HEY, 2007 CALLED. It wants its Eagles back.
Here we go again. All the traits that led to last season's frustrating last-place finish in the NFC East staged a little reunion yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field, adding a nostalgic touch to the Eagles' 23-17 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Uninspiring, struggling quarterback play - check.
Unbalanced, eminently second-guessable playcalling - check.
Repeated defensive lapses on third down - check.
Wideouts who couldn't get open or couldn't catch - check.
Poor 2-minute drill at the close of a half, boosting the opposition - check.
Confused bumbling at a critical moment late in the game - check.
And, best of all, everyone's favorite characteristic of that 8-8 team last season made a postgame appearance: The widespread delusion in the locker room that the Eagles were somehow the better team, despite having lost in a fairly convincing manner.
"Not taking anything away from them, but there is no way this team is better than us," Donovan McNabb said, after the Redskins (4-1) ran for 203 yards to 58 for the Eagles (2-3), outgained the Eagles 388 total yards to 254, piled up 22 first downs to the Eagles' 14, continued their streak of no offensive turnovers in 2008, and converted 10 of their final 15 third downs, after starting out 1-for-4, while the Eagles managed all of three first downs, total, after the first quarter.
After some trick plays and a 68-yard punt return touchdown from DeSean Jackson helped put the Birds up 14-0 at the end of the opening quarter, the Redskins were decisively the better team. Listeners to his postgame news conference found it difficult to fathom what game McNabb was watching; this was not much like the previous week's loss, a giveaway in Chicago, in which the Eagles were missing Brian Westbrook. Washington took this game, at least as much as the Eagles gave it.
Make no mistake: Jim Zorn was the better coach at the Linc yesterday, Jason Campbell was the more effective quarterback, and Clinton Portis was the best running back.
"It was embarrassing, these last 2 weeks. They're two teams we should not have lost to," McNabb said, lumping the Redskins in with the mistake-prone Bears, who turned the ball over four times, or four times more than the Redskins have this season. "It's what we didn't do - not what they did, but what we didn't do."
Defensive end Trent Cole, who said he never would have envisioned a team running for 203 yards on what had been the best run defense in the NFL, added: "It's embarrassing. We know we're a great team, and we have to go out there and show it. We didn't come out here today and show it."
"When you make mistakes and you don't capitalize on opportunities, things like this happen," said McNabb, who tried to audible out of a third-and-1 play at Washington's 2 midway through the fourth quarter, the Eagles trailing, 23-14.
Nobody ever gave a coherent explanation of exactly what happened, but apparently the call from the bench was a running play to the right. The tight end, apparently L.J. Smith, lined up on the left, making that the strong side. McNabb was distracted by the play clock, which erroneously was ticking down to zero as he approached the line, but as McNabb started to signal for time, Westbrook pointed to the clock resetting, and McNabb went back to calling signals. Then, noting the wrong alignment, McNabb tried to audible to a Westbrook run, to the left side. By the time the ball was finally snapped, the Redskins seemed pretty darned ready, and the blockers seemed confused. Westbrook was swarmed for a 3-yard loss.
"I didn't see any opening there," said Westbrook, who, sore ankle and all, helped author a dazzling, 80-yard opening drive, which ended with him scampering right up the middle for a 9-yard TD. It was his longest run of the day; Westbrook (12 carries, 33 yards, six catches for 51 yards) suffered a bruised rib, left briefly, and found little room when he returned, after taking a numbing injection. He said he would probably get his ribs MRI'd today.
"I think, when the play came in, it was a little miscommunication," Westbrook said.
The Eagles settled for a 23-yard David Akers field goal that ended up setting the final score. They now have four offensive touchdowns in their last three games, after scoring eight the first 2 weeks of the season.
Someone asked Andy Reid yesterday if he still thought this group could be the team the Eagles thought they were when the season started, or even 2 weeks ago, after they outlasted the Steelers.
"Yes, but we need to change this thing around, obviously," the coach said. "The last 2 weeks haven't been good weeks."
It shouldn't have had anything to do with the way the game was played in the trenches, but it almost seemed the game turned when Akers missed a 50-yard field goal that would have given the Eagles a 17-0 lead. It was wide right, as most of his misses - that's nine in a row now from 45 yards or farther - have been.
Just like the Bears last week, the Redskins used the short field to their advantage, driving for a 41-yard Shaun Suisham field goal, the first of three in a row Suisham hit to get Washington back into the game. The exchange of a miss for a make felt like a six-point swing.
The swing really picked up momentum near the end of the first half. The Eagles got it at their 40, 1:56 left in the half, up 14-6. Right away, they got called for an illegal snap - presumably, center Jamaal Jackson stood up before propelling the ball back to McNabb. First-and-15 from the 35, McNabb's pass was blocked by defensive end Andre Carter. Second-and-15, the Eagles ran an awkward-looking, no-shot draw play on which Westbrook was swarmed after it took McNabb about half an hour to hand him the ball. Third-and-15, a 7-yard pass play to Westbrook, after which the Redskins declined a holding penalty.
They punted it back with 1:04 left, leaving the Redskins time to drive 50 yards in 53 seconds - aided by the Eagles calling timeout before one early third-and-3 in hopes of getting the ball back. The Redskins closed the half with Suisham hitting from 50, through the same uprights Akers earlier couldn't split from the same distance.
When the Birds punted the ball back with 2:08 left in the third, they hadn't managed a first down since their first play of the second quarter. The offense spent long stretches on the sideline, as Washington ate up yards and minutes with its effective running and short passing game.
Not surprisingly, the Eagles' defense wore down. The touchdown that put the Redskins ahead, the 18-yard Antwaan Randle El option pass to Chris Cooley midway through the third quarter, was the first TD the Birds had allowed at the Linc since the third quarter of the loss to the Giants back on Dec. 9 last year. It was the only touchdown pass of the day, by either team.
"They played a physical game," said Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was fooled on the Randle El pass and was a couple of steps behind Cooley when he caught the ball. "They dominated the line of scrimmage, ran the ball well."
The Redskins converted third-and-9 three times in the final half; the Birds, who got their only sack early, from Brian Dawkins, couldn't get to Campbell and couldn't cover the middle of the field, where both offenses set up shop.
Of Washington's 17 completions for 194 yards, nine were to tight ends (for 112 yards) and three more were to backs, for 20 yards, which left them with 62 yards' worth of completions to their wideouts, much of that on wide-receiver screens. Santana Moss was shut out, but it didn't matter; Portis ran for 145 yards on 29 carries, and the Eagles couldn't get the ball outside either, though McNabb was never sacked, and seemed to have time on most throws. Jackson caught one pass for 8 yards, a career low for the blazing rookie.
"Nothing fancy," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "They blocked us. We couldn't get off blocks . . . A lot of times we had an eight-man front and we didn't do a good job with it."
"Early on, we had a lot of energy," said Reggie Brown, who caught four passes for 84 yards. "We were executing, we were doing things right, we were making plays. I don't know where that went . . . I think they were pretty consistent in what they did, throughout the game. They didn't really show us anything we couldn't handle. They're a good defense, but we just weren't connecting."