This one was a game of ifs.
If Nick Foles had thrown the ball way instead of absorbing an 11-yard sack late in the first quarter, then maybe Alex Henery would have connected on a 37-yard field goal instead of whiffing on a 48-yard attempt.
“That was a bad decision by me,” said Foles, who finished 23-of-33 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. “I definitely should have thrown it away in that situation, but I felt like we kept fighting throughout the game. I was proud of the team.”
If Riley Cooper hadn’t dropped a wide open slant over the middle with seemingly nothing but open field ahead of him. It sure looked like an easy six points.
“You know, it happens, wide receivers drop balls, but there’s no excuse,” said Cooper, who also hauled in a 10-yard touchdown. “I caught it and I tried to turn it upfield so fast and I bobbled it. Man, I wish I could have that play back. I really do. I only had two drops this year — it just really came at a bad time.”
All those ifs ands and buts … they were the difference in a crushing 26-24 Eagles loss Saturday night at the Linc. The Saints will march on and play No. 1 seed Seattle next week. Meanwhile, the Eagles will pack their bags and clean out their lockers Sunday at the NovaCare Complex.
“We didn’t play well enough to win and that’s on all of us,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “I got to put them in a better position when I’m calling the plays and I think that’s something that all of us will say. I think there will be a lot of plays that, as a play-caller — and as a person executing them, that we’ll want back.”
True, the Eagles didn’t play their best game. In fact, Kelly’s full-throttle offensive attack seemed like it needed jumper cables for most of the first half. LeSean McCoy (21 carries, 77 yards) was bottled up for just 32 yards in the first two quarters and DeSean Jackson (three catches, 53 yards), blanketed by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, was targeted only once in the first half and went into halftime with no receptions.
Still, with so much bad karma unfolding all around them, the Eagles had a chance to win and advance. After the Saints mounted a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, they sauntered down the field in seven lightning-quick plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by McCoy.
After the two teams exchanged short field goals, Foles found Zach Ertz reaching over the goal line for a 3-yard score. Immediately, Eagles fans regained their swagger, as the Linc was revived with glitzy fireworks and boisterous E-A-G-L-E-S chants.
“I was proud of all the guys in that locker room,” Foles said. “They continued to fight and we continued to fight back on both sides of the ball, and that’s what this team is about. We’re going to fight until the end. It didn’t turn out our way today. The Saints played a great game.”
They did. But credit some more of those ugly, ugly ifs.
If Henery’s short kickoff didn’t result in a brutal 39-yard return on the Saints’ final possession. If Cary Williams wasn’t called for a horse-collar tackle on that same play to lose 15 more yards to set the Saints up at the 48-yard line. If Mychal Kendricks — or anyone wearing green on defense — could have dropped Mark Ingram or Khiry Robinson for losses in the backfield.
If, if, if … if all those ifs had been realities, then maybe the Eagles would have held on for a 24-23 victory and lived to fight another day.
Instead, the Saints ran the ball and bled the clock. The Eagles’ defense couldn’t get off the field and Shayne Graham sailed a 32-yard field goal through the uprights, amid a maze of white rally towels, to end Kelly’s first season in Philadelphia.
“I thought we were going to be a good team the first time I met the guys,” said Kelly. “And I watched it first-hand with them coming to work every day through this whole process. It’s just disappointing right now. I don’t think us getting to the playoffs, or us winning the division, was a surprise to us … we were just really disappointed with the way it ended.”