Phil Sheridan: Once again, time is trouble for Eagles

Eagles coach Andy Reid and his players show their frustration after Donovan McNabb's fourth-down sneak was ruled short. Reid challenged the call, but it was upheld, costing him his last time-out.
Eagles coach Andy Reid and his players show their frustration after Donovan McNabb's fourth-down sneak was ruled short. Reid challenged the call, but it was upheld, costing him his last time-out.
Posted: November 09, 2009

Andy Reid's reasoning wasn't terrible when he sent his field-goal team out with 4 minutes, 33 seconds showing on the clock. His math was another story.

With the Eagles down by a touchdown, facing fourth and 11 at the Dallas 34-yard line, Reid's choices were to go for a first down or try for a 52-yard field goal. Neither of those is a sure thing, but David Akers made the kick to cut the score to 20-16.

"With four minutes left, I thought we could hold them," Reid said. "I thought we could get the ball back."

Which would be fine, except there weren't really four minutes left. Because the Eagles had no time-outs, the Cowboys had to hold the ball for only two-plus minutes. As it turned out, Tony Romo took three knees to run the clock down from the two-minute warning on.

If the clock had shown 2:30 left, would Reid have tried for the first down and a tying touchdown? Or would he have tried for a field goal to make the margin of defeat a little smaller?

We'll never know.

What we do know is that the Fog of War has enshrouded Reid in the past, and it seems to have risen from the soil of Lincoln Financial Field once again. If the Eagles had used their time-outs wisely - if they had been invested in the comeback drive that ended with the long field goal - that would be one thing.

They weren't.

The first time-out was wasted in appalling fashion midway through the third quarter.

On second and 5 from the Eagles' 38-yard line, Reid sent Michael Vick in to hornswoggle the Cowboys' defense with that dazzling Wildcat package. Vick stunned the nation by handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy for a 3-yard gain.

There's just no way Donovan McNabb hands off for a 3-yard gain there.

That made it third and 2. McNabb ran back onto the field. The offense came out of the huddle late and was just getting into formation when someone on the sideline noticed the play clock was running out. The time-out was called by Reid or one of his coaches.

The time-out produced a third-and-2 play, a pass from McNabb to McCoy, that gained 1 yard. Reid threw his red challenge flag, even though the replay showed that McCoy had come back on the ball before being touched by a defender.

Reid was hoping the referee, Walt Coleman, would change the spot, giving the Eagles a first down. He didn't. In fact, Coleman made a point of explaining that McCoy had come back "on his own" to lose a precious yard or two.

"It's kind of hard to overturn a spot," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. We didn't get it today."

The Eagles punted there. Their next possession lasted exactly one play, as McNabb threw a deep ball to rookie Jeremy Maclin. If Maclin knew it was coming, he gave no indication. He ran on as defensive back Mike Jenkins adjusted and intercepted the pass.

The turnover led to a tying field goal for the Cowboys. The Eagles got the kickoff and embarked on one of their few effective drives of the game. They moved smartly from their own 25 to second and 1 at the Dallas 45, then moved not so smartly after that.

McCoy ran twice, once to the right and once to the left, for no gain.

Fourth and 1. A measurement showed the Eagles needed just inches. So Reid went for it. McNabb kept the ball, surging forward behind center Jamaal Jackson. The moment the officials spotted the ball, McNabb looked upset. He knew. He didn't get far enough, at least according to that spot.

"We thought we had the first down," McNabb said. "The way they spotted the ball, they made it seem like I lost a yard."

Reid threw the red flag again.

If it was a long shot the first time, a challenge was futile this time. The referee needs to see decisive evidence that the spot was wrong. When's the last time you saw anything conclusive from a replay of a pile like that? It's a judgment call when McNabb's knee touches the ground or when his forward progress is stopped.

Dallas took over on downs. Four plays later, Dallas had a 20-13 lead. The Eagles had given up 10 points and used up all three time-outs to do it.

"You'd like to have them back," Reid said of his two challenges. He declined to comment further because of a possible fine for criticizing the officials.

But the officials got the McCoy call right. He was falling the wrong way as he caught the ball. And there's almost no chance of an official's changing a spot on a play like a QB keeper when the replay reveals almost nothing.

The Fog of War was thick indeed.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan

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