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Eagles' self-inflicted wounds led to playoff elimination

The Eagles are officially eliminated from postseason contention, and Saturday night's 27-24 loss to the Washington Redskins offered a prime example why.

Eagles Mark Sanchez is sacked by Nick Deprinzio. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Eagles Mark Sanchez is sacked by Nick Deprinzio. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

The Eagles are officially eliminated from postseason contention, and Saturday night's 27-24 loss to the Washington Redskins offered a prime example why.

It was not the first time coach Chip Kelly needed to address turnovers and penalties after a game. In each defeat during the Eagles' three-game December losing streak, those self-inflicted wounds have plagued the Eagles.

If they happen once or twice, they can be cast as fixable mistakes. But they have become a trend. The Eagles lead the NFL in turnovers. They entered Saturday's loss in the top half of the league in penalty yards and were penalized for 102 yards against Washington. Those are the signs of an undisciplined team.

"They aren't lacking discipline," Kelly said. "We just aren't doing the right thing during the football game."

No matter how Kelly wants to phrase it, the results are evident. The Eagles are 9-6 after a 9-3 start. Those nine wins masked issues that were present throughout the season.

It would be easy to use the excuse that the Eagles played with a backup quarterback, but turnovers were an issue for Nick Foles just as they were for Mark Sanchez. Foles had 10 interceptions and three lost fumbles in just more than seven games, and Sanchez had 10 interceptions and three lost fumbles in just more than seven games.

The penalties that have plagued the Eagles during the three-game losing streak were problematic in the first few months of the season, too. They averaged 11.6 penalties per game during the first 12 games of the season. They averaged 8.3 penalties in the last three games.

The combined issues have been symptomatic of a lack of discipline, and they ended up hindering the Eagles at the most crucial point of the season. Safety Malcolm Jenkins told reporters that the Eagles were playing on "borrowed time" because of all the mistakes.

"It'll be hard to argue we are a disciplined team, and then you do that," Jenkins said. "Some of [the penalties] are a little tacky tack, but some of them are a lack of discipline, a lack of focus in the moment. You can't do it. Nobody wants to say that they're an undisciplined team, but you have to go out and prove it. I think in the last few weeks, especially those penalties on third downs, [we] really shot ourselves in the foot."

In each of those three losses, the Eagles committed costly third-down penalties to extend opponents' scoring drives.

On Saturday, the Eagles were leading, 14-10, when they forced Washington into what would have been a 34-yard field-goal attempt. But Brandon Graham was flagged for roughing the passer, and the Redskins had a new set of downs. They scored three plays later.

Then, on Washington's final drive, a pass completion that took Washington to the Eagles' 35-yard line was bolstered by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Vinny Curry. The Redskins suddenly were in field-goal range, and the final score told the story.

Graham said the officials did not let the "players just play." When Kelly was asked whether those personal fouls were valid, he answered that it did not matter because he is not in charge. But whether one or two calls were controversial, the Eagles had a season-high 13 penalties. When that happens in Week 16 - especially in a game in which every point and yard mattered - it says something about the team.

"You can't have it and win games in the NFL," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said to reporters. "I don't know which ones were right and wrong. It doesn't matter. They were called. We just have to play with more discipline."

The Eagles take pride in their football intelligence and controlling emotions, which makes the ongoing issues confounding. Kelly said turnovers and penalties are emphasized every week. The team continues to work on fundamental drills.

Yet some key veterans have been among the culprits this season. LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek had costly fumbles in December. Riley Cooper and Darren Sproles are among the players who have lost fumbles. Those are not just quarterback problems. Those are team-wide problems.

"We put a lot of emphasis on taking care of the football, making good decisions, protecting the football when it's in our hands," Cooper said. "But that's been a big issue for us. Everyone. Not one person."

Center Jason Kelce thought the team's red-zone issues were more pressing. The Eagles offense scored one touchdown in two red-zone trips Saturday. On one, the Eagles did not net a single yard and Cody Parkey missed a chip-shot field goal. The Eagles had no points to show for it. They have scored touchdowns on 25 of 52 red-zone visits this season. That ranks in the bottom third of the league.

There are enough issues when a team loses three December games and surrenders a chance to make the playoffs. But the results cannot be rationalized by noting that the Eagles lost mostly to playoff teams, or that they were beset by injuries. They too often were plagued by wounds inflicted on themselves, to borrow the phrase Kelly often recites.

"You can't have a bunch of penalties in the game and turnovers and win football games, especially in this league," Cooper said. "Everyone is so close and all the athletes are so good, you definitely can't have it. I don't know what it is. A lack of focus sometimes, guys getting tired, getting out of position, holding. But you can't do it and win football games. I do know that."