Defeat says a lot about Eagles

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It was a statement game, all right, just like they said it would be.

The Eagles' 36-31 loss to the Giants that put their season on the brink made a heck of a statement, and it was this: The Eagles are not good enough. And worse, it might be something bigger than coaching, than talent, than play calling. The Eagles have become a team that shrinks in the big game and stumbles in the big moment.

"When you play championship football, you find a way to finish," Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "When you don't find a way to finish, you're not playing championship football.

"There's no use talking about how good you are. You are what your record is. It's discouraging."

The Eagles, once again, are weirdly less than the sum of their parts. Last year, the Eagles were the only NFL team to rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense to not make the playoffs. They were better on paper than on the field.

This year the Eagles are fourth in the league in scoring. They've scored 71 more points than they've allowed -- the second-best point differential in the NFC and third in the entire NFL. But when they play a tight game against a good team?

The Eagles can't get there.

They are 0-4 this season in games decided by six points or less. Dating to last season, the Eagles are 1-10 in games decided by six points or less -- the lone win a 10-6 victory Dec. 6 over Dallas. That's a big enough sample size to mean something.

"We'll get one here," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. "It will happen."

Good to know. Asked why the Eagles can't win close games, Donovan McNabb said: "If I knew the answer to that, it wouldn't be happening."

Some of this is philosophy, the way the Eagles are built. Everyone else in the NFC East is getting bigger and stronger. Nobody else is playing a backup defensive tackle at fullback.

The Redskins, Giants and Cowboys all have developed power running games, although Dallas has an arguably weaker run-blocking line and a commitment to the pass to placate Terrell Owens (and by "placate," we mean: Keep him from freaking out).

The Eagles' defensive front looked pretty good before being eviscerated by the Giants. Through nine weeks, the Eagles had allowed 3.54 yards per rushing attempt (seventh in the NFL), had racked up a sack or an interception on 12.4 percent of opposing passing plays (third in the league) and allowed their opponents to convert on third down just 33.6 percent of the time (fifth in the league).

Then the Eagles got crushed by the Giants, pushed around up front (219 yards rushing, 4.9 yards per attempt, one sack and one interception in 32 pass attempts). The Eagles got driven backward on nearly every play.

Reid said Monday he was confident he had the people in place to stop the run, to compete with division foes who are plainly going big and aiming to push the Eagles around up front (Washington rushed for 203 yards Oct. 6 and averaged 4.6 yards per carry).

But, again, philosophy -- the Eagles are smallish up front by design, built to speed-rush the passer. On both sides of the ball, the Eagles believe it's too hard to walk the ball up the field, too hard to put together long,plodding drives. They're built to make plays in the passing game.

All of this just makes it weirder that the Eagles ran the ball twice on third and fourth downs with the game on the line. You know how many times the Eagles have run on third-and-3 this year? Once -- Sunday -- with their season in the balance.

McNabb -- who for his part took a delay-of-game penalty on the Giants' 8-yard line in the fourth quarter, inexcusable for a veteran quarterback -- supported the coaches' decision, but added pointedly: "I want the ball."

Hey, Don -- don't say it to us. Say it to Marty Mornhinweg. While the Eagles' offensive coordinator huddled with the head coach and plotted the two final plays, McNabb played catch a few yards away. Then McNabb walked over and got the play.

That was the time to say: "I want the ball." That was the time to take control of the game and stake a claim to this thing. Instead, the Eagles went quietly.

This is on the head coach. He's built a team that goes quietly. He coaches a team that shrinks from the big moment. Continually losing close games is a reflection of the head coach.

And Reid may not be able to scheme his way out of this one.

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