THE EAGLES are still in pretty good shape to win the NFC East, after yesterday's 24-14 but-not-really-that-close loss to Seattle. Feel free to wonder, though, what the point would be of getting to the postseason, given the way this team has played against the league's best.
One-hundred-thirty-nine total yards yesterday, the least the Eagles have managed since Chip Kelly arrived, the least a Kelly-head-coached team has ever amassed, college or pro. If this is how your offense looks against a top defense, in December, in your stadium, where you hadn't lost since last season's playoffs, well, an Eagles trip to Seattle or Green Bay at any point in January is going to be a big boost only to the airline industry.
Pile yesterday atop what happened to the Eagles previously at San Francisco, at Arizona and at the Packers, and you have a compelling body of evidence. Are the 9-4 Eagles a pretty good, better-than-average team? Yeah, sure. Are they any more than that? Not yet. And time is fleeting.
They tried to win by hiding their quarterback yesterday, something that worked great on Thanksgiving against Dallas. The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks were having none of that. Mark Sanchez completed 10 - yes, 10 - of 20 passes for 96 yards, two touchdowns and a stake-through-the-heart, fourth-quarter interception. LeSean McCoy, even with the healthy offensive line, was back to 2.9-yards-a-carry land; as McCoy noted afterward, it's not that fulfilling to become the franchise's all-time leading rusher on a day when you failed miserably.
It isn't just the fan base that faces a battle now. This was the last real measuring-stick game; several players talked of its importance during the week. The Eagles will be favored next Sunday at home against Dallas, then on the road against the Redskins and the Giants. Kelly must restore belief among a group that has run up to the bar, taken its best leap, and seen the bar clang to the ground several times now.
"I think the only thing you can really judge is how well you played today. I didn't think we played that well," said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who dropped a likely pick-six interception that could have made the score 24-21 with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter, despite a ridiculous yardage disparity. "We obviously weren't the best team today, but today never affects tomorrow. We have an opportunity to correct those mistakes. We still have all our goals ahead of us. Nothing's out of the picture; we're not closing the door on anything."
Sometimes the door gets closed for you, though.
"They rose to the challenge today and we didn't," Kelly said. "They did a hell of a job on defense and played better than us today."
The play of the day was the first snap of the third quarter. McCoy, the defending NFL rushing champion, took the snap, leaned into the line, was stopped dead for no gain and saw the ball ripped from his grasp by Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright. Earl Thomas recovered - that name sounds familiar somehow - and two plays later, Russell Wilson rolled right, then threw back across his body to uncovered running back Marshawn Lynch for an easy, 15-yard touchdown. A 10-7 game became a 17-7 game, and quickly, the tone of the afternoon shifted.
Turnovers have been the Eagles' biggest problem this season, and at the defining moment yesterday, the team that entered the day leading the league in giveaways was exactly that team, again.
"That was a huge turnover," Kelly acknowledged. "It's a close game, you can establish something in that first drive of the second half and then kind of get some momentum on your side, but that really hurt, at that point in time."
"Just bad ball security," said McCoy, whose 50 yards on 17 carries gave him 6,451 career yards, 3 more than previous franchise recordholder Wilbert Montgomery. "I kind of hit the hole, there was a guy getting off a block, and held the ball too low. And he hit the ball.
"Obviously, it was terrible timing. That was my fault. I should have just been more aware of ball security, the situation of the game, trying to come back, and to get a turnover that fast, that was really bad . . . I just think today I didn't play well at all. It was probably one of my worst games to date, since being here."
McCoy missed Friday's walkthrough practice because of the death of a cousin. He did not mention that last night, but spoke of being "unfocused."
His offensive line could say the same. The run game wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be, and Seattle was able to get after Sanchez without blitzing. The Eagles were never able to put enough plays together to make their tempo an issue.
"We tried to establish the run, thought we could do a better job up front," Kelly said.
"You can hurry up all you want, but if you cannot get yards, cannot complete passes, then it's just quick three-and-outs," said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who held Jeremy Maclin to three catches for 21 yards. Literally held him at least once, on a third-down miss as the Linc crowd roared for a flag that never came, and Sherman turned to taunt the fans.
"I don't really remember," Maclin said, when asked about the play. "The refs let us play . . . I never blame games on officiating. We just didn't get the job done."
"They took away a lot of opportunities, and then when opportunities presented themselves, I missed a couple of balls downfield, and they made us pay," Sanchez said.
The Eagles still had a pulse when Mychal Kendricks - he and Fletcher Cox were the two best Eagles on the field, maybe the only Eagles, along with Connor Barwin, who consistently won matchups - forced a Lynch fumble and Jenkins recovered. The Eagles had the ball at their 30 with 9:07 left, down 10. And then, they didn't.
First snap, Sanchez, flushed to the left side, seemingly could have run for at least a first down but chose to fling the ball on the run toward Riley Cooper, deep behind the defense. The ball didn't get there. Corner Tharold Simon intercepted, and Lincoln Financial Field started to empty.
It sure looked like Sanchez trying to be Wilson, and it underscored how much he is not Wilson, the Seahawks' two-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Seattle's offense really didn't run all that smoothly yesterday - Lynch was averaging 3 yards a carry through three quarters, and the Seahawks scored 17 points aside from the TD after the McCoy fumble - but Wilson, the QB the Eagles wanted to draft in the third round in 2012, kept moving the chains, frequently on third-and-long, while taking care of the ball. Wilson (22-for-37 with two touchdowns) threw for 263 yards and ran for 48 (on 10 carries). That would be 311 of Seattle's 440 yards.
"There were a couple of times you thought you had him sacked, you could hear the crowd going crazy, we thought we had him down, then he comes out of it," Kelly said. "He kept a lot of drives alive for them . . . we didn't do a good enough job containing him, and he was obviously the difference for them offensively today."
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis agreed.
"You know going in, that's part of his deal," Davis said. "He's going to run around and the guys chasing him are going to get exhausted. In a couple of our zones, we didn't get everybody plastered and he found them, but that's what he does. It wasn't a surprise, what he did to us today. That's part of the reason they're the defending champs, because they find ways to make plays, and they made a lot more than we did today."
Now, Dallas. Knowing you blew the Cowboys out of the Jerrydome on Thanksgiving. Knowing nothing you do to them this Sunday is going to impress anybody outside the NFC East. Knowing your quarterback is, at the end of the day, the guy you signed off the scrap heap last March for $2.25 million. Putting him in Kelly's offense didn't make him anybody else.
"The most important thing is to just get past this one, to watch the film and move on and get ready for another huge game," Sanchez said. "All of these games down the stretch are so important. Big picture is too far out in front of us. We just really need to focus on what is right in front of our nose, and that's getting this bad taste out of our mouth and going out and playing Dallas, and giving our best effort next week."