Eagles Couldn’t Close in Music City
(973espn.com) - Jim Schwartz is fond of baseball analogies so we'll play along.
On Sunday in Nashville, the Eagles closer (the team's defense) just didn't have his best stuff, allowing three fourth-down conversions in Tennessee's game-winning drive during overtime.
Philadelphia had its chances on all of them but the first, a 4th-and-15 conversion at midfield, was the most egregious miscue, a stunning failure in the kind of situational football the Eagles have typically excelled in during their rise into an NFL powerhouse over the past year plus.
The goal in that type of situation is to drop to the sticks, force something underneath, rally to the tackle and leave the field victorious.
Instead, Taywan Taylor somehow snuck behind Corey Graham, the 33-year-old two-time Super Bowl winner who has seen it all during his career, and snatched the football for a 19-yard gain.
Graham, who was starting at safety for the injured Rodney McLeod, is trusted by Schwartz because he usually plays such assignment-sound football but this was an "elementary" mistake as described by Graham himself.
Perhaps 4th-and-15 doesn't sound like a big deal to an organization which once famously converted a 4th-and-26 but this was the longest conversion in an overtime period in nearly a quarter century.
“It’s just a dumb play by me,” Graham admitted afterward. “I gotta be a lot smarter than that and play the situation. I got to get at least in position or make him (Mariota) make a spectacular throw. It was just a stupid play."
By no means did that end the game, however, as four plays later the Birds were celebrating at least until the yellow was spotted on the field as Sidney Jones hooked Nick Williams.
The poor technique by the young cornerback resulted in a pass interference call which gave the Titans new life at the Philadelphia 40-yard line.
From there consecutive negative plays for Tennessee -- a 4-yard stuff of Derrick Henry by Malcolm Jenkins and a 5-yard Haloti Ngata sack -- again had the Eagles on the cusp of victory until Mariota scrambled up the middle for 17 yards, setting up yet another fourth down, this one a 4th-and-2.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel originally sent Ryan Succop on the field before reevaluating things and deciding he didn't show up for a tie.
From there Vrabel trotted Mariota back on the field, who converted again with a screen pass to the shifty Dion Lewis, who avoided Jordan Hicks behind the line to gain thanks to a borderline block and rumbled all the way to the Philadelphia 15.
Moments later, the 5-foot-9 Avonte Maddox slipped a bit in coverage and Mariota took advantage with a toss to the lengthy Corey Davis for the win.
Maddox, a rookie fourth-round pick from Pitt, was playing safety in the team's dime package, another tweak because of McLeod's injury and the first time he's played the position.
Jenkins obviously didn't like the result but would take the situation again and again.
“At the end of the day, if that’s the situation we’re in at the end of the game, we’ll take that every time,” the Pro Bowl safety said.
Sometimes the closer just doesn't have his best stuff but tomorrow is another day.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen