Mediocre McNabb Gets Win Versus Birds... Kolb Era Begins?
By Lance Epstein
It was an ugly performance for Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb in his return to Philly. Although it must have felt great as his Redskins squeaked out a 17-12 victory on Sunday to drop the Eagles to 2-2.
Heading into the highly anticipated game, the media painted a very poor portrait of the Eagles fan base. Many experts predicted that the Eagles would boo McNabb even after all the success he had in midnight green. Fortunately, the critics were wrong. McNabb was introduced and received a 30 second standing ovation from the Philly faithful.
As for the game, it did not go the way the Eagles and their fans expected from the get-go.
After the Eagles went three-and-out on their opening possession, Eagles punter Sav Rocca came on to punt. He skied a kick that was returned 53 yards by (Redskins punt returner) Brandon Banks.
Banks huge return set the Redskins up deep in Eagles territory. Eventually running back Ryan Torain broke a Quintin Mikell tackle and scored a touchdown on a 13-yard run. Just like that, the Eagles found themselves in a 7-0 hole three minutes into the game.
To make matters worse, the Eagles stalled on their next series. Rocca came on to punted for the second time in the first five minutes.
After picking up three consecutive first downs, the Redskins were poised to take a commanding lead as they were already at the Eagles 31-yardline. McNabb used his legs to by more time in the pocket and connect with tight end Chris Cooley for a 31-yad touchdown and the 14-0 lead.
Just six minutes into the game, the Eagles defense had given up 14 points and had defensive coordinator Sean McDermott searching for answers.
However, it would get much worse for the Eagles. On the ensuing series, the Eagles offense was marching down the field. Quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy were making magic happen on the field. Defenders were a step behind. Even when the Redskins defenders were in position to make a tackle, they whiffed.
Vick event picked up a critical fourth-and-inches to extend the drive and give the Eagles a new set of downs. Three plays later, Vick scrambled for a 23-yard gain to the one-yardline.
Sadly, the play was reversed as a holding penalty was called on right guard Max Jean-Gilles. Even worse, Vick was sandwiched between two Redskins defenders at the end of the run. Vick got up gingerly, was holding his ribs and was taken into the locker room for X-rays. Unfortunately, Vick did not return to the game and his status for next week is unknown.
Nevertheless, the Eagles were now obligated to go back to backup quarterback and former starter Kevin Kolb. Ultimately, the penalty killed all the energy that Vick and the offense built up. A tenacious Redskins defense held the Eagles to a David Akers 49-yard field goal.
With momentum on the side of the Redskins, McNabb and his arm went to work. Like he did during his tenure in Philadelphia, McNabb connected on a 57- yard bomb to wide receiver Anthony Armstrong.
Unlike the previous two drives, the Eagles defense bent, but did not break as they held the Redskins to a Graham Gano 26-yard field goal. Despite holding the Skins to just three points, the Eagles were still down 14 points.
With 9:11 left in the second quarter, Kolb and the offense attempted to trim the Redskins lead before the half. Kolb guided the Eagles down the field on a 17-play and 74 yard drive, which took up eight minutes and 52 seconds.
However, head coach Andy Reid "goofed," and let a touchdown slip away. Reid called for a timeout with 23 seconds left on the clock. This was after a challenge showed that McCoy did not cross the plane.
Ultimately, the Eagles should have set up shop at the one-yardline on fourth down. Shockingly, the Eagles received a 5-yard delay of game penalty, which destroyed any dream of going for it on fourth down. The Eagles kicked the field goal and headed into halftime down 17-6.
The Redskins received the ball to start the second half and appeared to be going for the jugular. Poor Eagles tackling and penalties helped the Redskins drive all the way down to the Philadelphia 36-yardline.
McDermott and his defense had their backs against the wall. A touchdown or even field goal would give the Redskins a three-possession lead. The Redskins were about to deliver the knockout blow, but then reigning NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month (September) Nate Allen picked off McNabb.
Finally, the Eagles defense stepped up to the occasion and the crowd believed the momentum was changing. Little did they know it would be short-lived as the offense sputtered and went three-and-out.
After the two teams alternated punts, the Eagles offense finally appeared to be back on track. For the first time all season, Kolb was the quarterback that the Eagles envisioned when dealing McNabb to Washington. He had the chains moving and the Eagles soaring.
However, the offense's success did not last very long as McCoy fumbled the football, which was recovered by the Skins the at the their own 21-yardline. Once again, the Eagles squandered another golden opportunity to put points on the scoreboard.
Still, there was some good news and bad news for the Eagles. The good news for the Eagles was McNabb and the Redskins offense went into a funk. On the other hand, they did not make the most of their possession either. From midway in the third quarter until 7:41 in the fourth quarter, the teams exchanged punts.
Certainly, with less than eight minutes left in the game it was now or never for Kolb. Instead of folding up like a cheap tent, Kolb saved his best for last. He managed an impressive nine play, 58-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown by tight end Brent Celek. On the drive, Kolb had a perfect passer rating, as he was 6-for-6 for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Nevertheless, Kolb failed to convert the vital two-point conversion that would have cut the Redskins lead to a mere field goal. Frustratingly, the Eagles found themselves down 17-12 with just four minutes left.
Of course, the Eagles were still in an excellent possession to get the victory. They had all three timeouts and McNabb was 2-for-his-last-12.
Yet, the defense failed to cash in and stop the Redskins. On a critical third down and five, McNabb took a play out of his Eagles playbook. He went through his progressions and did not see anyone open down the field. Then he took off down the sideline for an 18-yard run for the all-important first down.
Still, McNabb had a mental breakdown as he went out of bounce, which stopped the clock with 3:46 left. It was a miracle for the Eagles, who had only a single timeout and the two-minute warning to stop the clock.
The Eagles defense had another chance to save the day. Then two plays later, Torain picked up another first down into Eagles territory, which milked even more valuable minutes off the clock. This left the Eagles with no timeouts.
Finally, the Eagles defense did force the Redskins to punt the ball. The problem was there was only 1:14 left on the clock.
That is when it started to get interesting. Redskins’ punter Josh Bidwell shanked a punt. The ball sailed out of bounce at the Philadelphia 26. Kolb and company had one last chance to come out with the victory and to sit all alone in first place for another week.
All he and his teammates had to do was go 74 yards in a minute and seven seconds. Immediately Kolb found wide receiver DeSean Jackson over the middle of the field for a nine-yard gain. Then he connected with Celek for a 10-yard gain. After a DeAngelo Hall defensive holding penalty, the Eagles had a first down at midfield with 26 seconds to work with.
The next three plays explained just how much of a struggle it was for the Eagles the whole afternoon. Kolb overthrew McCoy on a check down pass. On second down, Celek missed a easy reception that would have taken the Eagles deep into the Redskins territory. Third down saw Kolb's pass intended for Jackson nearly get picked off.
It all came down to a fourth-and-ten from midfield with 13 seconds left. The Eagles would need a miracle. Just then, a sensation play happened.
Kolb hit Jackson for a four-yard reception. Without a doubt, he was way short of the first down marker and not close to the sidelines. But then he pitched it back to McCoy. McCoy wiggled his way for all the way down to the Washington 32. Furthermore, he got the first down, out of bounce and the Eagles had one last shot at the end zone.
There was still some hope for the Philly faithful. Could Kolb do what McNabb failed to do so many times in the clutch? Could Kolb be the hero after being bench for Vick two weeks ago?
Kolb lofted the football into the end zone for wide receiver Jason Avant. The ball hit Avant right in the hands. As Avant attempted to pull the ball down, it popped up into the air and Hall picked it off to end the game.
The game was over; a tough and very ugly loss for the Eagles. Reid and company suffered their second home loss of the season and fell to 2-2 on the season.
More importantly, McNabb had his revenge on his former team. Some would say he did not exactly outplay former apprentice. McNabb finished the day 8 of 19 for 125 yards with a touchdown and interception. His passer rating was a pedestrian 60 percent.
Meanwhile, Kolb completed 63 percent of his passes on the day. Kolb only played three quarters, but his stats were far more impressive than McNabb's stats. He was 22 of 35 for 201 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Still, Kolb took too long to get going and the Eagles paid the ultimate price. It took him nearly two quarters to get acclimated to the speed of the game and take what the defense gave him.
Conceivably Kolb's slow start could be due to most of the reps in practice going to Vick. It is hard to make that assumption, but the outcome of the game might have been different if he received all the snaps in practice.
Nonetheless, Kolb showed promise. Against Green Bay, he was like a deer in the headlights. Nothing went right for him and he compounded his horrible start with poor decisions in the pocket.
On Sunday, he took off out of the pocket when he felt the pressure. More importantly, he kept his eyes down field, went through his progressions and generated some offense in crucial junctures of the game.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment for Kolb was restoring confidence in his teammates and the city. Before today’s game, the city was in a frenzy for Vick. In fact, Vick was seen as the Messiah for the Eagles.
Without a doubt, Kolb made a great impression on the fans. He nearly pulled off the improvable. If Avant comes down with a ball (which he had in his grasps), Kolb beats his former mentor and could be a legend in Philadelphia. His teammates know he has the moxie to be an NFL caliber quarterback and be successful at it.
A major reason for Kolb's success was his ability to get McCoy involved. Against the Redskins, McCoy set a career high with 12 receptions for 110 yards. Added onto his receiving total was his 64 yards rushing. McCoy had an extremely productive day as he amassed 174 total yards. Every week, McCoy is becoming more consistent and a bigger part of the offense. He is showing why the Eagles made the decision to dump the aging Brian Westbrook and make him the featured back.
While Kolb and McCoy were impressive, the same cannot be said of the rest of the team and coaching staff. The defense was gashed on the ground against one of the worst running teams in the league. Clinton Portis and Torain combined for 120 yards on 29 carries (4.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown. In addition, the Redskins had a total of 169 yards on the ground on only 35 carries.
If the Eagles expect to be contending for a playoff spot, then they must sure up the run defense. Currently on the season, opponents are averaging more than 130 yards per game rushing. A major reason for teams gashing the Eagles is due to poor tackling.
Eagles defenders are either going for the big hit or are arm tackling. Neither has been very successful and is driving McDermott crazy. Especially since he emphasized tackling all training camp.
Additionally, there are a lot of players over pursuing or taking poor angles. Also Ernie Sims, Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are being manhandled by blockers or give little effort to shed blockers.
Besides the deficiency against the run, Reid and the Eagles are making too many bonehead plays. First, Ried needs to learn time management. For years, analyst and fans blamed McNabb, but it has become evident that the blame should be on Reid.
There is no excuse for the Eagles getting a delay of game penalty after a timeout (and a booth challenge right before that). During that period of time, there was almost five minutes of real time. Not getting a play called for Kolb on a crucial fourth and goal from the 1-yardline is downright pathetic. That gaff potentially cost the Eagles a touchdown. If the Eagles convert and get the touchdown, then the game is tied at 17 with 4:10 remaining.
Lastly, the Eagles must stop shooting themselves in the foot with bad penalties. No team in the NFL can withstand eight penalties for 80 yards.
The penalties to left tackle Jason Peters and Jean-Gilles killed drives. Jean-Gilles' holding penalty whipped out a potential first and goal from the one. Instead of a touchdown, they got a field goal.
Also, the roughing the passer penalty to Sims allowed McNabb and the Redskins to continue a drive. Sims' penalty didn’t hurt the Eagles on that Redskins possession. However, it ran valuable minutes of the clock. His penalty gave the Skins an extra two minutes in time of possession.
Right now, there are too many mistakes for the Eagles to overcome. Reid and his team must try to eliminate them as go on the road to San Francisco, who is 0-4.
Of course, this game will be remembered for McNabb getting revenge against his former franchise and coach for trading him to a division rival. At the end of the year this game maybe analyzed very differently. It might actually mark the day the Kolb era official took flight in Philadelphia.