Monday, November 23, 2009

Eagles Pull Out Windy City Win

Eagles' McCoy runs for a touchdown against the Bears in Chicago

The game was not a work of art or a thing of beauty, but the Eagles found a way to shake the Sunday Night NBC jinx and pull out a victory In Chicago against a struggling Bears team. The game was labeled as a "must win" on each side as both teams knew that a loss sent their playoff probabilities plummeting. Each team took control of two quarters, but in the end, the Eagles won the first and fourth quarters to register a 24-20 win.

The Eagles came into the game having dropped its last two games to fall out of first place in the NFC East, after having crushed the New York Giants to seize the division lead. Meanwhile, the Bears had lost four of their last five after a promising 3-1 start. Although coaches hate putting too much emphasis on any game that would not actually mathematically eliminate their team, players on both squads knew that the loser would face a very difficult road to make the playoffs.

Last evening, neither team played that much like a playoff team, as each repeatedly committed penalties and made errors along the way. For the Eagles, the errors were primarily three turnovers and a shanked punt that was effectively a fourth turnover. For the Bears, although their last ditch attempt to pull the game out ended with an interception, the miscues were foregone opportunities in the form of missed open receivers.

The difference in the game ultimately came down to the poise shown by McNabb to guide his young team while his counterpart Jay Cutler was misfiring all night out of fear of failure. McNabb kept his inexperienced team calm as errors and penalties let a 10-0 lead turn into a 3rd quarter deficit, while Cutler frustrated his teammates by missing wide open receivers, some of which should have been touchdowns. Trailing 20-17, McNabb engineered a methodical 11-play drive that culminated with a LeSean McCoy 10-yard touchdown run with 5:31 left in the game.

For the most of the evening, scarred by the memories of the previous week's 5 interceptions, Cutler made safe throws to avoid completing more passes to the opposing team. As a result, he over shot Greg Olsen and Devin Hester for easy scores. He appeared to get his confidence for a brief period late in the 3rd quarter when he rallied the Bears for a touchdown to regain the lead, 20-17. That quickly disappeared in the 4th quarter, and the Eagles sealed the victory by picking off a pass in the final minute.

Outside of a 48-yard scoring strike to DeSean Jackson in the 3rd quarter, the Eagles offense was effective only in the 1st and 4th quarters. A key element of that success was the run, with McCoy accumulating most of his 99 rushing yards. And, Michael Vick surprised the world by running a play in the Eagles opening drive that actually worked, as he rambled through the middle of the line on a draw for 34 yards. The drive eventually stalled out at the 7 and the Eagles settled for chip shot field goal.

McNabb had an efficient game, hitting on almost 72% of his passes, primarily in the 5-15 yard range. He eventually nailed Jackson on the bomb and racked up 244 yards for the game. He seemed destined to put up a lot of points if not for penalties and sacks creating many long yardage situations. Jackson was a force on both special teams and the base offense, racking up 56 yards on two punt returns and 107 yards on 8 catches.

The depleted Eagles defense was up and down all game. The secondary struggled in coverage with Asante Samuel leaving in the first half with an injury, Sheldon Brown limited by a hamstring injury and a myriad of inexperienced players on the field. They were aided by Cutler's lack of accuracy, but overall played hard and determined.

This was a good win for the Eagles despite their uneven performance to keep their playoff and division aspirations in tact until they can get their regulars back on the field. A less than stellar defensive performance could certainly be expected with so many players out of the line-up. Even the Eagles two fumbles by Jackson and McCoy were more a product of stellar defensive play by Bears CB Charles Tillman, who is possibly the best in the league at stripping the ball, than carelessness.

The victory allowed the Eagles to keep pace with the Cowboys and Giants, who both eked out wins yesterday afternoon. More of the burden will continue to fall onto the offense until the defense can get more of its regulars back on the field, so although some may dwell on the imperfections, there was a good deal of positive to take away. The young players continued to show more consistency, the Eagles exhibited a running game to go along with their passing game, and the team reversed trend by engineering a late game scoring drive to win.

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