I'm over it now… it was a difficult 24-hour adjustment period of "ACCEPT IT—DEAL WITH IT—MOVE ON…"
My biggest problem was letting go of the once-in-a-decade long shot that comes around every now and then for a "worst-to-first" team in the NFL. For about fifteen minutes we were that Hollywood story. Imagine the excitement we would be feeling right now if it were the Eagles advancing to play the Carolina Panthers instead of the San Francisco 49ers… I would have relished that matchup.
Life goes on…
So we pick ourselves up and get back in the race… That's life…
I thought I'd put a final stamp on the tough loss to New Orleans by getting the old veteran Brad Wilson of the Lehigh Valley Express-Times to chime in with his traditional "Report Card" grades on the Eagles' wild card game.
Here are Brad Wilson's grades….
QUARTERBACK: Nick Foles wasn't sharp and made some bad decisions. Once again, no interceptions, though. Grade: C.
RUNNING BACKS: Just 77 yards for LeSean McCoy, with a long run of 11? Wow. More the line's fault, though. Grade: C-plus.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Riley Cooper was fine except for killer drop. Jason Avant averaged 4.2 yards per catch; even possession receivers have to do better. DeSean Jackson disappeared for long stretches. Grade: C-minus.
TIGHT ENDS: Not at all bad, but nothing too spectacular, and only 38 total receiving yards. Grade: C.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Dominated by Saints' front three, couldn't open holes for McCoy, didn't protect Foles all that well. A poor effort. Grade: D.
DEFENSIVE LINE: No sacks and Saints averaged 5.1 yards a carry. Little penetration; tackled poorly. Big part of the loss lands right here. Grade: F.
LINEBACKERS: Two sacks, an interception, lots of activity, strong in coverage especially on Jimmy Graham. DeMeco Ryans was best Eagle on field. Grade: A.
SECONDARY: Did nice job on Graham but burned for some key big plays. Patrick Chung just doesn't impress. Grade: C.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Maybe the worst day of the season here. Lackluster coverage, stupid penalties, missed short kick by Alex Henery. Punter Donnie Jones fine as always and Jackson had a nice punt return; two bright spots in a mess otherwise. Grade: D.
COACHING: Chip Kelly was outcoached by Sean Payton. Eagles defense could not adjust to Saints' ground game. Some odd play calls. Grade: C.
OVERALL: The Eagles were one play away from advancing, not bad, but didn't play well for long stretches. A missed chance. Grade: C-minus.
I guess that's how history will remember this game, and I think some of Brad Wilson's grades are overly harsh, but I'm trying to forget it, so I won't fight it
I contacted Brad Wilson to amplify his grading thoughts on the game and the implications of the loss…
Here are his thoughts:
1. Saints head coach Sean Payton concocted a terrific game plan — and stuck with it. Payton wanted a balanced attack that emphasized play-action passes and running the ball, and he didn't depart from the plan even when the Saints trailed the Philadelphia Eagles 7-6 at the half, even when New Orleans was down 24-23 with less than two minutes left: the final drive was nine runs and one pass. Payton thought his offensive line could dominate, and it did, as Saints backs averaged 5.1 yards per carry — a first down every two carries — mostly between the tackles. Running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson complemented each other well: Ingram the pounder, Robinson the slasher, with Darren Sproles for pure speed as a changeup. By running so well the Saints dominated the clock (almost 35 minutes of possession), shortened the game and kept Nick Foles and Co. on the cold, cold sideline. Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis was willing to give up the ground yardage to avoid big plays and New Orleans took what was there. It was a smart plan, and Payton's patience allowed it to work.
2. The Eagles' offensive line didn't live up to the hype. Two Philadelphia linemen, guard Evan Mathis and tackle Jason Peters, were named first-team All-Pros Friday. On Saturday, they played like All-Mediocres. LeSean McCoy hacked out 77 yards on 21 carries, almost entirely on his own, as the line couldn't open holes. Foles was harassed and chased all night and was sacked for huge losses twice. The Eagles aren't going to win too many games when McCoy averages 3.7 yards per carry, and the blame for that rests with the offensive line.
3. Alex Henery needs some competition. The Eagles' third-year kicker had a decent season, but not a great one. A missed 47-yard field goal and short kickoffs really hurt Philadelphia against the Saints. But not once did Chip Kelly bring in a free agent kicker during the season to press Henery. Meanwhile, the Saints, dissatisfied with Garrett Hartley at kicker, cut him in December and brought in the unemployed Shayne Graham, who made four field goals Saturday night. Henery may well win the job again, but some competition never hurts to focus the mind on excellence.
4. Trends don't matter. Such things as "New Orleans has never won a road playoff game" make for interesting reading, but they don't matter on the field. Turnovers are bad, but New Orleans became the sixth team to win a road NFL playoff game with a turnover margin of minus-2. The dome-team and cold-weather trends, endlessly brought up, didn't help the Eagles. Games are won and lost by skill and ability and luck, not by silly numerical fluff.
5. This loss should be the start of an era for the Eagles, not a one-year deal. The Eagles' last home playoff loss, to Green Bay in 2010, started the decline that ended Andy Reid's tenure in Philadelphia. This loss should mark the start of the Eagles as bona fide contenders under Chip Kelly. As linebacker Trent Cole said Saturday, “There is a lot to be proud of. There are a lot of guys that are playing different positions and learning new schemes. For the whole team, guys had to step up, and it was a lot of hard work and we have to hand it to these guys, especially the coaches (who) came in here and made us a playoff team. It is a start for (the coaches) and a start for a lot of the young guys. Everybody has a taste (of the playoffs) and when the time comes next year, wherever they are at, they know what to build for."
I thought Brad Wilson was overly critical of the Eagles' offensive line, since I thought the OL unit did a reasonably good job overall in protection. And it's hard to open up running lanes when the Saints seemed to know exactly what we were going to call on every offensive play. I think Rob Ryan figured out Chippah's tendencies on play calling—heck, he might have even decoded Kelly's silly sideline signals.
All I know for sure is every time we ran the ball, the Saints had their linebackers jamming the box. But every time we tried to pass the ball, the Saints had 6 or 7 guys dropping back into coverage.