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Turnovers were Eagles' biggest failing this season

Pat Shurmur, Jeremy Maclin acknowledge that turning the ball over proved fatal to Eagles' playoff chances.

The Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan strips the ball from the Mark Sanchez. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
The Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan strips the ball from the Mark Sanchez. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

PAT SHURMUR told reporters he wanted to "avoid any of those recap questions," in what Shurmur acknowledged was his final scheduled media interaction of the season. But then the Eagles' offensive coordinator unexpectedly provided an eloquent postscript to the 2014 Eagles:

"Whoever has the football has the hopes and dreams of the organization in their hands," Shurmur said, in answering a question about how disappointing it was that he and the coaching staff were never able to turn around the Eagles' season-defining turnover problem. "They've got to take care of it. The guys that we entrust with making decisions, whether to deliver the football or hold on to the football, have to understand how important that is."

Is the problem really one of understanding, or of judgment/talent, though? Quarterbacks Nick Foles (10 interceptions, three fumbles lost in 7 1/4 games) and Mark Sanchez (10 interceptions, three fumbles lost in 7 3/4 games) kept telling us they understood, but they never stopped giving the ball away, and that is why the Eagles aren't going to the playoffs.

All that other stuff people are bent out of shape about - Bradley Fletcher, Nate Allen, run blocking, Bradley Fletcher, LeSean McCoy looking hesitant, Zach Ertz not getting the ball enough, Bradley Fletcher, penalties, offensive predictability, Bradley Fletcher - none of that kept the Eagles out of the playoffs. Some of it probably would have kept them from winning the Super Bowl, but it wouldn't have kept them out of the playoffs, had they gotten last season's Pro Bowl-level QB play. There were three games this season in which the QBs didn't throw an interception; the Birds won all three.

At midseason, when the Eagles were 6-2, a lot of us looked at the turnover differential and noted that playoff teams don't tend to dwell in those nether regions, in such an important area. Our assumption was that the Eagles would clean that up on their march to the playoffs, not that they would start to more closely resemble teams that dwell in the nether regions.

When Jeremy Maclin was asked yesterday to explain the Eagles' 0-3 December, he said: "We turned the ball over, you know, turned the ball over."

Then he paused.

"Yeah, turned the ball over."

It ought to be evident to everybody now that turnovers killed the team's chances of going to the postseason, but apparently it isn't, quite, given the minority view expressed on social media following the last-straw loss to the Redskins Saturday, that quarterback Mark Sanchez played well, in completing 37 of 50 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns.

The problem there, of course, would be that Sanchez had the offense one or maybe two first downs away from a game-winning field goal in the final minutes when he threw behind Maclin and was intercepted, setting up the Redskins' winning field goal. Looking at all that and saying Sanchez played well is sort of like saying, "You know, Charlie was driving just great until he veered into the path of that semi."

"I thought he did a good job. The one thing Sanchez does fairly well, he works the middle of the field pretty well, gets the ball out quick . . . I'm pretty sure there's throws and opportunities he wants back, along with everyone else in this league," Maclin said, when asked to assess the backup's season. "Unfortunately, we can't go back in time. But I thought he did a decent job."

Sanchez, here on a 1-year deal, reflected yesterday that "things change fast in this league."

"It's really one possession here, one first down there, one drive, this and that, one throw, one catch, one tackle - that's how fragile this thing is," Sanchez said, when asked about turnovers. "When you miss out on opportunities like that, or put yourself in tough [situations], then you end up where we're at."

How much of this is his fault?

"That's not for me to say. I don't know. That's stuff for critics to argue about," Sanchez said. "All these things, I feel responsible, just like Chip does, just like [QB coach Bill Musgrave], just like [center Jason] Kelce, just like all the guys."

Maybe the Eagles would have made the playoffs if Foles hadn't broken his collarbone at the end of the first quarter in Houston on Nov. 2. It sure would have been nice to have had the whole season to decide whether he is the quarterback going forward. He might be, by default; the team does not seem to have great options there. But if Foles starts and plays the way he played through much of the first half of 2014, the Kelly era might never become what most of us thought it was going to be when Kelly and Foles took the Eagles to the NFC East title in Kelly's first season.

"There's certainly areas where we all can get better, but the way he approached his rehab, if he continues through the offseason, I'm really excited about what he can do next year," Shurmur said yesterday of Foles.

When a questioner brought up the notion that the organization didn't get to learn enough about Foles this season, Shurmur said, "I think we know what we have in Nick," which made everyone sit up a little straighter in their news conference chairs - maybe we were going to get some sort of insight into how Foles' mechanics could be corrected. But Shurmur then went down the familiar path of how Foles is 14-4 as a starter since Kelly arrived, and contended, "that's really how you judge a quarterback." Except, we all know it really isn't, there's way more to it than that.

Left guard Evan Mathis was asked yesterday whether the Eagles, who went 5-1, then 7-2, then 9-3, regressed in December.

"I think that the things that were hurting us early on are the things that continued to hurt us," Mathis said. "I wouldn't say we regressed. Turnovers were an issue - winning the turnover battle is huge in the NFL."

Shurmur was left to try to rally the troops yesterday for a game this weekend that should have been a playoff tuneup. Instead it will be an unsatisfying anticlimax.

"Who is it for anyone to tell us what's meaningful or not? I reminded the offensive guys this morning that all of us dreamed of playing pro football . . . We have one more opportunity to play pro football this year. Now, our circumstances are such where we can't go any further. But everything's meaningful. I mean, waking up Monday morning's not guaranteed, so it's meaningful," he said.