The way Victor "Macho" Harris sees it, he wasn't knocking down a defenseless pass receiver when he laid out Denver tight end Tony Scheffler in the third quarter yesterday, the first act in a domino chain that very nearly cost the Eagles a win.
It didn't fall that way this time, however, with the Eagles pulling out a 30-27 victory that extends their winning streak to six games and keeps them in line to clinch the division title in Dallas on Sunday.
Another day might be another result, though, and while it is hard to criticize the Eagles for how well they have been playing, or how aggressively, it would be nice if they could just play a little smarter at times.
On the play that started Macho's run of bad luck, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton had thrown a deep sideline pass in Scheffler's direction, but didn't put quite enough loft on this one. Asante Samuel had the coverage, and, soon enough, Samuel had the interception, too.
Harris, ranging over as the free safety in the Eagles' nickel coverage, had first thought about making the play himself, but as soon as he saw Samuel, he changed his mind and concentrated on Scheffler.
Samuel picked off the ball, and, just a step or so later, Harris picked off Scheffler, bouncing the Denver player to the ground with a massive hit.
"I was making a block. It's a block," Harris said. "I wanted to get that receiver away from him and separate that player from being able to make a play on the ball."
Harris very nearly separated Scheffler from his shoes, and for what he wanted to accomplish, it was a success. Unfortunately for Harris, the official on the scene reached into his back pocket and threw a flag for unnecessary roughness.
The play continued, of course, and Samuel - definitely not having to worry about the receiver anymore - turned in a decent return that took the ball halfway down the field. He celebrated the interception, his ninth of the season, by spiking the ball at the end of the play, earning a flag for delay of the game.
Of the two penalties, the one on Harris was the one that hurt. It brought the ball all the way back, and the Eagles had to begin a drive at their own 1-yard line. They still held a 17-point lead, so what was the big deal? It turned out that the big deal was that the Eagles lost all momentum and endured terrible field position for nearly the rest of the game.
What should have been an interception that broke Denver's back ended up giving the Broncos a helping hand. This isn't anything particularly new. The Eagles are well above the league average for both the number of penalties they have committed this season and for the yardage assessed. Many of the penalties are of the kind earned by Harris. Late hits, unnecessary hits, dumb hits. With the officiating in this league so unpredictable, it doesn't make sense to give an official a decision to make.
The Eagles had to punt from deep in their territory, and Denver took advantage of the short field to score a touchdown and make it a 27-17 game. On the ensuing kickoff - paybacks can be a glitch - Harris was smacked by Darrell Reid and fumbled the football, leading to another Denver touchdown, and, after that, anything could have happened.
"He got me good," Harris said. "That one was a good hit."
Yes, and not a penalty.
"I don't like the penalties, but young guys are aggressive. They try to make the plays," Andy Reid said.
Harris was asked to sum up his day - which included another fumbled kickoff, this one recovered by the Eagles - and he said, "Rookie." That might say it all. The Eagles have been searching for a good defensive backfield combination all season. Harris, as it turned out, has been promoted a little faster than expected. In passing situations, he was playing the role once manned by Brian Dawkins, who delivers hits that aren't always well-considered, too.
"One thing I learned in college was that defensive backs have to have amnesia," Harris said. "If something bad happens, you have to brush it off like it never happened. I made quite a few mistakes today. But I'm going to learn from them and stay aggressive and get better."
Soon would be fine. It's a lot to ask of a rookie, but the games that are coming up are too important to lose because of a penalty that doesn't have to be committed. The blueprint for just such an outcome was in place yesterday. Luckily for the Eagles, Denver has its own problems.
"I felt I had good timing on that play," Harris said, still thinking about the roughness penalty. "If you're three steps away, you better lay off him. But a step or a step and a half? I was right there."
Maybe so, but the only person who's opinion counted didn't agree. Games can be lost because of that kind of thing, and a successful season that was also right there can suddenly be many long steps away.