With just less than 12 minutes left in the second quarter Monday night, Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy limped from the sideline down a tunnel to the Lincoln Financial Field visitors’ locker room, and the Eagles were confronted with a dismaying prospect: Mark Sanchez might knock them out of the playoff race again. Only this time, he wasn’t playing for them.

McCoy had suffered a broken fibula, just two weeks after the man he had been backing up, Alex Smith, had broken his right leg in two places in a particularly ghastly injury. And because the Redskins are not a franchise known for sound decision-making or thorough planning, they had just one other quarterback on their roster. That quarterback was Sanchez, whom the Redskins signed a day after Smith went down, who had spent two seasons with the Eagles as a sometimes starter, and who had not appeared in an NFL game since New Year’s Day 2017.

To say Sanchez carried a unique history into the Eagles’ 28-13 victory Monday would be understating matters. Over his first four NFL seasons, all with the Jets, he had gone from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the valley, from maximus to gluteus maximus. The Jets had traded up to select him with the fifth pick of the 2009 draft, so persuaded were they that he was their next franchise quarterback – their first, really, since Joe Namath. The Jets reached the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, and he won four road playoff games over that time, beating the following quarterbacks in succession: Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. He was a handsome, winning quarterback in the nation’s biggest media market. Things were good.

Things did not stay good. The Jets fell apart. His play regressed. He crashed headfirst into the backside of an offensive lineman during a game against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night 2012, and the most humiliating error in NFL history was born: The Butt Fumble. His tenure with the Eagles traced a similar arc over a shorter period: He stepped in for Nick Foles, who had broken his collarbone, in 2014, beat the Cowboys with a marvelous performance on Thanksgiving, and lifted the Eagles’ record to 9-3 … before they lost three straight games and missed the playoffs.

Brandon Graham sacks Mark Sanchez after the former Eagles quarterback entered the game for the injured Colt McCoy.
TIM TAI
Brandon Graham sacks Mark Sanchez after the former Eagles quarterback entered the game for the injured Colt McCoy.

The following season, he replaced another injured starter, Sam Bradford, at a moment when the Eagles were 4-4 and still within striking distance of the postseason, and they … lost three straight games and missed the playoffs. He had been without a job this season before the Redskins – who have a couple of offensive coaches, Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh, who had previously worked with Sanchez – brought him in. Colin Kaepernick wishes he had such loyal mentors.

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That McCoy would be injured, forcing Sanchez into Monday’s game, seemed some measure of karmic good fortune for the Eagles in a stretch of their season set up to benefit them. They were coming off a victory last week over an aging, declining Eli Manning. And at 6-6, with a playoff berth no longer just a pipe dream, they can look ahead to another have-to-win game next Sunday against the Cowboys, who have a terrific defense but, in Dak Prescott, an inconsistent quarterback. The Eagles should have beaten the Giants and Manning, and they could beat the Cowboys and Prescott, but a loss to Sanchez and the Redskins would have been cause for the sort of wholesale midseason changes that are usually the province of desperate National Hockey League organizations. Consider all the quarterbacks at the Linc on Monday night, and Sanchez might have been the sixth-best, behind Carson Wentz, Foles, McCoy, Westwood One Radio’s Kurt Warner, and ESPN’s Steve Young.

As it was, it was bad enough that, on Sanchez’s first play Monday, the Eagles were ill-prepared for the most obvious of play calls: a handoff to Adrian Peterson. Peterson zoomed 90 yards for a touchdown, giving Washington a 10-7 lead, and Sanchez was efficient enough in the first half – 6-for-9 for 62 yards, without a turnover – to keep the Redskins within a point, 14-13. But if there’s one thing you can count on with Sanchez, it’s that, in any game he plays, there will be at least one sequence in which he resembles a 5-year-old kid who has eaten too much candy before bedtime.

Sure enough, early in the fourth quarter, Sanchez rolled right and zipped the ball into the arms of Eagles linebacker Nate Gerry for an interception. “Who was he throwing to?” someone said in the press box afterward. Sanchez finished with just 100 passing yards. The Redskins did not score in the second half. This time, in a game they needed to win, the Eagles were fortunate enough to be the ones who didn’t have to account for the kind of question that Mark Sanchez often elicits. The kind that has no good answer.

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