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Donnellon: Eagles looking a lot like Sixers

OK, ALL TOGETHER now, to the tune of that well-worn Christmas song: It's beginning to look a lot like Sixers,

Redskins safety Deshazor Everett intercepts a pass intended for Zach Ertz in the endzone.
Redskins safety Deshazor Everett intercepts a pass intended for Zach Ertz in the endzone.Read more(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

OK, ALL TOGETHER now, to the tune of that well-worn Christmas song:

It's beginning to look a lot like Sixers,

Every time you go . . .

"We were down to our fourth right tackle at the end of the game . . . " said Eagles coach Doug Pederson, channeling his inner Brett Brown after the latest near-miss fourth quarter ended in a 27-22 defeat to the Washington Redskins Sunday.

This one was punctuated by a punt-return touchdown negated by an illegal block called on Zach Ertz; a miscommunication between Ertz and Carson Wentz that led to an interception in the end zone; a flubbed field goal; an 80-yard touchdown pass surrendered; and a rally-killing fumble in the final seconds after Washington's Ryan Kerrigan blew past that tackle, Matt Tobin, and absorbed the Eagles quarterback with an enveloping sack.

"Obviously we made a handful of mistakes," Wentz lamented. "Little things here and there."

Sunday had some new wrinkles, almost always coming at the most inopportune times for a team so profoundly decimated by injuries that Sunday's most critical mistakes came because Brent Celek was forced into action as a long snapper and Tobin played right guard during the Eagles' final drive, gimpy knee and all. And because starting right guard Brandon Brooks, for the second time in three games, missed the game with an unspecified illness.

And yet the Eagles moved up and down the field at will against Washington's defense. They amassed 383 yards of offense, controlled the ball for more than 36 1/2 minutes, and Wentz completed 32 of 46 passes for 314 yards despite being sacked four times, hit a bunch more, and chased repeatedly.

He might have even won his first game in a month if he and Ertz had been in sync on that interception, or if he had held on to the ball when Kerrigan crushed him as he dropped back to pass from Washington's 14-yard line with 21 seconds remaining.

"A lot of these losses we're just one play away, two plays away," said the quarterback. "It's frustrating, but we've got to learn from it."

Ah, yes, the learning theme. It was trotted out again Sunday, more by the younger players making mistakes and their first-year coach. Like Brown with the Sixers, it is just so hard to get a read on whether Pederson is or will become a good head coach. Like Brown, there is plenty to argue from either side. How potent would his offense be if Wentz had Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and Vernon Davis to throw to?

How effective would Wentz be if he could just play three weeks in a row with the same offensive line?

And yet there's plenty to suggest these little things, these little annoyances, are part of both men's DNA. Wentz still sails passes, still fumbles too many snaps, still tends to make that critical Tony Romo-like mistake at the end of games that can't be overcome with a better play next time. And for a coach hired as a play-calling whiz and for his nurturing of quarterbacks, the evidence has not been overwhelming, to say the least.

And so this is where the Eagles enter into that Sixers twilight zone, the one where the options to close out games in the fourth quarter are so limited that it is hard to figure if both quarterback and coach are experiencing growing pains that will lead to better things, or possess fatal flaws.

Really, boiled down, it's harrowingly familiar: The football acumen at several key skill positions with the Eagles is so lacking that even when Wentz uses his legs to extend plays, there seem to be more spectators than participants. Trailing 21-19 early in the fourth, Wentz bought an additional five seconds rolling right, yet not one of three route runners bothered to break off and head for the end zone.

He was ultimately sacked.

"I told the guys at the end of the game here, 'Don't hang your head,' " Pederson said afterward. "This is a great group. The guys hung together. They battled today all the way down to the end . . . If we figure out a way to eliminate those type of things, great things are going to happen . . . "

Battling. Learning. Those in professional sports love to scoff about moral victories, but really all they do is use an alternative vocabulary to imply the same thing. The Eagles have three games left to their messy season, and then an offseason that will continue to sound very Sixer-like begins. Who to draft? Which need first?

Is the coach getting as much as he can from suspect players, or do the players seem more suspect because of his coaching?

Pederson took forever to get to the podium after Sunday's loss. As the session ended, someone asked if all those little things he had gone over all week that had gone wrong Sunday drove home that the Eagles need more help.

"We're going to coach the guys we have," he said. "We're excited to do that . . . We'll worry about those things in the offseason when we evaluate and get ready for next year."