Monday, November 30, 2009

Eagles Use Late Rally to Win Again

Philadelphia Eldra Buckley winning touchdown

Donovan McNabb engineered another late game rally to lead the Eagles to a second consecutive comeback win against an inferior team. And, once again, the team overcame adversity, some of which was their own doing and other simply being sometimes how things go in the NFL. The victory allowed the Eagles to keep pace with both the Cowboys in the NFC East and the Packers in the Wildcard race, who both won on Thanksgiving Day.

Yesterday's game followed a similar script to the previous game, as the Eagles rallied from a 24-16 fourth quarter deficit to prevail 27-24. Seemingly shaking off growing criticism about his inability to lead the team back late in games, McNabb showed poise and precision on two scoring drives in the games final minutes. First he led the team on a 90-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown with 7:24 remaining and then took them 66 yards to a game winning field goal at the 1:48 mark.

Although the Redskins fell to 3-8, they came into the game with the 4th rated defense in the NFL, so these long drives were not easy and are clearly a good sign. McNabb had the added challenge of being without DeSean Jackson (who left earlier with a concussion) and having an ineffective Brent Celek (who later divulged that he may have torn thumb ligaments.) No matter- he simply leaned on Jason Avant, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy and they came through in a big way.

The big plays on the touchdown drive were consecutive tremendous catches by Avant for 46 and 20 yards, respectively, who is emerging as yet another weapon on the Eagles offense. Over the past two seasons, he has demonstrated a growing ability as a sure handed possession receiver, but now is displaying the ability to get separation and make catches down the field. The drive almost stalled at the one yard line, but Eldra Buckley finally was able to punch it in on the fourth play. McCoy then showed great determination and balance on a shuttle pass to get a two point conversion, tying the score.

After the Eagles defense held the Redskins, the offense took possession again on their own 20. This time McNabb used a pair of passes to Maclin (including a 35-yard connection) and a heavy dose of McCoy's running to move to the Redskins 14. David Akers came on to kick his fourth field goal of the game to make it 27-24. The defense then stepped up again, forcing the Redskins to the turn the ball over on downs.

One thing that was different from last week, though, was that the Eagles fell behind early. For some inexplicable reason the Eagles chose to open the game with an on sides kick that back fired into a quick 7-0 Redskins lead. Considering that the Redskins have one of the least effective offensive units and one of the better defensive units in the NFL, and were further hindered by injuries, electing to gamble at the outset seemed totally nonsensical. The last thing that the Eagles would want is to give them a short field or easy points.

Nevertheless, the Eagles did work back from the many adversities they faced, such as the absence of players and injury limitations, as well as the self inflicted variety such as penalties, ill advised gambles and the Mildcat. Once again, McNabb maintained composure and his young teammates around him responded well. The depleted defense was uneven throughout the contest as expected, but they came up big when needed in the end. Surprisingly, they struggled to get pressure on Jason Campbell, but forced the Redskins to work underneath all day.

Although favoring a sore neck, Asante Samuel jumped a couple routes to pick off two Campbell passes in the second quarter. The Eagles turned both of those into Akers field goals and grab a slim 16-14 lead at half.

McNabb finished the day 21-35-1 for 260 yards. Before Jackson got injured, McNabb connected with him on yet another long scoring strike. Late in the first quarter, Jackson slipped behind coverage and McNabb found him in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. McCoy and Weaver both ran the ball well all day, combining for 120 yards on only 23 carries. For the second time in three weeks, Avant led the team in receiving, accumulating 94 yards on 5 receptions.

Redskins vs. Eagles

This was another game that the Eagles both should have and needed to win. They now find themselves at 7-4, one game behind the Cowboys and in the top Wildcat spot. They found ways to win each of the past two games which is good, but their challenge may have increased further with the injuries to their leading receivers, Jackson and Celek.

Fortunately, the Eagles are showing some excellent depth and quickly growing maturity on offense. It appears they are still a few weeks away from shoring up the defense, so if they hope to win next week's big game in Atlanta, it appears that it is going to require McNabb to rally his young mates again. The Falcons pulled out a comeback win themselves yesterday and lurk just one game behind the Eagles.

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