I thought this was supposed to be a fun year to be an Eagles fan. I mean, after all, that was the genesis of the project. Nobody wants to jump on to a crappy team’s bandwagon. You jump on when it’s hot. And this Eagles team, the one that by and large “won” the off-season Free Agency game, is most certainly not fun right now.
Sunday was a bad day for Philadelphia sports. Between an embarrassing Eagles loss, and the Phillies dropping game two of the NLDS at home to the Cardinals, there wasn’t much to smile about. The Eagles dropped a wholly winnable game in the most frustrating way imaginable; it wasn’t a blowout; the Eagles simply just wilted and allowed the 49ers to come back and win on the road. Defensive miscues, red zone impotence, and absolutely baffling offensive-boneheadedness handed the win to the San Francisco squad and cast doubts upon the team’s present and future.
The story of the week leading up to the game was the health of QB Mike Vick and his not-broken-just-badly-bruised right hand. The hand clearly was not a factor as Vick looked great, rushing for 75 yards and throwing for an incredible 416 yards. No, this wasn’t a game lost because of injuries or bad luck. No, this was a game lost by missed-opportunities.
Tellingly, the first missed opportunity of the day belonged not to the Birds, but to the ‘Niners and former Eagles kicker David Akers. Akers pushed a field goal attempt wide left on what would have been the first scoring play of the game. Was Akers rattled by this stadium still? Were the ghosts of his last game as an Eagle still haunting him? The idea was hard to ignore and as the Eagles would jump to an early lead with a Vick TD pass the game had the feel of a fun-to-watch rout. The game felt like the perfect way to cleanse fans’ collective palate after a frustrating loss the previous week. It couldn’t have been any more different than that. This was a loss even more frustrating than week three. As a matter of fact, it was probably one of the most frustrating losses I’ve ever watched.
This is the part of the write-up where I’m going to talk about Ronnie Brown. I’ve been thinking all week about how I was going to talk about it, and I’m still not sure. I’ve re-written the beginning of this paragraph a few times because, frankly, what is there to say? Something happened on a football field that I’ve never seen happen before. Look, I played Pop Warner football; I played until Junior High School. I was a long-snapper and the backup center. To this day, I still have to remind myself which player is the guard and which is the tackle when I’m talking about the offensive line. (“The guard guards the center. The tackle is by the tight-end.”) What I’m saying here is that I’m not exactly a student of the game. But I watch a lot of goddamned football. I understand the sport. And I don’t understand what Ronnie Brown did. It’s of little comfort that he doesn’t know what he did either.
You know what happened, but in case you drank yourself stupid to try and forget Sunday, here’s what went down: On third and goal on the ‘Niners one-yard-line, the Eagles called Ronnie Brown’s number on a run-pass option play to try and punch it up the gut for a TD. Brown ran into a wall of surging ‘Niners and tried to spin away. He was grabbed around the waist by ‘Niners linebacker Parys Haralson who dragged him to the ground. As Brown was falling, he swung his head around looking for a receiver in the vicinity that he could dump the ball to, cocked his arm back, and tried to throw the ball to… someone, I guess, but nobody was particularly close to him and he was firmly in the grasp of a defender. He lost his grip of the ball and it bounced helplessly behind him where San Francisco recovered it for a fumble.
Coach Andy Reid challenged the ruling on the field of a fumble, saying it was actually a forward pass. During the on-field replay, we at home were treated to about a dozen different views of the play. I saw about half of them and missed the other half because I was too busy reading my Twitter feed blow up with comments largely unprintable. The booth announcers were flabbergasted and were actually chuckling at the play. The ruling on the field was upheld and the ‘Niners took over possession of the ball, robbing the Eagles not only of a potential touchdown or, failing that, what could have been a surefire three-points.
In a post-game interview, Brown would channel Yogi Berra and say, “I tried to out-think myself a little bit.” Uhhh… Ronnie, I’d say you sure accomplished that. “I was thinking […] just try to throw the ball away and give us another chance for fourth down.” Brown is a first year Eagle, after spending six years in the Miami Dolphins backfield where he was part of their much-ballyhooed Wildcat offense. But, hey Ronnie, this ain’t Miami anymore. This is a team built to succeed without any Wildcat chicanery. Why throw the ball away and “give [the team] another chance” on third and goal? There’s already another chance after third down. It’s called fourth down.
It was the kind of play that we all could have sat back and had a laugh about after the game had the Eagles held on to their comfortable seventeen point lead at the half. But they didn’t. So instead of having a laugh, we’re all pulling our hair out and eating Rolaids all over again. At least I hope we all are and it’s not just me…
There are a lot of reasons the Eagles lost this game. Had Ronnie Brown just gotten tackled like a normal person, the Eagles probably would have settled for a field goal. Had the rest of the game been exactly the same, those 3 points would have given them the win. Maybe the defense doesn’t completely collapse and allow 21 unanswered points in the last 25 minutes of the game. Hell, had they only allowed two unanswered touchdowns, I’d be in a good mood while writing this. Maybe Jeremy Maclin uses two f’ing hands to hold onto the ball and doesn’t fumble it on the ‘Niners 30 yard line with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter. The Eagles can easily run down the clock, force San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh to waste all of his timeouts, tack on the go-ahead field goal, and force the ‘Niners offense to try and score with around a minute and no timeouts. None of those things happened, though. The Eagles lost by one point.
They lost by one point on a day where the most prolific scorer in the history of the team was making his first appearance against the team. David Akers, who was unceremoniously non-tendered and allowed to become a free agent, sat and watched as his former team’s new kicker missed two very makeable field goals, the first from 39 yards, and the second from 33.
Kicking isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. These kickers make it look easy, though. David Akers and Alex Henery are the best of the best of the best, and when they miss a kick it seems like a monumental event. Henery had two high profile misses and there were plenty of “Why did they even let Akers go?” lamentations on Twitter after the game. But the team might not necessarily been better off with him on Sunday.
The league average success rate for field goals teeters right around 80% any given year. So far this season, Akers is 8-for-10 on field goal tries, putting him conveniently at the 80% mark. Henery has been less effective, he’s sitting at 72.7%. But through four games, what exactly is 72.7%? It’s 8-11. Henery has only one more miss this season than Akers does. If Akers is wearing midnight green this week, do the Eagles score six more points and win the game? Probably. But it’s not definite. After all, Akers missed two in the playoffs last year against the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. The Packers would win by a total of five and Andy Reid infamously threw Akers under the bus in his post-game press conference.
So, sure, you can blame the kicker for the loss if you really want to. You can blame the front office for getting rid of an All-Pro kicker, the best in the history of the team. But that kicker was equally likely to miss those two kicks. And two missed kicks are probably the reason he’s gone in the first place.
The Eagles face a tough opponent in week 5 in the form of the surprising Buffalo Bills. The Eagles have to win to claw out of the basement of the NFC East. A loss would be yet another nail in the coffin of what is looking like it could be a lost season for the team. The clouds of doubt surrounding the team are growing darker, and the questions for Reid and his staff are getting tougher and tougher.
Week five is going to be the barometer of whether this team is a contender or not. I took this assignment because I knew it was going to be an interesting year for the Eagles. It certainly has been, but not for any of the reasons I thought it would be.
Ryan Petzar writes for The Fightins, you can follow him on Twitter @petzrawr.