Whatever else the Eagles might need to do as they head into the final seven games of the season, they need to get a new scriptwriter.
The opening salvo of plays being handed to quarterback Donovan McNabb just isn't working. In fact, it might be the worst script since V.I. Warshawski.
For the second straight week, McNabb started the game as if he had never seen the plays. In fact, he started the game as if he'd never seen a football. A week ago, the Eagles had the advantage of playing against the Seattle Seahawks, and a little wasted time didn't matter. Last night, that wasn't the case.
"This game is all about getting into a rhythm. Unfortunately, the last three games, that hasn't started at the beginning of the game," McNabb said last night.
If it was only the beginning, that would be one thing, but McNabb disappeared for a long stretch of the second half during the 36-31 loss to the Giants.
He was able to bring the team back from the first significant deficit of the evening, but ran out of time and tricks on the second. When Brian Westbrook was given the ball on a long fourth-and-1 play with the game on the line, that call didn't turn out to be any better than many of the others.
"When you finally get in that rhythm, you want the ball in your hands, but that's the coaches' decision," McNabb said. "You want the ball in your hands, win or lose, but the coaches felt we could run the ball and pick up the 2 yards we needed to continue. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way."
It's ironic that a team criticized often for not running the ball enough chose to run it in a situation like that, but that is what happened. The quarterback didn't appear to like it, but he stopped short of mutiny.
McNabb wasn't in a position to point fingers anyway. Regardless of the play-calling, he didn't generate his own rhythm all night. The Eagles had only three drives that traveled more than 35 yards in the entire game.
He wasn't the only reason the Eagles lost, falling to 5-4 and into a hole that makes a wild-card bid more difficult to achieve. There was plenty of blame to go around. The defense couldn't stop New York's rushing game, allowing the Giants' three-headed running-back monster to gain 217 total yards, and also allowing the Giants to win the time-of-possession battle by a laughably wide margin.
Beating a good team like New York is difficult. Trying to do it without the football increases the degree of difficulty.
But somehow - and Andy Reid once again said the job starts with him - the Eagles have to find a way to get McNabb into the game more quickly. Maybe he needs to alter his warm-up routine, maybe the golden script needs to get a few new pages, maybe he needs to play a few series of downs in the parking lot beforehand. Something has to change, or there will be more games in which time runs short and, finally, time runs out on the season.
McNabb got the offense going briefly in the second quarter, with a drive that led to a touchdown pass to Jason Avant and another at the end of the half that ended with a field goal, cutting the deficit to 20-17. When a lightning six-play drive opened the second half, finishing off with a fade pass to Hank Baskett for the score and the lead, everything seemed to be turning around.
And then it turned again.
New York used its drives, and the Eagles couldn't do anything with theirs. McNabb and the offense got just two more shots with the football, two quickly ended drives, sandwiched around long New York drives until the game was nearly out of reach. The Eagles gained just 17 yards combined on the seven plays of those two drives.
"It comes down to little things," McNabb said, "and unfortunately, we didn't come out on top."
Just when the game seemed over again, the offense came alive. McNabb found DeSean Jackson on a perfect 32-yard sideline pass that keyed a touchdown drive to cut New York's lead to five points with 5 minutes, 30 seconds to play. The Eagles got the ball back with a chance for the win but stumbled just short of midfield, coming up empty on that fourth-down run by Westbrook.
Bad play-calling, all the way from slow start to sudden ending?
"I'll always take that responsibility," Reid said after the game, about the need to get McNabb going early and keep the offense going. "He'll be fine. Just keep firing. I can do a better job. And we do a better job executing and we'll be fine."
They need to get fine very quickly now. Certainly before the second quarter.
Keep up with the Eagles on Bob Brookover's blog at http://go.philly.com/birdseye