Rich Hofmann: For Eagles, surviving against bad teams beats the alternative

Juqua Parker hits Redskins' Jason Campbell on game-sealing incompletion.
Juqua Parker hits Redskins' Jason Campbell on game-sealing incompletion.
Posted: November 30, 2009

THE EAGLES' favorite movie is "The Fugitive." They especially like the beginning, the part where Harrison Ford survives the spectacular crash. It is their favorite scene, where the bus tumbles down the embankment and the oncoming train is about to obliterate it and Ford crawls out of the pile of twisted metal, just in time. The Eagles play that one over and over in their heads.

They are survivors; give them that.

In a league where only a couple of teams are really good and the rest aspire to be hopeful, there are a lot worse things to be than a survivor. Last week against the Bears, yesterday against the Redskins, the Eagles came from behind in the fourth quarter and won a football game. The score yesterday was 27-24, and it leaves them with a 7-4 record - and in the NFL, where there are no style points, 7-4 is 7-4 is 7-4.

However . . .

(You just knew there was going to be a however . . . )

Rare is the season when your best win is over a 6-5 Giants team that hasn't been able to get out of its own way in more than a month. The rest of the wins are over teams with a combined record of 15-40. Meanwhile, other than the stinker against Oakland, the rest of the losses came against the three "good" teams on the schedule: 8-3 Dallas, 8-3 San Diego and 10-0 New Orleans.

The difference is stark. Normally, in the NFL, it is not meaningful. It is a business where the old Bill Parcells quote rings the truest. That is, "You are what your record says you are." That is, 7-4 is 7-4 is 7-4.

But it really smacks you this time. The difference is hard to ignore. Especially when the Eagles are on their hands and knees to win these games as the favored team - a nine-point favorite over the Redskins - you cannot help but wonder what it all means.

So when Eagles coach Andy Reid says, "Any win in the National Football League is a good win," he is right.

And when cornerback Sheldon Brown says, "[Close wins] pay off for you in the long run. Getting into the postseason, it helps a lot of the younger guys with their confidence," he is right.

But if you see this Eagles team as some kind of a missile about to launch, you have better eyes than most. That isn't where these Eagles are. They are hanging on here, hoping for better days. They are not thriving, not yet. And now that wide receiver DeSean Jackson has suffered a concussion, well, everything for this team just got tougher.

We all fixate on the offense because, well, that is what we do - and Jackson has been their most potent weapon all season. But the biggest difference here is the Eagles' defense, so battered now by injuries. In past years, when they have made their late-season runs, it has been on the backs of the defense. This year, that just doesn't seem as if it is possible.

That does not mean the defense isn't competitive, because it is. And when it mattered at the end of the game, the defense finally found a way to get off the field after allowing Jason Campbell & Co. to convert an absurd 8-for-12 on third-down plays.

The week before, if Bears quarterback Jay Cutler hadn't been stumbling around in the dark, the Eagles would have lost. Yesterday, there was only one reason the Redskins could figure to be in the game - and that was because, historically, they always hang around against the Eagles. But that was it. There was no other reason to think it could happen, given their injuries, given everything.

But it happened. They hung around and even held an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, before McNabb brought them back for the second straight week after being unable to bring them back in similar situations for more than a year.

"I appreciate the guys trying to prove you [media] wrong on these comeback games but I would like to do it a little easier now," said Reid, who personally and crazily dug a hole for his team by opening the game with an onside kick that went terribly wrong and set up an easy Redskins touchdown.

Besides that, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have been interesting here. They have tried to run the ball a little more all season (with two notable exceptions, against Oakland and San Diego). But in these last two games, even while the overwhelming majority of big plays were still pass plays, you are seeing more runs later in games, even while trailing.

The winning drive against Chicago was balanced. The tying drive against Washington featured a key run by Shady McCoy on a third-and-2, and then a 12-yard run by Leonard Weaver on first-and-10. The winning field-goal drive featured six running plays and three pass plays.

This run/pass ratio stuff is greatly overblown with Reid - but this is different here, this approach at the end. And twice now, coming from behind against inferior teams, it has worked.

But it is like everything around the Eagles these days. They're just doing what they have to do to survive.

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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