PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles never did deserve the NFC East title. They proved that beyond a reasonable doubt Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The mediocre state of the division afforded the Eagles an opportunity to earn a playoff berth despite their 6-8 record. All they had to do was beat the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants to finish 8-8.
Instead, the Eagles provided Washington a venue to celebrate its first NFC East title since 2012. Washington earned it, thrashing the Eagles 38-24 before a booing, sellout crowd.
The Eagles (6-9 and doomed to a losing record) looked as if they were ready to challenge Washington. Their first drive ended with a 1-yard Ryan Mathews touchdown run. But Washington took over from there, with Kirk Cousins finding tight end Jordan Reed for two first-quarter touchdowns.
The Eagles drew to within 13-10 but were outscored 22-14 in the second half as Washington put the game away.
While Eagles coach Chip Kelly is likely safe after being promoted to general manager status a year ago, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie has to look at this contest as an indictment of the coach’s ability to prepare his team for a big game. This was the Eagles’ biggest of 2015, and they got their doors blown off, at home, by a .500 team.
What it means: Kelly will go through three seasons as Eagles head coach without winning a playoff game. That makes him the first to do that since Buddy Ryan (1986-1988).
Rich Kotite won a playoff game in his second season. Ray Rhodes did it after his first. By the end of his third season, Andy Reid had won three playoff games and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
What were they thinking? Much will be made (indeed, much was already made) of Cousins taking a knee on the final play of the first half, costing Washington a chance for a chip-shot field goal. Coach Jay Gruden said the play call was a fade pattern to wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
But why not just kick a field goal with six seconds left on the clock? So many things can go wrong when you run a play. Maybe Cousins taking a knee wasn’t a thing you would expect, but kicking the field goal was the smart decision.
Game ball: Tight end Zach Ertz caught 13 passes for 122 yards. Yes, he lost a fumble, but Ertz was the one reliable weapon Sam Bradford had. When a pass hit him in the hands, he went ahead and caught it.
One reason to get excited: You’re forgiven if you don’t get too excited, but Bradford showed some positive signs. It would be overstating to say Bradford made a statement with his performance, but he was good.
It didn’t help that Nelson Agholor dropped one touchdown pass or that Ertz fumbled after catching another pass. Bradford’s best play -- on which he avoided pressure, stepped up and threw a deep ball down the middle -- was ruined by Riley Cooper failing to hold on to the ball.
As for that fumbled pitch to DeMarco Murray, it looked like an accurate toss from Bradford. Murray dropped it.
One reason to panic: Remember when the Eagles’ biggest problem at inside linebacker was how to play all of them? That was a question Kelly heard over and over again during the offseason and training camp.
With the season almost over, the question now is whether the Eagles have any inside linebackers they can rely on at all. Kiko Alonso has been absent all season. Mychal Kendricks got exposed in coverage by Washington tight end Reed. DeMeco Ryans didn’t do much, either.
Hey, the Eagles have a lot of problems. This one just happened to be on display Saturday night.
Fantasy watch: Ertz set a franchise record with 15 catches at Washington a year ago. On Saturday, he set season highs in catches (13) and yards (122). Ertz lost a fumble, but he was Bradford’s one reliable target against a mediocre secondary.
Ouch: The Eagles were without defensive starters Bennie Logan (calf) and Byron Maxwell (shoulder) to start the game. Wide receiver Cooper missed a few plays after limping off with a leg injury. He was back for the Eagles’ next kickoff return and offensive series.