingered Saturday even when Kiko Alonso was beaten for a score, when Nelson Agholor dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, when Byron Maxwell watched the game from the sideline. They were also part of the offseason overhaul and failed to play up to expectations this season.
Saturday proved to be a greatest hits of the problems that plagued the Eagles during the last four months. They turned the ball over twice. The receivers dropped key passes. The offensive line could not open holes for the running backs. The defense could not stop the opposing quarterback in the red zone.
Those problems were discussed after other games throughout the season. They were never fixed.
"We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot," Bradford said. "The same things we were doing in Week 1, Week 2, we're continuing to do. Good football teams don't make the mistakes that we make on a weekly basis."
Washington clinched the NFC East title for the first time since 2012 _ and the Redskins eliminated the Eagles in Week 16 for the second straight December.
Bradford finished 37 of 56 for 380 yards and one touchdown, and he was charged with the fumble returned for the score. The Eagles' running backs combined for only 41 rushing yards. Zach Ertz led all receivers with 13 catches for 122 yards, but he also had a fumble.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 31 of 46 passes for 365 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Tight end Jordan Reed caught nine passes for 129 yards and two scores. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who beat Kelly to the postseason after his ouster from Philadelphia, had four catches for 40 yards.
The crucial fumble came with 4 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Eagles trailed, 23-17, and started a drive at their 21-yard line. On third and 2, they wanted to get the ball to Murray around the right edge. But Murray could not grasp the pitch, and Washington defensive back DeAngelo Hall scooped up the ball and ran 17 yards for a 13-point lead. The game was not over at that point, although the Eagles could never get the game any closer.
"I took my eyes off of it," Murray said. "Just going too fast, got to secure the ball, and it was a bad play by me."
The Eagles were in that position before the fumble because Murray rushed for a 4-yard touchdown on the previous drive to respond to Washington's score. When the Eagles forced a punt and reclaimed possession, there was hope in the stadium that the Eagles could take the lead.
Instead, Washington followed the fumble with another touchdown. The 21-point lead was decisive. Even when Bradford found Jordan Matthews for an 8-yard score late in the fourth quarter, the stadium was already emptying out of disgust over a season and game that went awry.
"There's a lot of things missing," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "It's obvious by the way we're playing."
A 16-10 halftime deficit would have been worse if not for a gaffe that Cousins won't soon live down. With no timeouts and six seconds left, Cousins dropped to his knee at the 7-yard line. Washington wanted to run a play before the half, but it certainly did not want the clock to expire without a play.
The Eagles began the game with perhaps their best opening drive of the season. They went 80 plays on six plays, with the help of two penalties. Bradford connected with three receivers. Ryan Mathews rushed for a 1-yard score. The stadium had the kind of electricity reserved for a late-December playoff push.
But a game with these stakes doesn't often include a team with a losing record, and the Eagles showed during the remainder of the half why they have a losing mark. Washington scored on back-to-back first-quarter drives when Cousins twice connected with Reed for scores.
The only scoring in the second quarter came on field goals from both teams, but the Eagles lamented two potential touchdowns that they missed.
The first came when Bradford overthrew Ertz streaking down the right sideline without a body within steps of the tight end. On the next drive, Bradford floated a pass to Agholor in the end zone. The ball hit Agholor in the hands _ and then fell to the turf. What should have been seven points ended up being three.
The Redskins' field goal came after Ertz fumbled a catch, and they were in position to add more points before Cousins' blunder.
That play, however memorable, proved inconsequential. Because Cousins was able to take a knee at the end of the game to celebrate an NFC East title on the Eagles' turf.
The Eagles have a meaningless game next week against the New York Giants before a long offseason. That happened last year, too, and Kelly overhauled key parts of the roster. The end result revealed itself Saturday.
"There's nothing successful about this season at all," Jenkins said. "It's definitely a failure. And it hurts more when you have the opportunity to make the playoffs, and you just don't get it done."