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Friday, December 3, 2010

Eagles Survive Texans

The Eagles shook off giving up an early 17-3 lead against the Houston Texans, falling behind 24-20 late in the third quarter, to win 34-24.

Thursday night’s game is another example of how difficult it can be to judge this team in a season that has had several of them. Did they show poise in winning a game in which they had been on the verge of a blowout only to fall behind? Or was last night a neon sign warning of an end to the season that we are all too accustomed to seeing?

The Eagles opened the game with a solid touchdown drive that featured a 30-yard reception by DeSean Jackson and an early reception by Brent Celek, both of which was a good sign for the offense in getting them involved early. The rollout touchdown pass by Michael Vick to LeSean McCoy from the 1-yard line was another good sign.

Everybody’s favorite analyst to hate, Joe Theismann, made the suggestion that the Eagles’ problems in the “red zone” offensively are due to the condensed playing area negating their team speed. Yet, with better play calling there’s no reason for that to be the case, and rolling Vick out is a perfect example of that.

Of course, the play right before it was a perfect example of why they can look atrocious near the goal line. There’s not much to complain about with Andy Reid last night, but putting Chad Hall, a guy who played for Air Force who might be a good possession receiver some day, in the “wildcat” at quarterback to run up the middle accounted for his weekly brain freeze.

Earlier in the drive the offense was so discombobulated that they thought they had 12 men in the huddle. I caught one player, I believe Jeremy Maclin, actually trying to call a timeout to avoid a penalty. In fact, the official saved the team by mistakenly calling the penalty based on the Eagles players backing out of the huddle to try to avoid it. The flag was picked up because there weren’t 12 men in the huddle.

It may be nit picking, but these type of things don’t happen to championship teams. To be fair, the Eagles weren’t even considered a playoff team when the season started. But the opportunity may be here right now to do something special.

After giving up a field goal, the Eagles put together another long drive, and I thought the blowout was on. In fact, they tacked on a field goal to go ahead by 14 points, 17-3. But the Texans fought back, exploiting some bigger flaws the Eagles have shown this season.

They pounded Arian Foster most of the way down the field for an eventual touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to Jacoby Jones. The display by the Eagles run defense was even more disconcerting because Andre Johnson, the Texans receiver who everybody – including Philadelphia’s secondary, apparently – was praying would be suspended for the game after fighting last week, was out of the game with a minor injury. To be fair, the Eagles were without Asante Samuel.

With the score 17-10, Texans’ cornerback Glover Quin gave Eagles fans a heart attack, just missing an interception he easily would have scored on.

Trevor Laws did make a great interception for the Eagles late in the half (which he fumbled but the Eagles recovered), that set them up for a gift touchdown. But another dropped touchdown by Jason Avant, followed by a Celek drop of a touchdown, left the Eagles with a field goal and a 20-10 halftime lead.

Houston absolutely dominated the third quarter. They started with a long touchdown drive, with a great run-pass balance. Imagine that, eh Eagles fans? Then Vick threw a pretty bad interception – yes, most interceptions are bad, but this pass was ugly – that Houston eventually turned into 7. They really started pounding Foster at the Eagles with the run, so much so that with 5:15 left I started wondering about time of possession, which turned out to be 12:34 in the quarter for the Texans. Foster eventually scored his second TD of the quarter to give Houston a 24-20 lead.

A strangely short kickoff set up the Eagles for a touchdown drive that featured another long catch by Jackson, and a Vick quarterback sneak for the end zone. Eagles lead, 27-24.

The defense finally got a stop on the next series. In the middle of the 4th quarter, a screen to McCoy for 40 yards spurred the Eagles final touchdown drive. Celek may have made up for his drop with a great play on a 3rd-and-19, stretching for the critical first down on the Houston 5. A bad spot was overturned on a Reid challenge. A short pass to Owen Schmitt sealed the victory, 34-24.

I hate to use the cliché but this was a character win. The NFL Network even provided locker room coverage of the Eagles after the win, and the “W” seemed to heal all wounds from last week . . . for now. Michael Vick’s true passion is clearly a lift from a decade of what the last quarterback exhibited.

Two sobering thoughts though: The Eagles defense is the worst “red zone D” in the NFL since 1988. And Houston had the 30th-ranked pass defense in the league entering the week.

It was a good win for a very good team. We’ll find out how good they are in January and, maybe, beyond.

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