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Despite their big afternoons, DeSean Jackson and Mike Vick failed to connect on two big plays down the field that -- like many other missed opportunities Sunday -- could have swung the game for the Eagles. (AP)
It’s natural enough to think about what might have been -- but wasn’t.
The Eagles had opportunities. Lots of them. Chances on offense and defense and special teams. Most of them didn’t work out. That has a lot to do with why the Birds got beat, 33-30, in their home opener at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (see Instant Replay).
It was there for them -- the game, the victory, an unexpected 2-0 start that would have accelerated the already out-of-control Chip Kelly hype train. Instead, the afternoon came to a quick and jarring stop because of the Eagles’ glaring and frequent miscues.
It started early, on the Eagles' second drive. On 3rd-and-goal from the 2, Michael Vick rolled left and stared down an open James Casey running along the goal line. Casey appeared to haul in the throw as he fell to the ground, but the ball ended up hitting the turf. No catch.
"I don't think that they did necessarily too many things to stop us,” Jason Kelce said of the Chargers. “We did too many things -- mistakes, missed assignments, penalties -- they really killed drives for us."
DeSean Jackson put up crazy numbers: nine catches, 193 yards and a touchdown. It was his fifth career game with 150 or more yards receiving. That tied him with Tommy McDonald for the most in team history. And the touchdown he had? It went for 61 yards. That was Jackson’s 15th score of 60 yards or more, 12th-most in NFL history (see 10 observations).
Vick put up crazy numbers: 24-for-37, 428 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 122.4 quarterback rating, 23 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. It marked a career-high passing performance for Vick, surpassing the game where he threw for 416 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.
Jackson had a big game. Vick had a big game. It wasn’t enough. They needed more.
Vick missed Jackson twice on big plays that might have changed Sunday’s outcome. Or maybe Jackson failed to connect with Vick. Either way.
Late in the second quarter, with under a minute to go and the ball on the Eagles’ 31-yard line, Vick unleashed a long pass down the right sideline. It looked like Jackson had it, but only one foot was inbounds. Incomplete.
That missed opportunity led to another. The Eagles eventually worked their way into Chargers’ territory on that drive and set up a long field goal, but Alex Henery failed on a 46-yard attempt that would have tied the game at the half.
In the third quarter, with about 10 minutes left and the ball at the Eagles’ 21-yard line, the Eagles went deep again. Vick unfurled a bomb to Jackson again. And it was incomplete again. That time, the ball slipped off Jackson’s fingertips and fell to the Linc turf. A sure touchdown was suddenly nothing more than another disappointing what-if.
“You’re not going to hit all of them,” Vick said. “You’re lucky if you get one.”
They did get one. They still weren’t lucky -- at least not lucky enough.
They had yet another shot at a big play, one that appeared to initially go the way the Eagles wanted. Initially. In the third quarter, with the Eagles down 10, Vick zipped a nice ball to Jackson. Jackson caught it. Jackson ran. Jackson scored what should have been a 37-yard touchdown. Should have been. Wasn’t.
The play was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on rookie offensive tackle Lane Johnson. Instead of a touchdown that would have pulled the Eagles within three points of the Chargers, the Birds settled for a field goal.
"I thought I was on the line, but apparently I wasn't -- had two of them -- and it cost us the game,” Johnson said. “Just stupid penalties on my part. It's unacceptable."
Johnson continued: “We put some points on the scoreboard and obviously had some touchdowns called back -- some due to my penalties -- so we left some points out there."
They left some fumbles out there, too. Despite all those close (but not close enough) plays, the Eagles still had an excellent chance to win the game. In the fourth quarter, after a two-yard Vick touchdown run that put them up 27-23, the Eagles kicked off. Henery boomed the ball 69 yards to the San Diego 11 where it was scooped up by Fozzy Whitaker.
Whitaker took off and gained 28 yards. Then he lost the ball. A lot of people had a shot at securing the fumble -- including Henery (it rolled right past him) and Colt Anderson, who briefly flopped on it before losing it again. The Chargers recovered -- the ball and the game. The Eagles didn’t.
That was the story. That’s how it went. The Eagles had it -- until it slipped from their grasp in a symbolic but also very real way.
“Offensively, obviously, had a touchdown called back, had a drop, missed a field goal,” Kelly said, rattling off the mistakes. “In a game like this, that’s decided on a field goal at the end of the game, you can nitpick and take a look at every play. But to me it’s not nitpicking. One play is the difference in a game. We talk about it all the time. You don’t know when one play is going to impact a game.”
One play. Or several. The result is the same either way.