Under the lights, Eagles fade away

Eagles' DeSean Jackson drops a third quarter pass against Chicago Bears' Tim Jennings on Monday, November 7, 2011. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Eagles' DeSean Jackson drops a third quarter pass against Chicago Bears' Tim Jennings on Monday, November 7, 2011. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer) (Daily News/Inquirer)
Posted: November 08, 2011

Not just the Eagles, but all NFL teams, pride themselves on trying to play their best when the lights are on and the other players around the league are sitting around giving them their props.

Maybe it only seems this way, but the Eagles actually have been able to do it most of the time. Going into Monday night's featured matchup against the Chicago Bears, the Eagles had won 11 of their previous 15 prime-time games, and many of those were impressive - most recently last week's thumping of the Dallas Cowboys.

Impressive isn't a requisite for a win, but that has been their pattern. Until Monday night against the Bears.

If they had pulled out the win, the Eagles wouldn't have thrown it back for being ugly, and that's what it would have been. This game might have been prettier with the lights out, featuring a spate of turnovers by each side and poor stretches of quarterbacking by both Michael Vick and Jay Cutler.

The only thing the Eagles pulled, however, was another second-half fade, losing for the fourth time this season when holding a lead entering the final period. Chicago drove to a touchdown and a field goal on its first two drives of the fourth quarter, coming back from four points down to take a 30-24 win that puts a season crimp in the Eagles' plans.

They have fallen into a 3-5 hole that leaves them three games behind the New York Giants in the NFC East. Maybe that isn't insurmountable, but with half the season gone, it isn't very good, either.

Combine a deflating home loss to the Bears with the Giants' late heroics against the New England Patriots, and this feels like a week in which all the momentum from wins over Washington and Dallas has been swept away and deposited in the Meadowlands.

They had every chance to survive against the Bears, thanks largely to two Chicago turnovers that led directly to a pair of Eagles touchdowns earlier in the game. To be fair, the sloppiness was equal-opportunity, and the Bears got 10 of their points after Eagles turnovers. It was that kind of game, with mistakes playing as big a part as great plays, and with the fast turn of events occasionally dictated by the slow-motion dissection of the replay booth.

For the Eagles offense, this wasn't a night for the time capsule. Vick continued a season-long struggle to complete passes to wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the bolts of lightning that can illuminate even a day game. Going into the fourth quarter, with the Eagles holding their tenuous 24-20 lead, Jackson and Maclin had just one catch apiece on the evening as Vick had clustered 11 of his 15 receptions to that point to tight end Brent Celek and running back LeSean McCoy.

After the Bears drove to a touchdown to start the fourth quarter and regain the lead, the night and perhaps the season were hanging in the balance of what Vick and the offense could invent for the final 12 minutes of the game.

It didn't have to come to that, but the Eagles had squandered some of their chances in the first half. Vick threw a bad interception in the second quarter with the Eagles driving at the Bears' 19-yard line. The attempt was thrown right at linebacker Lance Briggs, who tipped the ball and sent it squarely into the hands of safety Major Wright.

The Eagles also lost a first-half possession when Jackson fumbled a punt return, effectively handing the Bears a touchdown in the process. No, it could have been much easier, but the Eagles scored on their first two possessions of the second half, held a 24-17 lead, and appeared to be poised to take control of the game.

That didn't happen, however. Chicago sandwiched a fade-pattern touchdown to Earl Bennett around a pair of field goals and, suddenly, the game was coming down to just one more possession for the Eagles. A touchdown and an extra point would win the game. Anything less would put the season in jeopardy.

Vick scrambled for one first down and found Jackson for another, but that's where it ended for the Eagles. On fourth down from just inside Chicago territory, Vick found Maclin on a crossing pattern, but the throw went high over the line instead of through the lanes between the defender, and the effort to stretch and catch the ball caused Maclin to lose his footing and fall just short of the first-down marker.

The fans sighed and left quietly. The Eagles are now 1-3 at home this season, and the fans have seen this disappointment before. As the losses pile up, however, the lights are going out on the season. Even when the games aren't at night.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns,

and recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford. Follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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