A narrow loss last Sunday night continued a disturbing trend for the Philadelphia Eagles, who keep coming up short in close games. Surprisingly, they may be able to learn something from the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.
The Eagles look to rebound from their latest narrow defeat and make a move in the NFC East on Sunday when they visit the Bengals, who pulled out a close victory in their last game to snap their season-opening eight-game skid.
Philadelphia (5-4) suffered a 36-31 home loss to the NFC East-leading New York Giants on Sunday night, falling to 1-9 in games decided by less than a touchdown over the last two seasons, including 0-4 in 2008. Since the beginning of last season, the Eagles are 12-3 in games decided by seven points or more.
“Each one is a little bit different,” coach Andy Reid said Monday. “The bottom line, though, is that you have to win those games and you have to stay aggressive and know that you are going to put the ball in the end zone when you have an opportunity, and we can do a better job there.”
The Eagles have had their chances. Trailing 24-20 against Chicago in Week 4, they had a second-and-goal at the 1 with 5:03 left, but three straight runs failed to produce the go-ahead score.
The following week, the Eagles were down 23-14 against Washington with 9:08 left. They had second-and-one at the Redskins 2, had to settle for a field goal and never regained possession.
Trailing by five points with the ball at their own 45 and 1:55 remaining last week, they handed the ball to Brian Westbrook on fourth-and-one and did not convert, sealing their third division loss in as many tries.
“When you lose three games by three feet, you have to make sure that you work things out and you get that taken care of, and I have a lot of trust in the players and my staff that we will do that,” Reid said.
Pulling out a few close games could go a long way toward determining how the NFC East shakes out. All four teams in the division have winning records, and Philadelphia’s struggles in winnable games have dropped it into a last-place tie with Dallas.
“We put ourselves in a tight pinch, a very tight pinch,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “Basically, to us right now, every game will be a playoff game. For the other team it might not be, but for us it’s going to be playoff intensity because that’s where we put ourselves.”
The Bengals (1-8) don’t have the same sense of urgency because they most likely fell out of the playoff picture with their 0-8 start. But Cincinnati is certainly encouraged after ending that skid with a 21-19 victory over Jacksonville on Nov. 2 before last week’s bye.
“We were starting to let teams think they could come in here and walk over us,” said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was penalized and ejected for his role in a scuffle with Jacksonville’s John Henderson. “I told the guys the last thing we are going to do is be a joke or a punk to somebody.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick got his first victory as a starter, completing 21 of 31 passes for 162 yards, a pair of touchdown passes to Chad Ocho Cinco and one interception in his fifth start in place of injured Carson Palmer, who will sit again this week.
“Relief is one of the biggest words,” said Fitzpatrick, who totaled two touchdowns and five interceptions in his first four starts.
The Bengals also got 104 rushing yards from Cedric Benson for their first 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Benson, a first-round draft pick in 2005 whose career was at a crossroads when he was cut by Chicago over the summer, will likely get more opportunities as Cincinnati’s new featured back.
“He is very quick and generally very deliberate in where he goes with the football,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He has great vision, and he has the speed and quickness when he does get to the next level—better than the guys we’ve had in there before him this year.”
While Lewis is excited about the possibilities for his new running back, the Eagles can’t help but be disappointed with the production they’ve gotten from Westbrook, who’s missed time with injuries and ranks 33rd in the NFL with 655 yards from scrimmage after finishing first in that category in 2007.
The Eagles, who were eighth in the NFL in rushing last season with 123.4 yards per game, are 22nd this season with 98.3.
“I know this group of guys, talking about my offensive linemen, tight ends, receivers, the fullbacks, can get it done, as well as myself,” said Westbrook, who says he’s still not 100 percent healthy. “We’re going to work hard and do everything we can to get the job going.”