This time last week, the Eagles were back in the Super Bowl discussion.
Now, sitting at 3-5, the buzz words coming out of the locker room center around going back to the drawing board and correcting mistakes.
Following a 30-24 loss to the Chicago Bears Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field, no one had any answers. In fact, the best analogy came when a reporter asked Mike Vick to compare the Eagles’ fading playoff chances to a game of chess.
“Got to keep pushing the pawns. Keep pushing the pawns, man,” Vick said. “Push the pawns and use all the weapons that you have, stay aggressive and stay on attack. It’s never out of reach when you have your queen on the board, and that’s Andy Reid.”
Yes, Vick called his head coach a queen. And while plenty of blogs will have fun with that one-liner this week, the quarterback’s point was that the season isn’t over just yet. As long as the Eagles have their powerful piece calling the shots, they still have a chance to punch a playoff ticket.
But it won’t be easy. The Eagles now find themselves three games behind the New York Giants (6-2) in the race for the NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys (4-4) are also sitting in front of the Birds right now.
“It’s tough right now and obviously we’ve dug this hole ourselves and we have to dig ourselves out of it,” Vick said. “The only thing we can do is take it one game at a time and try to learn from our mistakes.”
The Eagles made several mistakes in Monday night’s loss. DeSean Jackson fumbled a punt return with 1:11 left in the second quarter. That gaffe led to a Chicago touchdown that put the Bears up 17-10 at halftime. The team also failed to convert a fake punt on a key 4th-and-6 in the fourth, when punter Chas Henry missed a wide-open Colt Anderson. It was a play the Eagles had practiced all week.
“We saw them do it two weeks ago,” Henry said, speaking of the Bears’ punt formation. “We ran it in practice all week and got it. I didn’t get a good grip on it [the football], I rushed it over there, just babied it over there.”
The Bears responded with a five-minute drive that resulted in a 22-yard field goal to make it, 30-24. Then, on the Eagles’ final possession, Jeremy Maclin slipped after making a 9-yard grab and the team turned the ball over on downs with 1:56 showing on the clock.
“I had to extend for the catch, it was a little drag route but I definitely think I probably would have gotten the first down,” Maclin said. “You have to make the catch first and foremost, and when I came down I kind of just lost my footing a little bit.”
“He [Maclin] came open and I got the opportunity to hit him,” Vick said. “I just didn’t make the throw that I was able to make and normally would make. I couldn’t put the ball in the position that I wanted to put it in.”
The Eagles’ defense didn’t do Vick and Co. any favors, either. They were outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter, while allowing Chicago to convert 50 percent of their third downs. Matt Forte, the NFL’s leader in yards from scrimmage, ran for 133 yards on 24 carries.
“We didn’t do a good job. We did OK, just didn’t make the key stops late in the game when we needed to make them,” said linebacker Brian Rolle, who stripped Forte before halftime and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. “Maybe we took these guys too lightly and didn’t play as hard as we could.”
The defense failed to register a sack on Jay Cutler, who entered Monday’s game as the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the league (21). Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham — playing for the first time since tearing up his knee last December — got close a few times, but just couldn’t knock Cutler down.
“When we did have pressure, he did a nice job of moving back and making plays,” Reid said of Cutler. “It was a combination of things. Our guys were working hard to try and get to him, and he made a couple of nice plays there.”
Obviously, they didn’t make enough nice plays. Now, Reid’s charges have a short week to prepare for the Arizona Cardinals (2-6). How fast can they get rid of the bitter taste of this latest loss?
“It’s over now. Once you come into the locker room, get a shower and leave, it’s over,” Rolle said. “You can’t play it again. All we can do is move forward and focus on Arizona.”