The Loser Papers 2015 – Edition VIII

Loser Papers Washington Commanders

NFC East Champions! That has a nice ring to it. Last night, in the city where brothers love each other, the Washington Redskins rang the Liberty Bell, and liberated the Eagles and Giants from any remaining post-season aspirations that they might have still harbored. Despite the fact that the Redskins have caught fire at exactly the right time, the pundits remain skeptical, and are already predicting an early exit from the playoffs. The editors of TLP, on the other hand, are predicting more editions will hit the streets in the coming weeks. So let’s get right down to business. Our Division Championship edition kicks off with this submission from The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Eagles’ playoff hopes die in loss to Redskins

Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson kicks his leg up as he exits Lincoln Financial Field December 26, 2015 after the Redskins beat the Eagles 38-24 to clinch the NFC East. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

Zach Berman, Staff Writer

Hope vanished in Philadelphia on Saturday night when DeMarco Murray fumbled a pitch from Sam Bradford and watched the Washington Redskins return the turnover for a touchdown.

It was a cruel and fitting way for the Eagles to accept playoff elimination. Two key pieces of Chip Kelly’s offseason overhaul took part in a play that demoralized the Eagles in a 38-24 loss to the Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field.

The loss ended the Eagles’ postseason chances. It’s the second consecutive season they failed to reach the playoffs. At 6-9, they clinched a losing record for the first time in Kelly’s three years.

Kelly was not prepared to offer a postmortem of the season on Saturday night, instead preferring to focus on the loss. In a fitting development, the lights went out during his postgame news conference. These are the darkest days of Kelly’s time in Philadelphia.

“One hundred percent, it’s all on my shoulders,” Kelly said. “It’s the same thing I said a year ago. It’s unacceptable.”

It came during a season when Kelly was awarded full control of the roster and made sweeping changes. Those moves mostly backfired.

Hope had lingered Saturday even when Kiko Alonso was beaten for a score, when Nelson Agholor dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, when Byron Maxwell watched the game from the sideline. They were also part of the offseason overhaul and failed to play up to expectations this season.

Saturday proved to be a greatest hits of the problems that plagued the Eagles during the last four months. They turned the ball over twice. The receivers dropped key passes. The offensive line could not open holes for the running backs. The defense could not stop the opposing quarterback in the red zone.

Those problems were discussed after other games throughout the season. They were never fixed.

“We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Bradford said. “The same things we were doing in Week 1, Week 2, we’re continuing to do. Good football teams don’t make the mistakes that we make on a weekly basis.”

Washington clinched the NFC East title for the first time since 2012 _ and the Redskins eliminated the Eagles in Week 16 for the second straight December.

Bradford finished 37 of 56 for 380 yards and one touchdown, and he was charged with the fumble returned for the score. The Eagles’ running backs combined for only 41 rushing yards. Zach Ertz led all receivers with 13 catches for 122 yards, but he also had a fumble.

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 31 of 46 passes for 365 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Tight end Jordan Reed caught nine passes for 129 yards and two scores. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who beat Kelly to the postseason after his ouster from Philadelphia, had four catches for 40 yards.

The crucial fumble came with 4 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Eagles trailed, 23-17, and started a drive at their 21-yard line. On third and 2, they wanted to get the ball to Murray around the right edge. But Murray could not grasp the pitch, and Washington defensive back DeAngelo Hall scooped up the ball and ran 17 yards for a 13-point lead. The game was not over at that point, although the Eagles could never get the game any closer.

“I took my eyes off of it,” Murray said. “Just going too fast, got to secure the ball, and it was a bad play by me.”

The Eagles were in that position before the fumble because Murray rushed for a 4-yard touchdown on the previous drive to respond to Washington’s score. When the Eagles forced a punt and reclaimed possession, there was hope in the stadium that the Eagles could take the lead.

Instead, Washington followed the fumble with another touchdown. The 21-point lead was decisive. Even when Bradford found Jordan Matthews for an 8-yard score late in the fourth quarter, the stadium was already emptying out of disgust over a season and game that went awry.

“There’s a lot of things missing,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “It’s obvious by the way we’re playing.”

A 16-10 halftime deficit would have been worse if not for a gaffe that Cousins won’t soon live down. With no timeouts and six seconds left, Cousins dropped to his knee at the 7-yard line. Washington wanted to run a play before the half, but it certainly did not want the clock to expire without a play.

The Eagles began the game with perhaps their best opening drive of the season. They went 80 plays on six plays, with the help of two penalties. Bradford connected with three receivers. Ryan Mathews rushed for a 1-yard score. The stadium had the kind of electricity reserved for a late-December playoff push.

But a game with these stakes doesn’t often include a team with a losing record, and the Eagles showed during the remainder of the half why they have a losing mark. Washington scored on back-to-back first-quarter drives when Cousins twice connected with Reed for scores.

The only scoring in the second quarter came on field goals from both teams, but the Eagles lamented two potential touchdowns that they missed.

The first came when Bradford overthrew Ertz streaking down the right sideline without a body within steps of the tight end. On the next drive, Bradford floated a pass to Agholor in the end zone. The ball hit Agholor in the hands _ and then fell to the turf. What should have been seven points ended up being three.

The Redskins’ field goal came after Ertz fumbled a catch, and they were in position to add more points before Cousins’ blunder.

That play, however memorable, proved inconsequential. Because Cousins was able to take a knee at the end of the game to celebrate an NFC East title on the Eagles’ turf.

The Eagles have a meaningless game next week against the New York Giants before a long offseason. That happened last year, too, and Kelly overhauled key parts of the roster. The end result revealed itself Saturday.

“There’s nothing successful about this season at all,” Jenkins said. “It’s definitely a failure. And it hurts more when you have the opportunity to make the playoffs, and you just don’t get it done.”

And, from The Philadelphia Daily News:

Chip Kelly gets outcoached again as playoff hopes endEagles head coach Chip Kelly on the sidelines after Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (88) made a touchdown in the fourth quarter, during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, at Lincoln Financial Field, in Philadelphia, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly on the sidelines after Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (88) made a touchdown in the fourth quarter, during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, at Lincoln Financial Field, in Philadelphia, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer

On the off chance that you entered Saturday night thinking the Eagles might actually deserve a spot in this year’s NFL playoffs, the boys took care of that in convincing fashion. By the end of a 38-24 loss to the Redskins, the pertinent question was how many of these players and coaches belong on any professional field.

The totality of the implosion that we witnessed last night demands that we start with the coaches. Sixteen weeks into the NFL season and the mistakes are the same: dropped balls, fumbles, receivers dashing through the defense like Donner, Prancer and Blitzen. For all of the moments that you feel like you catch a glimpse of the coach and playcaller that Chip Kelly can be, none of them overshadow the fact that he was outcoached twice by Jay Gruden.

That’s the mind-boggling thing about what we witnessed on Saturday. The Eagles were facing a football team almost as dumb and ham-handed as themselves. And they still got blown out. When Kelly was coaching at Oregon, Jay Gruden was coaching in the Arena League. Whether either one belongs in the NFL is a legitimate question. In a sense, it’s crazy to be typing those words considering all that Kelly accomplished in his first two years in the league. However you feel about the man, the record says he went 20-12 and hosted a playoff game. This isn’t Ray Handley.

Even last night, you watched the ease with which the Eagles marched down the field on their scoring drives and you wondered where the guy who calls those kinds of series spends the rest of the game. Sam Bradford completes all four of his passes to set up a one-yard Ryan Mathews touchdown run and Kelly starts the next series with three straight Darren Sproles runs. Punt. Shocker. It wasn’t just the play calls: the entire personnel package was different, Sproles replacing Mathews, Jonathan Krause replacing Josh Huff, Brent Celek replacing Zach Ertz. On drive three, it was DeMarco Murray’s turn, and the results will probably sound familiar: a run for no gain followed by a run for three yards to set up a third-and-long jailbreak by the Redskins front.
Again: Bradford goes 4-for-4, draws a 22-yard pass interference penalty, the Eagles score a touchdown. . .and then run the ball on five of their next seven plays, none of them using the running back who recorded both first-possesion carries, including the touchdown. This goes beyond Kelly’s failures as a GM, which were once again on display in virtually every facet of the game. The players are the same as they were during the first 15 weeks. Yet an opponent was once again allowed to use simple stunts and delayed blitzes to pummel Sam Bradford whenever he threw. The guards are not good. All of us know that. The left tackle is hurt or underperforming or both. All of us know that. All of us except Kelly, who doesn’t seem to factor either Fact of Life into his gameplans.

Imagine how bad this team would be if Sam Bradford hadn’t turned into a legtimate NFL quarterback in front of our eyes. It’s one of those puzzling things. Under Kelly’s watch, Bradford looks better than he ever has, particularly with his presence and mobility within the pocket. You can’t discount the coaching part of it. But the Eagles are not paying Kelly to be a quarterback coach. They are paying him to win games, and his attempts at winning them this season have too often turned into disasters. Three years into a coach’s tenure, with a roster he picked himself, a team should not be getting beat in all phases of the game as handily as teams like the Redskins and the Lions and the Buccaneers are beating them.

And we are only now arriving at the defense.

(Cracks knuckles).

The problem with Billy Davis is there are too many moments like the one that occurred late in the first quarter of Saturday night’s loss. Not only did Mychal Kendricks end up responsible for covering Washingon tight end Jordan Reed in the middle of the field with no inside help, the Eagles didn’t even get an extra pass rusher out of it. Somehow, they ended up putting their notoriously unreliable inside linebacker on Washington’s best all around receiver without getting an advantage anywhere else. Kendricks wasn’t there because somebody else blitzed, or because Davis stacked the box against the run. He was just there: naked, alone, resposnible for covering a guy who already had receptions of 28 and 22 yards, the last of them for a touchdown. No doubt, things happen. A team playing without its top cornerback — even one as undynamic as Byron Maxwell — is going to offer exploitable matchups more than once. But a quarterback shouldn’t be able to sniff them out with ease on every play, and that’s exactly what Kirk Cousins did throughout the first quarter of last night’s game. The jarring thing wasn’t that the Redskins raced out to a 13-7 lead, it was how easy it looked. This wasn’t a case of Cousins making great throws or his receivers making great catches. This was a case of guys running wide open in the middle of the field, with no defenders around to even contest the receptions.

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ pass rush was as uninventive as always. On one 19-yard third down completion to Reed, Cousins could have strung a hammock between his two offensive tackles and taken a cat nap while waiting for his receiver to clear. We’ve reached the point of self-evidence on the part of the head coach: either his offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator is dropping the ball. They can’t both be doing a heckuva job. Just like the Cardinals the week before, the Redksins managed to inflict plenty of damage on Bradford using basic twists and delayed blitzes. In the third quarter, Bradford overthrew a wide open Zach Ertz for what would have been a long touchdown because a stunting defensive lineman crushed him from the front. Earlier in the game, linebacker Will Compton destroyed him on a delayed blitz where he wasn’t touched. That’s been a hallmark of opposing defenses throughout the season, and in Week 16 the Eagles offense is still struggling to make the necessary adjustment. If it’s a tip-your-cap-to-the-defense type of thing, why can’t Davis make opposing offenses tip their cap to him?

It’s pretty simple. It should never looke as easy as offenses make it look against Davis’ defense. It just shouldn’t. If you think that it should, if you think that there is some excuse, then you have low standards. Again, it’s that simple. We are three years into this coach’s regime. It’s well past time for Kelly to demand as much out of his coaches as he does his players. At the very least, give Davis a GPS and monitor his sleep. Vanilla schemes are for the preseason. If you can’t concoct a scheme that can slow Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden, you should not be in charge of an NFL defense.

Maybe Kelly should say those letters again. NFL. Maybe he should repeat them to himself as he rewatches this game. NFL.

That’s not how it is supposed to look.?

And, as a bonus for this special occasion, one more from The Philadelphia Inquirer, before the game:

A loss to Redskins would be ultimate indignity for Kelly

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Clem Murray/Staff file photo

The list of indignities and insults suffered by the Philadelphia Eagles this season, and by extension their faithful supporters, is not a brief one. Chip Kelly’s strategy for taking the league by storm as both coach and general manager became a tornado that reversed its course and leveled a 10-6 team that appeared to be on the verge of achieving something greater.

Free-agent signings were busts. Trades were unproductive. Injuries piled up. Peevish personnel decisions aimed at players who bucked the system failed miserably. Opponents cackled that the Eagles offense is the football equivalent of “Dick and Jane,” and as difficult to decipher.

Despite it all, the Eagles are still alive to make the postseason. If they can beat a 7-7 team and a 6-8 team in their final two games, the Eagles will be NFC East champions, which is the NFL’s equivalent of a participation medal. Nevertheless, it is still there for them.

Also still there, however, is the greatest insult of them all. If the Eagles lose on Saturday night, they are eliminated, and not eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants, those hated but usually respected rivals, but eliminated by the Washington Redskins, the perennial laughingstock of the division, an organization so perpetually befuddled that it can scarcely defend its own nickname. Yes, the Redskins. Put that at the top of the insult list.

Washington has made just three playoff appearances since Daniel Snyder purchased the team in 1999 and began his reign of terrible ownership. Even beyond that, the Redskins have been in the postseason only four times and haven’t won a game beyond the wild-card round since a Super Bowl win in the 1991 season. How long ago was that? The passing combination of Mark Rypien and Art Monk is now a combined 111 years old.

It isn’t that the Redskins have just been bad on a regular basis, they have been spectacularly stupid in their methods. With the help of a previous general manager named Vinny Cerruto, whose claim to fame was a role in the movie Kindergarten Ninja, Snyder and the Redskins adopted a scorched-earth policy of trading away draft picks to acquire jaded veterans and doling out huge contracts to free agents of the same ilk. This led to such a stop-and-start quality of play that, during Snyder’s 16 years of ownership, the team has had 16 starting quarterbacks (Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Pat Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy, Kirk Cousins) and eight head coaches (Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn, Mike Shanahan, Jay Gruden).

Can it be after all their previous wanderings, the Redskins have finally found the path at the very time the Eagles were supposed to be the team separating itself from the pack? Well, maybe. With much of the praise going to new general manager Scot McCloughan, Washington has at least stabilized. (Although even the general manager situation has a very Redskinsesque tinge to it. McCloughan left previous jobs with San Francisco and Seattle due to personal reasons, has admitted to a sporadic drinking problem, and in September his wife took to Twitter to accuse a female reporter of obtaining information in exchange for sexual favors bestowed on her husband. Let’s see you top that for potential dysfunction, Chip and Howie.)

It could also be that Washington is only afloat because the pool is so shallow. Cousins leads the league in completion percentage, but the Redskins offense is really no better or worse than that of the Eagles, and certainly no more explosive, despite the presence of receiver DeSean Jackson. Washington has 24 completions of 25 yards or more this season, the Eagles have 26. Both teams have a defense ranked among the bottom quarter of the league. It is a matchup of mediocrities who would be scuffling around the middle of any other division.

What the Redskins have done well enough this season is to pick the low-hanging fruit on the schedule. In their three games against teams that currently have a winning record, Washington was 0-3 and was outscored, 46-105. So how good are the Redskins, really? Not very, in all probability, but plenty good enough to beat the Eagles on a given Saturday night.

So, there it is, the ultimate indignity. Not only does it seem Chip Kelly is unable to outsmart the league, his team could be expelled by the perpetual dolt of the classroom. That is what faces the Eagles in this game.

They already know disappointment. They already know embarrassment. What they don’t know is how it might be possible to lose a third straight game to the Washington Redskins for the first time since the Reagan administration. But if there is one more searing insult remaining in this season, they will learn that answer.

And finally, this tasty morsel:


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