LANDOVER, Md. - Bradley Fletcher had little to say Saturday night, and Cary Williams did not speak at all. Not that it mattered much. The performance of the two men spoke volumes, and the reverberating theme was this: The meaningful portion of the Eagles' season is probably over, and the team's need to get better in the secondary has never been more apparent.
Even defensive coordinator Bill Davis, an ardent defender of Fletcher's ability to be a cover corner, decided he had seen enough in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 27-24 loss to wretched Washington at FedEx Field.
One series after Fletcher surrendered a 55-yard reception to DeSean Jackson that set up a touchdown that gave the home team a 24-14 lead, Davis finally made a call to the bullpen and lined up Nolan Carroll at left cornerback while Fletcher watched from the bench.
"He just got beat for the second time vertically, and I wanted to get him out of there for a second, catch his breath . . . and try Nolan in there, try someone else," Davis said.
Jackson, the deep threat the Eagles decided they could not keep, had also beaten Fletcher for a 51-yard catch that set up Washington's first touchdown in the opening quarter. Fletcher, of course, was also left helpless the week before, when he was assigned to cover Dez Bryant and surrendered three touchdowns to the Dallas receiver.
"Two weeks in a row," Davis said. "He's had two bad weeks. I was hoping he'd get out of that slump, and he didn't. They went at him deep, and they made the plays on him, so I made the switch."
You can point a finger at Davis, too. Why would you ever leave Fletcher alone in coverage on Jackson?
"The way our defense is run, on a couple of those you had [linebacker] Connor Barwin matched up on a receiver or on [Jordan] Reed, their tight end," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "As a safety, I think you probably lean more to [helping on] that matchup more than you do with a corner on a receiver. They took advantage of that matchup down the field. You can't double team somebody every time, and they took advantage of that matchup when they had them."
It would be wrong to solely blame Fletcher for the worst loss of coach Chip Kelly's brief tenure as the Eagles' coach, a point that Davis and Jenkins correctly made.
Williams played a vital role, too.
He became the first of a long list of defensive players to be flagged for a third-down penalty that prevented the Eagles from getting off the field. Williams shoved receiver Andre Roberts near the end zone after an incomplete pass in the first quarter and was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Williams' greatest sin, however, came on the defense's final series.
After a Mark Sanchez interception gave Washington the ball at its own 42-yard line, Robert Griffin III found receiver Pierre Garcon on a quick out. Williams was in position to make the tackle, but he allowed Garcon to slip away for a 23-yard gain to the Eagles' 35-yard line.
Fifteen more yards were tacked on because Vinny Curry was flagged for roughing the passer, and on one play Washington was in position to kick the game-winning field goal, which Kai Forbath did with five seconds remaining.
Williams, for the second straight week, sat at his locker in full uniform for a long time after the game was over. This time he opted not to talk afterward.
Curry's roughing-the-passer penalty was his second of the game. The first one put the ball at the 1-yard line before Washington scored to take a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. Earlier in that drive, Brandon Graham was charged with hitting RG3 in the head on a third-down pass that fell incomplete.
"We can't have that many third-down penalties and expect to win," Davis said. "We get off the field with making plays . . . and we shoot ourselves in the foot with making penalties. You can't have it and win games in the NFL. I don't know which ones were right and wrong. It doesn't matter. They were called. We just have to play with more discipline. Some just happen, but that many? You've got to play with more discipline."
Jenkins called this a team loss and even pointed out that he had a chance at an interception that could have gone for a touchdown in the opening quarter.
It's all true and much of it might even be correctable. Making Bradley Fletcher a better cover cornerback, however, is never going to happen and Davis seemed to finally realize that in the season's penultimate game.
The defensive coordinator would not say if we'd see Carroll again at left cornerback in the season finale next Sunday against the New York Giants. At this point, it does not matter, because the meaningful portion of the season is almost certainly over.
All that matters now is that somebody other than Bradley Fletcher is playing left cornerback next season.