How Far Could The Eagles Have Gone?

It's never easy to look into the crystal ball and see what might have been. You have to figure that the Eagles certainly would have been better had they not had the Terrell Owens controversy and too many injuries to cover. Had all gone right, would the Eagles be playoff bound? We take a look at the losses to see which of those games might have gone the other way.

September 12 - at Atlanta:
Falcons 14, Eagles 10

Let's face it, Donovan McNabb was never truly healthy in 2005. Before the season even started though, Todd Pinkston, Correll Buckhalter, Jerome McDougle and J.R. Reed were already lost for the season. Plus, the defense was adjusting to life without Derrick Burgess, who signed with Oakland.

In this one though, the Falcons simply outplayed the Eagles. This is one that looking back, the Eagles should have won, but simply didn't. A McNabb fumble late in the third quarter gave the Falcons the ball deep in Eagles territory, but Atlanta was unable to take advantage of it. In all, the Falcons gained just ten yards and Michael Vick fumbled the ball back to the Eagles, or things could have been worse. What McNabb's fumble did do though was kill about four minutes off the clock at a crucial point of the game.

The Eagles never really got into sync, perhaps having a bit too much swagger from the Super Bowl and the Falcons beat them - that simple.

October 9 at Dallas:
Cowboys 33, Eagles 10

At this point in the season, McNabb was officially hurt, but still trying to play through the pain. He had been diagnosed with a sports hernia, but still led the Eagles to wins over the Raiders and Chiefs after the official diagnosis. McNabb gave way to Koy Detmer. The keys to this loss were the fact that Dallas shut down the Eagles running game - Brian Westbrook had just 12 yards on six carries - mainly by jumping out to an early lead. A hobbled McNabb just couldn't lead the offense to a comeback as Dallas' defense took over.

Plus, the Eagles defense couldn't figure out how to stop Drew Bledsoe. A little pass rush might have helped (the Eagles didn't record a sack). Bledsoe just lit up the Eagles for 289 yards, completing 24-of-35 passes and throwing three touchdown strikes.

If you could pull anything positive from the game, it was that while the Eagles defense was battered by Bledsoe, they didn't completely break. The Cowboys were stalled and had to kick four field goals or things could have been worse. Had the defense slowed the Cowboys early in the game and not let themselves fall behind 17-0, the Eagles might have had a fighting chance. As it was, the game was over early.

October 30 at Denver:
Broncos 49, Eagles 21

A hobbled Donovan McNabb could get the ball to Terrell Owens just three times in the game, but the connections went for 154 yards and a touchdown. Again, the Eagles were down early and only a one-yard touchdown pass to L.J. Smith late in the second quarter kept the Eagles from being shutout through the first-half. At half-time, the birds were down 28-7 and again, McNabb wouldn't be up to carrying the team. Again, Westbrook was slowed and held to just 48 yards.

The defense looked completely lost. The Broncos would put up a total of 564 yards of offense, including 255 yards on the ground. Jake Plummer went 22-of-35 for 309 yards passing with four touchdowns. There really was nothing positive to say about the defense as the pass rush was non-existent and the Denver ground game simply dominated when they decided to keep the ball on the ground.

Again, the Eagles were simply outplayed and even had McNabb been 100%, there is no guarantee that he could have led the Eagles to a win in an offensive shootout. Nobody knew that when Owens left the field, it would be his last game with the Eagles.

November 6 at Washington
Redskins 17, Eagles 10

By now, Owens was gone and McNabb was running on fumes. The loss to the Redskins would see Hank Fraley leave with a shoulder strain and wind up on IR three days later. Fraley would be a huge loss to the Eagles offensive line that would hamper the club throughout the rest of the season.

The defense was much better. The Eagles actually had more total yards (336-293) than the Redskins. And, the Eagles got an early lead rather than having to come from behind. Down by a 10-7 deficit at the half, the Eagles looked to be in this game against a tough division rival. It was time for all of the Terrell Owens detractors to take a seat. After all, Reggie Brown caught an early 54 yard touchdown strike from McNabb and finished the day with five catches and 94 yards. Perhaps the Eagles wouldn't miss Brown as much as some thought.

While McNabb put on an awesome effort, his 304 yards of passing wouldn't be enough. With 2:41 left in the game, McNabb seemed to be working magic as he marched the Eagles from their own to the Redskins seven yard line. Then, with the ground game being contained, McNabb tried to push one into the end zone and was picked off. The Redskins took over on their own nine yard line and ran out the clock, sending the Eagles home with another loss and a definite sinking feeling.

While the game was close, even had McNabb been healthy and Owens been on hand, it was the lack of a ground game that hurt the Eagles in this one.

November 14 vs. Dallas
Cowboys 21, Eagles 20

The Eagles were seemingly adjusting to life without T.O, plus, they were still undefeated at home. They picked themselves up after their loss to Washington and led Dallas 14-7 at the half on Monday Night Football.

Finally, the ground game was showing signs of life as Brian Westbrook and Lamar Gordon combined for 143 yards. Westbrook opened the scoring with a 15 yard jaunt that put the Eagles up 7-0 in the first quarter. With 3:44 left in the game, the Eagles seemed headed toward a measure of revenge, leading 20-7. Then, Bledsoe engineered a four-play, 72 yard drive that made it 20-14. Still, the Eagles did have a bit of a ground game going and looked to run out the clock with just 3:04 left to play. Then, it happened. McNabb dropped back to pass and was hit as he let the ball go. Roy Williams pulled in the interception and ran 46 yards to give Dallas their 21-20 lead. Perhaps more importantly though, McNabb was definitely in pain and would be unable to continue. In a sign of things to come, Mike McMahon came on and the Eagles offense couldn't drive close enough to give David Akers a shot at winning the game.

The next day, the controversy began. Would the Eagles have won had Detmer replaced McNabb instead of having McMahon try to lead the late surge? It was a question that many fans would find themselves asking throughout the rest of the season as McMahon struggled to complete 50% of his passes and the Eagles slowly slid further and further out of contention. You have to wonder what might have happened had McMahon been healthy and had he had Terrell Owens to throw to. Odds are that this is one the birds pull out if all is well.

November 20 at NY Giants
Giants 27, Eagles 17

Having lost three-in-a-row and three of the last four games, the Eagles desperately needed a win over the Giants. The Eagles were without Donovan McNabb, who was inactive for the game, considering whether or not to have season-ending surgery. It was Mike McMahon at the helm and while the offense couldn't get things going in the first-half, it looked like the defense might come to the rescue. The Giants held just a 10-0 half-time lead and it looked like the Eagles had a shot.

McMahon hit Reggie Brown for a 22 yard touchdown strike in the third quarter and hopes were rising. The two teams swapped field goals and the birds were down just 13-10 at the end of the third quarter. Little did anybody know that a meltdown would occur and would become the story line for much of the remaining schedule.

The teams exchanged touchdowns, with the Eagles score coming on a one-yard run by McMahon. The Eagles were down three with 5:30 left in the game when the defense would stumble. Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress with a 61 yard pass to give the Giants a 27-17 lead. McMahon would go 6-of-12 for 87 yards over the rest of the fourth quarter and put the Eagles in position for a field goal with :19 seconds left. The hope was to kick the field goal, recover an on-side kick and send the game to overtime. Instead, Akers missed a 38 yard field goal and the plan was ruined. The Giants easily ran out the clock and again, the Eagles limped home after a tough loss.

This game hurt the Eagles as Tra Thomas aggravated a back injury that would force him to have surgery and miss the rest of the season. Plus, Lito Sheppard suffered a high ankle sprain and would wind up out for the remainder of the schedule as well. If all of the pieces were in place, the Eagles have a better than average shot at pulling this one out.

December 5 vs. Seattle
Seahawks 42, Eagles 0

After bouncing back to edge Green Bay, the Eagles next had Seattle for a Monday night game. From beginning to end, the Seahawks simply dominated. Seattle's defense was oppressive, returning two interceptions for touchdowns of 72 and 38 yards and picking up an Eagles fumble and carrying that in for a third touchdown. In other words, half of the Seahawks' points came on turnovers and were scored by the defense. Plus, they recovered another Eagles fumble and had two other interceptions.

You may figure that the Eagles defense was bad in this one, but actually, they weren't. They gave up just four more net yards than the offense gained (194 to 190) and were constantly put in tough spots because of the turnovers. This was actually a game where the offense just came apart completely and the Seahawks took advantage of the situation. Brian Westbrook gained just 17 yards on nine carries and for the first time this season, wasn't the Eagles leading rusher. That honor went to Ryan Moats, who gained just 26 yards on ten carries. That shows you how weak the Eagles ground game was and the tandem of McMahon and Detmer completed just 44% of their passes for 145 yards. Westbrook's low totals were due to a sprained foot that he suffered in the first half, causing him to miss the rest of the game. Eventually, the injury would put Westbrook on injured reserve, causing him to miss the rest of the season.

So, if the Eagles were healthy, would the outcome had been any better? You have to figure that McNabb would have provided a lot more in the passing department and hopefully, wouldn't have been picked off four times. Also, had Westbrook been able to continue, perhaps Ryan Moats doesn't fumble, leading to another Seattle touchdown. Even with those suppositions, it's hard to say that the Eagles win this one. Let's face it, Seattle is good and while this would have been a much closer game and could have possibly been an Eagles' win, it's not an easy step to assume that as the outcome.

December 11 vs. NY Giants
Giants 26, Eagles 23 (OT)

Even with all of the injuries that the Eagles had, this was a good game, to say the least. By this point, Owens, McNabb, Fraley, Thomas, Sheppard and Westbrook were all goners. There were a lot of unknown players in the Eagles' lineup, but they put up a fight against the Giants, who were battling for the division lead. The same Eagles team that was down 35-0 at half-time against Seattle was tied 17-17 with the Giants at the half this week. Ryan Moats had two touchdown runs in the first-half as the Eagles sought to put together something resembling a ground game.

While McMahon wasn't impressive, he wasn't hurting the Eagles with interceptions. His completion percentage was still a paltry 44%, but he kept the Eagles in the game. Reggie Brown remained his favorite target, pulling in five catches for 72 yards.

The Eagles took the opening kickoff of the second-half and marched down to the Giants' 31 yard line. From there, they couldn't move any closer and looked to David Akers to hit a 48 yard field goal. His attempt missed and the drive went for nothing. That missed field goal would come back to haunt Akers and the Eagles, since it would have given the birds the win in regulation had all else remained the same. Akers would redeem himself though with a 50 yard field goal with just under two-minutes left in the game.

With just over five-minutes left in overtime, McMahon would fumble away the ball deep in Eagles territory. The Giants would keep the ball on the ground, gaining nine yards and giving Jay Feely a shot at a 36 yard field goal that he put through the uprights. Again, a late turnover cost the Eagles a victory. This is the third loss of the season that can be chalked up directly to not having their regular starting lineup on the field, although it's tough to imagine how the guys that were playing for the Eagles kept this one so close.

December 24 at Arizona
Cardinals 24, Eagles 21

Call it momentum or whatever you would like to call it, but after their heartbreaking loss to the Giants, the Eagles came back to beat St. Louis on the road. While the playoffs were out of reach, the Eagles were 6-8 and hoping to finish the year with a .500 record, which would have been a decent accomplishment considering the injuries that they endured. To do that, they would have to beat Arizona on the road and then win the finale at home against Washington.

The game in Arizona seemed to definitely be one that the birds could win. After all, the Cardinals weren't a juggernaut and it seemed like all they had to do was somewhat contain the Arizona passing game to win. Since the Cardinals didn't have much going in the way of a ground game, the Eagles could concentrate on quarterback Josh McCown and receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. A good plan if the Eagles could have executed. Instead, McCown lit up the Eagles for two touchdowns and 294 yards passing.

The Eagles found themselves down 20-7 headed to the final quarter. Both teams put the ball in the end zone on their first possession of the fourth quarter and then traded punts for the next ten-minutes of the quarter. The Eagles took over on the Cardinals' 49 yard line with 1:45 to go, trailing 27-14. McMahon hit Reggie Brown for a couple of nice gains and a pass interference penalty helped out the Eagles attack. McMahon would score on a one-yard run and the Eagles had hope, but an on-side kick was recovered by Arizona and they ran out the clock, killing the Eagles' hopes of a .500 season.

This is a loss that the Eagles aren't likely to suffer if the regulars are healthy.

January 1 vs. Washington
Redskins 31, Eagles 20

It looked like the Eagles were going to pull off an upset and severely hurt the Redskins' chances of reaching the playoffs. The Eagles led 17-10 at the half and 20-17 at the end of the third quarter.

Rookie Bruce Perry was doing a nice job of running the ball, but on a third-and-fifteen play early in the fourth quarter, McMahon tried to hit Perry with a pass and it was picked off. The Redskins took over on the birds' 22 yard line and Clinton Portis covered the remaining ground on one carry to give Washington a 24-20 lead. The Eagles came right back and were mounting a march toward the Redskins end zone when McMahon bobbled a snap. He was able to fall on the ball, averting disaster. On the next play though he was hit as he was bringing his arm back to pass and again lost control of the football, with the Redskins recovering. The Eagles defense kept the Redskins from doing any further damage though and when the Eagles offense took the field on the next drive, Koy Detmer had replaced McMahon.

There were many who thought that Detmer should have taken over the reins of the offense much earlier in the season. Many thought McMahon shouldn't have ever taken over for McNabb and that the team would have functioned better under Detmer. On this final Sunday of the season though, Detmer couldn't move the offense and this time, he would be the one that would fumble the ball into the Redskins' hands. This time though, the 'skins defense picked up the ball and ran 39 yards to put the game away. Another meltdown had occurred.

It's relatively safe to assume that the Eagles' regulars wouldn't have fallen apart the way their backups did. It's also relatively easy to assume that they would have been more productive against a Redskins team that didn't play all that well, especially early in the game. Without the meltdown, the Eagles could have won this one and it's likely that with the regulars, they would have won this one.

The bottom line: Every team is going to have injuries and the good ones are deep enough to cover them. Certainly, the Eagles had more than their fair share of injuries in 2005 and probably no team could have suffered the loss of the key players that the Eagles did and still have been successful. There is no doubt too, that the Terrell Owens "situation" hurt the club. Five of the Eagles' losses were certainly winnable games had the regular lineup been intact. Even with the regular amount of injuries, you have to figure that at least four of the losses could have been covered even had the Eagles suffered just the usual injuries, although it's never an exact science to handicap what might have been.

It's not out of line to figure on a 10-6 season had the birds been healthy. With that record and a split against division foes, rather than a sweep by the division foes, the Eagles would have made the playoffs and been right where the Redskins are now, looking at a trip to Tampa Bay.


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