PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg emerged from the coaches' dressing room beneath Lincoln Financial Field looking a little sheepish after Sunday's game.
"We made that one closer than we should have," Mornhinweg said, echoing the earlier sentiment of boss Andy Reid. Indeed, the Eagles posted their sixth straight win with a nail-biting 30-27 win over the Denver Broncos. With the playoffs only one game away, the Eagles have the longest winning streak in the NFC (and the second-longest in the league) at a time when every coach is preaching momentum.
This is where the inevitable "but" enters the story. An exception to this happy tale is that Mornhinweg, Reid and several other Eagles weren't happy with how they turned a 27-10, third-quarter lead into a tightrope act at the end.
For all the success the Eagles have experienced this decade (seven seasons of 10 or more victories), they are the ultimate NFL tease. They are an extremely talented and well-coached team that seems to make life harder on itself than necessary.
The win over Denver, which is on track to become the third team in NFL history to start a season 6-0 and miss the playoffs, is the latest example.
"Offensively, we were on fire in the first half, but in the second have we were terrible," Reid said, putting it bluntly. "It was good to see [quarterback] Donovan [McNabb] come through with a big run and throw to [wide receiver Jeremy] Maclin."
But even as the compliments and happiness flowed, it was back to the but …
"We have to do a better job. In the second half, we have to come out better than what we are," said Reid, whose Eagles look to claim the NFC East with a win at Dallas next week. "We're not a very good second-half team right now, so we have to fix that. We'll get that taken care of."
Reid reiterated that later, but there's a haunting reality: They just don't finish very well. The fact that they have no Super Bowl titles to show for an otherwise stellar decade, including five trips to the NFC title game, is the biggest indication of that.
The fact that they turn games like the one Sunday into competitive affairs is further proof.
In one hand, miscues happen. An interception on a sloppy pass by McNabb in the third quarter set up a field goal. A fumbled kickoff later set up a touchdown.
Even more problematic, though, is the way the Eagles play. Unlike so many coaches and teams that go conservative and hurt themselves, the Eagles are the ultimate riverboat gamblers. Reid sometimes calls games as if he were a guy who just won $50,000 at the race track and immediately invested $40,000 of the winnings in lotto tickets.
Up 17 points midway through the third quarter, Philadelphia's next four possessions ate up a total of 3:49 of the clock. Throw in the fumbled kickoff return and that gave Denver six possessions to erase the deficit against an otherwise stout Eagles defense.
The problem is that the Eagles can't – or at least won't – run the ball, even with Brian Westbrook(notes) back in the lineup. On those aforementioned four possessions, McNabb completed one of seven passes for seven yards. He was sacked twice, fumbled (and recovered) a snap and there were two running plays for a total of four yards.
Reid and Mornhinweg have a fairly long history of not running the ball when conventional wisdom would say pound away. The funny part is that the Eagles mixed the run and pass very effectively in the first half (20 passes to 16 runs) on the way to scoring 20 points. What changed in the second half is that Denver ran some double coverages at opportune times, taking advantage of Philadelphia's tendency to throw.
Add in that the Eagles desperately wanted to get Westbrook back in the mix after he missed the previous five games with a concussion. Westbrook ended up getting nine rushing attempts (for 32 yards) and two receptions (for five yards) and generally looked sharp after the long layoff.
But what Westbrook has never done is run between the tackles.
Or as one former NFL running back put it recently: "Brian Westbrook is a great player, but he's not a great running back."
Westbrook doesn't get the type of grinding, clock-draining yardage that makes games like Sunday simpler. This is not about running the ball first. The NFL today is a pass-to-score-run-to-win league. You need to throw effectively to set up the rest of what you do.
Still, there is an element of running the ball that is necessary and the Eagles seem unwilling to try. They even drafted LeSean McCoy(notes) in the second round this year and gave him only six carries for 27 yards on Sunday. That's not exactly the way to get him playoff ready.
Then again, maybe this is all alarmist stuff. Certainly, the Eagles are a whole lot better off than the team they just dispatched. The Broncos had a 3½-game lead earlier this season, but have seen that turn into a four-game deficit in the span of 10 weeks.
The Broncos need help next Sunday to make it into the AFC playoffs. They can actually qualify even with a loss, but face a number of scenarios going into the finale against the Chiefs. If they miss out, Denver would join Washington in 1978 and Minnesota in 2003 as the only teams to start 6-0 and not make the playoffs.
As for the Eagles, you have to wonder if they can be counted on to win come playoff time.
"Not the way we played [Sunday]," said backup offensive lineman Max Jean-Gilles(notes), who was pressed into action because of an injury to starting center Jamaal Jackson(notes). "Not at all. That's not going to do it. We know that. We gotta get it fixed."