Bowen: Banged up Eagles fall short again

NOT THEIR day. Not their year.

In the final two minutes Sunday, Carson Wentz moved the Eagles 61 yards in nine plays, got them to Washington's 14-yard line with 21 seconds left, and dropped back to throw his 47th pass of the afternoon.

If life really was fair, if extraordinary effort really did bring success, as all those motivational posters that hang on office walls imply, Wentz would have lasered a touchdown pass and the Eagles would have won for the first time since Nov. 13.

But as Wentz looked to the left, Redskins rushing linebacker Ryan Kerrigan breezed past Matt Tobin without slowing down. Tobin was the Eagles' fourth option at right tackle, with Lane Johnson suspended, Halapoulivaati Vaitai out with an MCL sprain, and converted guard Allen Barbre having gone down earlier in the afternoon with a hamstring injury.

On the previous play, an incompletion to the right side of the end zone, Tobin's left knee was rolled up on by stumbling Redskins defensive end Chris Baker. Tobin then hobbled back to the huddle, something Kerrigan surely noticed.

"There was nobody else," Tobin said later. "I had to play. He just beat me around the edge. I don't know if I was late off the ball, if I didn't kick wide enough . . . He's got a lot of sacks (58.5, since being drafted 16th overall in 2011) for a long time. Good player."

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The only other active offensive-line reserve was Josh Andrews, a guard and center, not a tackle. So Tobin took his stance, Kerrigan flew past him, and as Wentz drew the ball back, Kerrigan slammed into him at a full run. Fumble. Washington's Trent Murphy recovered. And the final score of the Eagles' 27-22 loss was set, with 12 seconds remaining.

"I saw him late. I felt him late, I should say," Wentz said. "My eyes were on the other side."

Four losses in a row, eight in the last 10 games. Now it would take an improbable finishing streak of three wins to beat last season's 7-9 record. For all of Sunday's grit (which might have been enough to win a week earlier in Cincinnati, had it been present), the corners again weren't quite good enough, the weapons again were too meager. Fatal flaws tend to be, well, fatal.

"It was a hard-fought game," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "But it didn't swing in our direction."

Despite what Eagles coach Doug Pederson's called "probably (Wentz's) best game of the year." Despite the Eagles getting a clutch 41-yard, fourth-quarter field goal with their third long snapper, Trey Burton, flinging the ball back to Donnie Jones. Despite Leodis McKelvin, bouncing back from being horribly burned on an 80-yard DeSean Jackson touchdown, taking a 29-yard Kirk Cousins pass to the house, just when Washington seemed to be asserting control. Despite the Eagles hanging in with just one running back, after Wendell Smallwood suffered an MCL sprain and Darren Sproles was viciously blasted by Deshazor Everett while trying to catch a punt. Despite rookie Isaac Seumalo filling in as the emergency right guard starter after Brandon Brooks took his second unscheduled sick day in three games.

"That's the max effort, max effort," Pederson said. (He might have said it twice just to make up for what he said last Monday.) "This team responded. This team did an outstanding job today. We fought all the way to the end."

As Pederson noted, they almost literally fought, after the Everett hit. Everett also took tight end and backup long snapper Brent Celek out of the game with a stinger, but Everett was available for the final drive, while Wentz had to make do with no Celek, and with Ryan Mathews as the only pass-catcher out of the backfield. Mathews did not catch a pass. Sproles caught a 4-yard touchdown pass just before the half and is a potent pass-game weapon.

The rookie quarterback wasn't fazed.

"He just comes in, says, 'All right guys, let's go march down the field.' Calls the first play, and it was like clockwork," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said of the final drive, which featured three of his eight catches. "Every single ball, I think hit me between the '8' and the '1' . . . He doesn't really change. The pressure doesn't get to him."

The fumble came on the Redskins' fourth sack of the day, at least the 10th hit on Wentz. A ridiculously jumbled offensive line fought the good fight but was outmanned.

"It's real hard" to see Wentz take such punishment, left tackle Jason Peters said. "The only thing I can do is block the guy I gotta block. Half the time, I don't even know he's getting hit. I turn around and he's on the ground, I try to help him up."

Peters turns 35 next month and has never won a playoff game, in eight seasons here or five before that in Buffalo. But Wentz makes him hope he is here next season.

"Carson's got a lot of upside," Peters said, after Wentz completed 32 of 46 passes for 314 yards, a touchdown, and an early end-zone interception that took crucial points off the board. "I feel like if we get the right pieces in here to help him a little bit - I'm not saying we don't have 'em, but we don't have the firepower we normally have every year. That just is what it is. But at the end of the day, he's got a lot of upside and I would definitely come back to try to protect his blindside again."

Can Wentz reach his potential before Peters is discarded or retires?

"I hope so. I really hope so," Peters said. "I really want a ring. It'd be sad to play all these years and not even get close."

Wentz shrugged off Pederson's assessment, that this was his best game, all things considered.

"Hard to say. We lost. That's what really matters," he said. "We didn't finish at the end."

Wentz didn't show any frustration over the hits, over the way he had to step and slide around the pocket - he seemed to do that much better than before, by the way - to find a passing lane.

"I think it's just tough for (the makeshift offensive line) because they don't get reps together," he said. "The o-line is such a unit thing. I thought they played their tails off . . . I thought they played a great game."

Pederson said that Wentz, a week after his most inaccurate game of the season, "came out and proved today that this is why we drafted him, this is why we drafted him to be our guy."

Tight end Zach Ertz caught a season-high 10 passes for 112 yards, in the wake of his week of getting roasted for a non-block on Vontaze Burfict in last week's loss at Cincinnati. But Ertz also was the goat on a pivotal play, a 72-yard Sproles punt-return touchdown that came back because Ertz couldn't stop and banged into Washington's Derek Carrier from behind.

"The guy kind of stopped in front of me and my momentum carried me into him," said Ertz. "I apologized to Darren and I apologized to the guys. It just hurts."

The infraction might have cost the Eagles more than seven points. The ensuing drive ended in a punt, on which long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a wrist injury and left the game. Dorenbos, who tied Harold Carmichael's franchise record of 162 successive starts Sunday, will see a hand/wrist specialist Monday, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

Meanwhile, Celek tried to replace Dorenbos and snapped it on the ground for a 50-yard Caleb Sturgis field-goal attempt. Jones, the holder, picked up the ball and was tackled at the Redskins' 46, giving them excellent field position for a touchdown drive that made it 21-13 with seven seconds remaining in the third quarter.

But McKelvin's pick-six gave the Eagles life. Had they redeemed the bad-snap field goal earlier, they would have needed only another field goal at the end, when Wentz was sacked on second-and-10 from the 14.

"We were close so many times in the red zone," where the Eagles were 1-for-4, Ertz said. "When we're able to turn those long drives into touchdowns, we're going to be a really good offense."


bowenl@phillynews.com

@LesBowen

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