Using a make shift line-up due to the unavailability of many players, the Eagles did not have quite enough to get by the San Diego Chargers, losing 31-23. They wasted opportunities on offense and could muster very little resistance on defense, letting what seemed to be yet another winnable game get away. Despite fielding a team with many key players missing parts or all of the game, the Eagles could have come away with a victory, but the same continuing weaknesses ultimately proved to be their undoing.
The Eagles made the trip to the west coast knowing that they would be less than full strength, especially on defense. This past week, Ellis Hobbs was lost for the season to a neck injury, Joselio Hanson was suspended for four games, and Akeem Jordan joined Omar Gaither and Stewart Bradley as injured linebackers. This situation was compounded further when tackle Jason Peters and Quintin Demps were unable to suit up, and then Brian Westbrook and Sheldon Brown came out after the first half due to injury. Westbrook suffered another concussion, making for a very serious situation that could be potentially season or career threatening. DeSean Jackson also sprained an ankle, but continued to play after being heavily taped.
Despite having to move players into unaccustomed positions as well as plug holes with reserves, waiver wire pick-ups and practice squad players, the Eagles made a gallant effort against a surging Chargers team that is now tied for first place in the AFC West. At the end of the day, they didn't have quite enough to pull the game out and fell victim to the same trouble spots that have plagued them throughout the year.
Clock management cost them all their timeouts in the second half and allowed the Chargers to run the clock down to preclude an Eagles comeback. A large number of penalties, including several ones wiping out big gains and undoing defensive stops, proved very costly. Once again, the defense was unable to make a stand late in the game when the Eagles needed to get the ball back and preserve time. Although used less, the Mildcat was its usual hindrance. And, the long-time tandem nemeses struck again as the Eagles could not convert on short yardage or in the red zone.
It was particularly painful when the Eagles had to settle for a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter after having first and goal at the 1. Two other trips to the red zone also resulted in short field goals, so the Eagles came away with only 9 of a possible 21 points on those opportunities, which they could not afford considering the state of the defense. One last nemesis also popped up when officials ruled that Eldra Buckley did not cross the plane of the goal line on a 3rd and 1 attempt that resulted in Akers first field goal, although it appeared that he had. Unfortunately, the Fox Sports crew was asleep along with the referees and failed to show a replay from a different angle. Also, after last week's experience with the officials not changing a spot despite visual evidence to the contrary, Andy Reid apparently figured it was a lost cause and elected not to challenge the play.
The Lighting Bolts moved the ball with relative ease the entire game against the Eagles patchwork defense. Philip Rivers completed 80% of his 25 passes, hitting a pretty much wide open Antonio Gates 7 times. With Ladainian Tomlinson struggling all year, the Chargers have been one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, but he had his best game of the year, accumulating 96 yards and 2 TD's.
Falling behind early by a score of 14-0 and knowing that the defense was compromised, the Eagles elected to air it out in an attempt to match scores with the Chargers. It worked very well with Donovan McNabb posting his most productive game ever, throwing for 450 yards on 55 attempts. He spread the ball around to all his receivers, but Jason Avant had an extraordinary game. He went inside and out, high and low to grab 8 passes for 156 yards, looking a lot like Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin.
Unfortunately, the prolific passing game got derailed by the Eagles inability to put the ball in the end zone, both via the air and especially on the ground. McNabb did manage touchdown passes to Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek in the 4th quarter, but earlier red zone failures had helped put them in a big hole. The game ended with McNabb making a last ditch "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone that was picked off.
Yesterday, the Eagles were undermanned, so departing without a victory can be understood. Surely, some of the failures relate to players being out of position, back-ups being called into duty or even new players altogether. Fo many Eagles fans, though, the loss stung more as they witnessed some of the same key failings that let a couple other games slip away this season. Besides the passing game, the only other bright was on the scoreboard where it read "Dallas 7, Green Bay 17."