LANDOVER, Md. - Ah, the pressure. Oh, the pain.
Both proved too much for the Eagles' overwhelmed receiving corps in their 10-3 loss to the Redskins yesterday.
Playing without starter Kevin Curtis and No. 3 receiver Hank Baskett, both of whom missed the game with leg injuries, the remaining catchers combined for at least seven dropped passes, depending on how harshly they are judged.
Brash rookie DeSean Jackson dropped three but, he said, he was hurt.
Embattled tight end L.J. Smith dropped a pair, and, he said, he and the rest of them didn't handle the pressure of knowing their destiny lay in their stony hands.
"We knew what was going on," Smith said, referring to the early-afternoon loss by Tampa Bay. "We knew we had to win this game."
At one point head coach Andy Reid made a point of calling Smith over to encourage him to loosen up. It could have been a team slogan.
"I think guys were trying a little bit too hard out there," Smith said. "I think we were just pressing."
And, maybe, thinking too much, with the vulnerable Cowboys on the horizon in Sunday's finale.
"We knew we had a tough opponent next week," Smith said, and, quickly, covered: "Not saying that we were looking ahead . . . "
If Jackson wasn't looking ahead, he certainly was looking around - for "Number 30."
At least Jackson got the license plate.
Number 30, a k a LaRon Landry, apparently bruised Jackson's ribs with a demolition hit early in the third quarter - apparently, that is, because Reid did not recite Jackson as "injured'' after the game. Regardless, Jackson briefly left the game.
"It was dangerous to be a wide receiver out there for the Eagles," said Redskins coach Jim Zorn.
Jackson couldn't agree more.
The ribs bothered him when McNabb fired to him on a short crossing pattern midway through the fourth quarter. They hurt when he adjusted to McNabb's underthrown bomb 2 minutes later. They nagged him when he dropped a touchdown pass with 1 minute to play - a pass that would have tied the game.
This all happened after Jackson went bonkers when McNabb missed him deep earlier in the game.
"I kind of got overexcited when they didn't come my way. When they came my way, I just wasn't able to put it together," Jackson said.
The first drop could have sparked a drive. It came on the third of five Eagles' possessions in the fourth quarter, all of which began at or inside their 20, four of them at or inside the 10, including that one.
The second drop might have set up a field goal.
The third drop might have preserved the Eagles' solid playoff chances.
Jackson caught two passes and leads the team with 60, but had just three receptions in two games against Washington.
"I'll take the blame," Jackson said. "I felt I should have caught the passes."
He didn't. But he learned a valuable rookie lesson.
"Obviously, I took a nice little hit. I just tried to come back and fight for my team. I wasn't in the place I wanted to be," he said. "It's the game we play. You're not always going to feel healthy. You're not always going to feel great."
Third and 1 inch
That's what the Eagles might have had, with about 6 seconds to play, if they hadn't burned a timeout after the second play of the second half due to a botched play call on the sideline.
The other timeouts were better spent.
The Eagles used the second of their three timeouts in the second half to stop the clock with 4:01 left in the fourth quarter with the Redskins facing third-and-6 at the Eagles' 41 and actively milking the clock. That made sense.
They used their third timeout after a pass into the middle of the field with 27 seconds to play - again, necessary.
But, as maddeningly as ever, they squandered their first timeout. After a second-down pass fell incomplete, the play call was not relayed correctly or quickly.
"I screwed a call up there," coach Andy Reid said afterward.
Which might have cost them everything.
On the Eagles' final, desperate drive, Donovan McNabb twice was forced to spike the ball on first down to stop the clock.
The final play was run with 12 seconds left. McNabb hit Reggie Brown just shy of the goal line. LaRon Landry and Fred Smoot kept him out.
That's how it ended.
"When you don't have timeouts, it's tough," said tight end L.J. Smith. "You're spiking the ball. Wasting downs. When it comes down to seconds on the clock - if we had one more play I felt that we'd have gotten in and at least forced overtime."
If only. *