SAN DIEGO -- Perhaps the Philadelphia Eagles should just save themselves the jet fuel in future West Coast trips. Sunday's 31-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers wasn't quite as embarrassing as going belly up in the Black Hole, but it had its moments.
With the defense short on quality personnel, the Eagles needed their offense to realize its explosive potential and beat the Chargers in a shootout. But by the time wide receiver Jason Avant decided to take over the game, the Eagles had already dug themselves too deep a hole to overcome.
Donovan McNabb's eye-popping 35-of-55 for 450 yards and two touchdowns will please fantasy owners, but those are empty numbers when it comes to this team's win total, which by the way is stuck on five. By taking the weekend off, the New York Giants leaped into a second-place tie with the Eagles at 5-4, and the Dallas Cowboys fell to 6-3 with a 17-7 loss in Green Bay. The Eagles are still in the thick of the playoff race, which says more about the watered-down NFC than it does about anything this team has actually accomplished.
The Eagles' defense found a way to revive LaDainian Tomlinson's fading career, allowing him to rush for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott paid homage to Tomlinson after the game, but he tacked on a few harsh words for his players.
"When you play passive football, and not attacking, any running back's going to have a good day," McDermott said.
But it's hard to pick on a unit that was filled out by such immortals as Dimitri Patterson and Ramzee Robinson. On the play that the Chargers basically sealed the win late in the fourth quarter, McDermott called for safety Quintin Mikell to cover Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. The Eagles actually have a puncher's chance in that matchup, but someone on the field checked out of that coverage, which forced Patterson to cover Gates instead. Rivers connected with Gates for a 17-yard completion -- and the Eagles began preparing for the in-flight movie.
"Yeah, if we could go back to that, we'd probably make a different check," Mikell deadpanned.
But at least the defense had some legitimate excuses for yielding 31 points. The Eagles' offense had all of its weapons on the field during the second half. They were missing left tackle Jason Peters (ankle), but McNabb had plenty of time to deliver the ball throughout the game.
After falling behind 14-0, the Eagles drove 77 yards and had first-and-goal at the Chargers' 1-yard line after Jeremy Maclin drew a pass interference penalty from Quentin Jammer. Three failed plays later, the Eagles were forced to settle for an 18-yard field goal.
On first down, Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver was stuffed for no gain, and on the next play McNabb fired an incomplete pass to Brent Celek in the corner of the end zone. On third-and-goal from the 1, coach Andy Reid decided it was a good spot to give rookie Eldra Buckley the first meaningful carry of his career. Former Cowboys linebacker Kevin Burnett blew up the play.
"When we get in there, we take a lot of pride in scoring touchdowns and not field goals," Reid said. "When you're that close with a first down, you expect to get in there, especially when you've seen [the Chargers] do it the week before, you want to use that and better yourself off somebody else's errors. We weren't able to do that."
The Eagles made two other trips inside the Chargers' 10-yard line that resulted in field goals. Trailing 21-6 in the third quarter, Reid opted to kick the field goal when the Eagles had a fourth-and-1 at the Chargers' 7-yard line. Avant could be seen mouthing the words, "C'mon coach!" in frustration as Reid sent David Akers onto the field.
For all of his offensive genius, Reid may be among the worst multi-taskers in the league. His problems with game management (burn those timeouts early) are well-documented, but you also have to question his game planning after Sunday's loss.
It took another Brian Westbrook concussion for rookie LeSean McCoy to get involved Sunday. McCoy had only two carries in the first half. And we're not talking about a guy who's been a fringe participant on this team. He's been one of the top rookies in the league, but Reid couldn't find a way to get him involved.
The coach said last week that Westbrook and McCoy probably would rotate series, but that's not what happened. At halftime, the Eagles had eight carries for 9 yards. McCoy, who finished with three carries for 5 yards, was at a loss for words as he was asked to explain his limited role.
"I really can't answer that," said McCoy. "It was kind of a normal week. There really wasn't a big difference."
I've heard some people within the organization suggest that Reid doesn't trust McCoy as a pass-blocker, but that's not a concern as long as McCoy has the ball in his hands. I think Reid spent the week trying to make sure Westbrook was featured in the game plan -- to the detriment of McCoy.
Reid devoted more time to calling plays for Reggie Brown (yes, still on the roster) than he did for one of the league's most talented rookie running backs. The Eagles had so much success with the big play in the first half of the season that they've forgotten how to score from point-blank range.
The silver lining for the Eagles is that they appear to be surrounded by mediocrity in the NFC East. Oh, and the West Coast portion of their schedule is complete.