Eagles good enough to get the calls

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cards' Daryl Washington is restrained from officials near end.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cards' Daryl Washington is restrained from officials near end.
Posted: December 03, 2013

IF BRUCE ARIANS is a man of his word, and if he speaks with candor today, his day-after press conference could reverberate through the league.

Four spurious calls went against his Cardinals in the final 4 minutes of their 24-21 loss in Philadelphia. Two penalties on Arizona took away an interception and a sack. Two non-calls stalled the Cards' last drive.

Things went so badly, Arians must have thought he was still coaching Temple.

"I can't make any comments on officiating . . . until I watch the tape," Arians said.

Arians had hastily broken from his postgame handshake with Chip Kelly, had sprinted to the locker-room tunnel in order to arrive at the same time as the departing officials. Perhaps Arians, a fine teacher of the game, felt compelled to educate the refs on consistency, or maybe fairness.

Or maybe he also told them that he had to watch the tape.

It is 5 hours by plane to Phoenix. These days, coaches review games on iPads on the way home.

It would have been interesting to ask Arians about the officials when he landed last night.

Those four calls might have shifted the balance not only in yesterday's game, but also in the playoff race. The Cardinals fell to 7-5, just behind the Eagles (also 7-5) in the race for the second wild-card slot, which the 49ers own for the moment. The win gives the Eagles the tiebreaker advantage over Arizona.

The win, and how it unfolded, indicated more than the Eagles' emerging capacity to hold on to a lead late. It indicated that the league and its officials consider them more than a Flavor of the Month; more than Machine Gun Kelly's mad experiment.

The Eagles are perceived as legitimate. Nick Foles is considered elite. Bradley Fletcher and the rest of the defensive players are expected to stop teams late.

That's how teams get the calls to fall their way in games like this.

For a new coach forming a new team with an innovative system, there is, perhaps, no bigger step to make. This might have happened against the Cowboys or the Giants or the Lions. The Cardinals just happened to be in the way.

"We learned a ton of lessons today about playoff intensity on the road," said Arians.

"We learned, when it comes down to that, we can't make mistakes. We have to play that much more perfect every time. Every play," said linebacker Matt Shaughnessy. "Play better, play cleaner. Especially on the road."

Translation: Officials tend to favor the raucous home crowds of good teams late in games.

That's not a condemnation. That's reality.

And that's what hurt the Cardinals.

Arizona had fought back from 24-7 to 24-21. Four minutes remained. The Eagles had the ball at their 34.

Then Honey Badger got caught with his paw in the pot.

Tyrann Mathieu (a.k.a. Honey) legally jammed Jason Avant at the line of scrimmage but appeared to release Avant as Avant continued his pattern. Meanwhile, Foles threw a pass away from Avant, at DeSean Jackson; Patrick Peterson intercepted it.

It would have been Foles' first interception of the season . . . except Honey Badger was called for holding the back of Avant's jersey, which nullified the interception.

"I know I got a pretty good jam on him at the line of scrimmage. From there, I just tried to get my body into his body," Mathieu said. "It's unfortunate that they made that call on Patrick's interception."

"It was definitely holding," said Avant, straight-faced.

Now, Avant is a man of God. He spoke on a Sunday evening, no less. Perhaps his faith led him to temper his assertion: "In this league, we don't know what holding even is anymore. Thank God for them being able to have eyes at the end of the game."

Those same eyes regenerated their scales when the Cardinals eventually regained possession.

On second down and fourth down, from the Cards' 15, Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher lined up against Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd.

To say there was significant contact would be an understatement. What Fletcher twice did to Floyd beyond the line of scrimmage made Mathieu/Avant look like heavy petting.

"I'm not surprised," Floyd said. "A lot of the calls weren't going our way."

The second non-call on Fletcher gave the ball back to the Eagles on downs, but a stout stand by the Cards put the Eagles at third-and-4 from the Cards' 9 with 1:42 to play. The Cardinals had no timeouts.

Foles rolled out right, hoping tight end James Casey would be rolling, too, and open. But Casey, who initially blocked Shaughnessy, could not disengage. Shaughnessy pushed him aside and sacked Foles, and did so out of bounds, stopping the clock. That would have forced the Eagles to kick a field goal, then give the ball back to Arizona . . . except Shaughnessy was called for holding Casey.

"He was blocking down on me. I was fighting pressure, pushing him outside. He tried to release. I threw him down, just escaping the block. Then went after the quarterback," Shaughnessy said. "I thought it was a sack. That's what I thought.

"I'm not in the ref's head."

Daryl Washington was in the ref's face, quickly and loudly.

"That's a bad call, ref!" screamed Washington, a 6-2, 238-pound linebacker. At least, that's what Washington said he screamed; the frustrations of the four incidents, and the finality of the last one, pushed him over the edge. Washington was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Like Arians, he managed to arrive at the locker-room tunnel at the same time as the officials. Washington was still furious, still gesticulating, though he swears he didn't swear at them.

"It's probably a good thing I didn't say anything, in that situation, honestly," Washington said. "At the end of the day, we needed to make more plays."

Yes, they did.

The last play of the four spurious plays meant the least. Had the sack stood, the Cardinals likely would have gotten the ball back trailing by six, with about 1 minute to play, with 70 or 80 yards to go and no timeouts. That's a hard way to win. By then, the Eagles had earned the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, the Cards had taken a four-game winning streak into the game, but they had done so on the strength of a good defense and the strong running of Andre Ellington, absent yesterday with a knee injury, and Rashard Mendenhall. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer's 16 touchdown passes were offset by his 15 interceptions.

Palmer threw two more interceptions yesterday. He was sacked five times. He fumbled on the first sack, at the Cardinals' 25, which led to the Eagles' first touchdown. He got hot at the end, but he looked pathetic at the start.

Palmer targeted Larry Fitzgerald only twice in the first half. Fitzgerald is the best player on the team. He caught both of those passes, one of them a 43-yard touchdown.

No doubt, the Cardinals coached and played poorly. No doubt, they deserved to lose; they as much as admitted it. The Eagles earned the benefit of that doubt.

Will Arians agree?

The time is yours, Bruce.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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