Sam Donnellon: Against Redskins, Eagles' running attack gets passing grade

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Eldra Buckley's touchdown helped the Eagles tie the game in the fourth quarter. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

FOR THE second week of the last 3, the Eagles seemed a pass away from mutiny.

This time it was Leonard Weaver yelling at the men with headsets and laminated play cards, tapping his chest after one goal-line fourth-quarter play did not involve him, pounding it repeatedly and screaming when a second-down pass from the 1-yard line floated well beyond the end zone.

"What, he wanted the ball?" Marty Mornhinweg deadpanned after yesterday's 27-24 victory over the Washington Redskins. "Tell him we'll put some plays in for him at the goal line next time."

There are many weeks around here when such a pronouncement would serve only to sand an old and unhealed wound. Run the ball? From the 1?

Why, that's almost as unimaginative as kicking the ball deep to start a game.

Just 3 weeks ago, the Eagles' offensive coordinator justified a pass-saturated loss to the Chargers by pointing out that the Eagles had fallen behind 14-0 . . . with more than three quarters to play.

It was not panic, he said afterward.

It was pragmatism.

The Eagles trailed by eight points yesterday with fewer than 12 minutes to play, after one of the few balls Donovan McNabb threw badly was intercepted by Washington cornerback Justin Tryon and later converted into a field goal. They trailed, 24-16, and had thrown the ball on seven of their nine third-quarter plays, failing to get a single first down.

And when McNabb's third-down pass from his 13 was picked early in the fourth quarter? Tell me you weren't bracing for another week of "Who leaves town first?"

Jason Avant got a lot of credit for saving that game yesterday and he should. Those were two ridiculous catches he made on the ensuing fourth-quarter drive, a drive that started with six consecutive passes. The Eagles moved from their 10 to Washington's 24, mostly via Avant's catches, but this, too, was queasily familiar. Getting to the red zone via the air has been a staple in both wins and losses.

Scoring once there has often been the difference between the two, and the source of civic angst over playcalling and clock-management.

On third-and-2 from the Redskins' 16, LeSean McCoy slid up the middle for 3 yards. Weaver bounced down to the 1-yard line on the very next play, tripped up just before he could extend into the end zone.

Eldra Buckley was stopped from the 1 on the next play. Washington was flagged for 12 men on the field. Buckley took another shot and didn't get in. Then McNabb floated it out of the end zone.

Three weeks ago, against San Diego, it was McNabb voicing his displeasure, churning his hands toward the sidelines as if running. This time it was Weaver, pumping his chest, screaming, glaring.

Once upon a time, Reid and Mornhinweg called their Madden 2009 plays and no one made a sound.

These are not those times.

"I was doing it to anybody who was watching me," Weaver said. "I wanted the ball."

On third down from the 1, the Eagles ran the ball again. This time Buckley went over left tackle and scored. Weaver raised his hands to the heavens. Reid called a timeout to "settle things down" for the two-point conversion. McNabb dropped back and shoveled the ball to McCoy, who immediately stumbled over the bodies grappling in front of him, then righted himself long enough to stretch into the end zone.

Ten plays, 90 yards, in 4 minutes, 18 seconds. Counting the shovel pass, five of the last six plays on the drive were runs, including Weaver's 12-yard dash to the 1-yard-line - on first down.

"You're kidding?" Mornhinweg deadpanned again. "We ran on first down?"

Twice actually, at the end. In all, they ran the ball 29 times, passed the ball 36 times, amassed 381 yards of offense. Often, the run set up big pass gains.

What a concept!

The Eagles got the ball back with 5 minutes, 35 seconds left at their 20. On first down, McCoy ran for 12 yards. Weaver averaged 7.3 yards in his six carries yesterday, setting a career high with 179 yards rushing this season. Of the 10 plays on that winning drive, six were runs. It drained the clock, forced Washington to use all of its timeouts.

It was prudent. It was patient. It was a smart way to salvage a game that began so stupidly, with a flubbed onside kick against a team that has struggled moving the length of the field all season.

The Redskins had one last chance with the ball on their 16 with 1:44 left. They turned the ball over on downs when they could not convert on fourth-and-1 from their 25.

In a bit of needed irony, they tried a pass.

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