After winning nine straight games, the Philadelphia Eagles were in good position to earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
Now they just have to worry about winning their own division.
The Eagles, whose nine-game streak ended Sunday, can clinch their third consecutive NFC East title and a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Washington Redskins.
“I can’t worry about that,” coach Andy Reid said Monday, a day after his Eagles lost 31-28 at home to San Francisco in overtime. “You’ve got to move on. We’re not going to dwell on that.”
Before falling to the Niners, Philadelphia had not lost since a 23-21 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 21. The streak tied a franchise record set in 1960, when the Eagles won the last of their three NFL championships.
Despite being assured of a spot in the postseason, Philadelphia now may need a win Saturday to wrap up the division. If they lose and the Cowboys beat the New Orleans Saints, the Eagles would not earn a bye and would begin the playoffs on the road.
Reid is confident his team can handle the pressure.
“We have some character guys on this football team,” he said. “They’ll step up. There won’t be any finger-pointing. They’ll rally and be ready this next week.”
Reid will also hope the Eagles can correct some glaring deficiencies that have been exposed in recent weeks—most prominently, their run defense.
Philadelphia has allowed at least 150 rushing yards in five consecutive games. San Francisco running back Kevan Barlow steamrolled the Eagles for 154 of the Niners’ 209 rushing yards last week.
Barlow, though, was the first player this season to run for more than 100 yards against the Eagles and also have his team win.
“You can’t really explain missed tackles,” Eagles tackle N.D. Kalu said. “Technique is big. The ones I missed, after I missed them I knew I should have used more body than arms.”
The Eagles defense, which was already missing Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent because of a hip flexor, suffered another devastating blow last week.
Carlos Emmons, the team’s best linebacker, went down with a broken fibula. The injury will require surgery, and Emmons will miss the playoffs. Ike Reese will start in his place.
“I’m excited about getting a chance to go out there,” Reese said. “I wish it didn’t come under these circumstances because one of my better friends is hurt and we don’t know what his future is going to hold.
“But at the same time, we all know injuries are part of this game. I’m expected to go in there and step up, do a great job and don’t be a liability.”
As the Eagles try to clinch a playoff bye and prepare for the postseason, the Redskins are merely wrapping up a disappointing season that has cast doubt about coach Steve Spurrier’s future in Washington.
The Redskins, who will fail to match last season’s 7-9 record, have lost two straight and five of six.
Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, however, turned in an encouraging effort last Sunday in a 27-24 loss to the Chicago Bears. After finishing with a zero quarterback rating in a 27-0 loss to the Cowboys a week earlier, Hasselbeck completed 16-of-25 for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
“If we get a win, I’d rather have stats like I had last week,” Hasselbeck said. “When you’re losing as many games as we’re losing and you’re losing the way we’re losing, nothing can cure that like a win can.”
Bruce Smith would like to go out with a win, and another sack.
This will be the final NFL game for the 40-year-old defensive end, who announced he would retire at the end of this season. Smith broke the NFL sacks record with his 199th on Dec. 7, eclipsing the record set by former Eagle Reggie White, but now looks for No. 200.
“It is a nice round number,” said Smith, who will be honored at halftime. “It’s rather catching, as opposed to 199, which sounds like you’re getting something at a discount.”
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