LANDOVER, Md. (AP)—The Philadelphia Eagles were outgained, outmuscled and nearly blew an 18-point lead.
They were able to win—and keep pace in the playoff race—because the Washington Redskins also led in two other vital categories: turnovers and bonehead plays.
Rookie linebacker Omar Gaither got his first interception, Michael Lewis returned a pickoff 84 yards for a touchdown, and Brian Dawkins made a crucial fourth-quarter sack in Sunday’s 21-19 victory, keeping the Eagles (7-6) tied with Atlanta and the Giants in the tussle for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.
But the Eagles, who led 21-3 late in the first half, were dominated in yards (415-263), first downs (20-14) and time of possession (37:46-22:14). The defense allowed Ladell Betts to run for a career-high 171 yards, and the offense had only one sustained scoring drive.
“However you dice it up and look at it, it’s a positive—we won the game,” defensive end Darren Howard said. “But if you keep having performances like that, sometimes you’re going to get yourself in a bind and you’re not going to be able to pull out a game. Those are the things we have to fix.”
The loss mathematically eliminated the Redskins (4-9) from playoff contention and ensured Joe Gibbs’ second losing season in three years since coming out of retirement. The Hall of Fame coach will no doubt add a few more aging wrinkles and perhaps question his own decisions when he reviews a game that included 11 penalties; Jason Campbell’s two interceptions; a sack when Campbell tripped over his own lineman; two dropped interceptions; another poor game from cornerback Carlos Rogers; and a potential go-ahead drive that stalled after a first-and-goal at the 3 with the score 21-16 late in the fourth quarter.
“One thing that we’re lacking right now, we’ve got to play smarter,” tackle Chris Samuels said.
On first down, backup running back T.J. Duckett gained nothing. On second down, a receiver slipped, and the pass went incomplete. On third down, the Redskins were whistled for 12 men in the huddle to move the ball back to the 8— Gibbs attributed the error to a shuffling of personnel packages after center Casey Rabach left with a broken left hand.
Then Dawkins made the sack, forcing Shaun Suisham’s fourth field goal with 4:58 remaining. Betts, the team’s most potent weapon, never touched the ball in the sequence. The Eagles took the ensuing kickoff and ran out the clock.
“The thing this teaches you is that we can win in any situation,” Dawkins said. “We definitely need to get better at keeping our foot on people’s throats when we get them down, but the thing that we did defensively, we kept them out of the end zone except for one play.”
Jeff Garcia went 15-for-23 for 164 yards with two touchdown passes in another solid outing to improve to 2-1 as the starter since Donovan McNabb’s season-ending injury. Brian Westbrook had 88 yards rushing and 38 receiving for the Eagles, who opened a rare three-game, late-season road stretch against division opponents. Westbrook is 5 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
Washington’s bright spot was Betts, who signed a five-year, $11 million contract extension Friday and had his second career-high rushing game in as many weeks. Betts, playing regularly following a season-ending injury to Clinton Portis, had 100 yards before the two-minute warning of the first half.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were more than content to benefit from their opponent’s self-destruction.
Fifth-round pick Gaither read Campbell’s eyes for an interception that set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to L.J. Smith. Cornerback Williams James made a perfectly timed play, hitting Chris Cooley while simultaneously batting the ball in the air for Lewis’ long return that made the score 14-3. A 60-yard pass to Reggie Brown set up a 3-yard scoring pass to Donte’ Stallworth.
Undeterred, the Redskins kept churning out the yards, primarily with Betts. Two field goals cut the deficit, and a 34-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El late in the third quarter made the score 21-16, ending a streak of 21 drives against the Eagles in which the Redskins failed to score a touchdown.
But the Redskins couldn’t complete the comeback.
“I’m sorry that we’ve lost this many games,” Gibbs said. “That’s what we talked about this week: We didn’t want to have a losing record. The way you finish is what people remember; it’s the way you fight, even sometimes if there’s nothing but just pride.”
Rabach said he hoped he would be able to play next week, despite the broken hand. … Eagles LB Matt McCoy, who started 10 of the 12 first games but has lost his job to Gaither, was inactive for first time this season. … Redskins WR Brandon Lloyd, who upset Gibbs with a helmet-throwing tantrum in last week’s game, did not start for the first time this season and played sparingly. He caught one 40-yard pass, thrown by Randle El. … The Eagles have swept the Redskins four times in the last five years.