Extra Points: Stars failed to align for Eagles this season
Every once in a while, the stars align.
You saw it a few days ago, when Jupiter and Saturn came together in a planetary conjunction to form the "Christmas Star" for the first time in 400 years.
Truth be told, it wasn't all that impressive unless you were peering through a powerful telescope. To those of us who gazed at the sky from Sunset Beach in Cape May Point last Wednesday, it just looked like a bright dot.
You didn't see it on Sunday.
The Eagles were hoping the stars would align in such a manner that they could sneak into the playoffs for a third straight season.
But it didn't happen. Sunday's dreadful, 37-17 loss at Dallas officially eliminated them from playoff contention, marking the first time they won't be in the postseason since 2016.
Considering the way they've played for most of the season, it's probably a blessing. Whoever winds up winning the NFC East is almost certainly headed to an embarrassing defeat in their first playoff game.
Truthfully, the Eagles (4-10-1) didn't deserve to make it. A team that was considered the favorites to win the NFC East never came close to living up to the hype. They opened the season with a 27-17 loss at Washington and were never able to gain any traction. Even if they beat Washington next week, they will finish with their worst record since going 4-12 in 2012.
"It's disappointing," Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills said. "Even from the start of the offseason, we feel and we know that we are a playoff team. It is what it is."
Sunday's game was a microcosm of the Eagles' season.
An injury-riddled secondary played as if it was adhering to CDC protocols and practicing social distancing against the Cowboys receivers.
Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper combined for 10 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
CeeDee Lamb had a 52-yard TD. That possibility exists when you're forced to rely on players who were on the practice squad until a few weeks ago.
The troubles might have been averted if the Eagles' front four had been able to pressure Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton. But that didn't happen consistently. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, their best interior pass rusher, missed most of the game with a stinger. Top perimeter rusher Josh Sweat didn't play due to a wrist injury.
You can get away with it when you're facing quarterbacks like Nick Mullens (49ers), Taysom Hill (Saints) and Ben DiNucci (Cowboys). It's tougher when you're up against Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Ben Roethlisberg (Steelers), Aaron Rodgers (Packers) and even Dalton.
But this loss was on the offense.
They were facing a Cowboys defense that's been generous to opposing offenses. Dallas entered the game having allowed 30 points or more in eight of their previous 14 games. The Eagles hadn't scored more than 29 points in a game yet this season, but 40 points didn't seem unreasonable.
They got off to an encouraging start. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who had missed the previous eight games, literally looked like he hasn't missed a step in scorching the Cowboys for an 81-yard touchdown in helping the Eagles build a 14-3 lead.
Rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts looked confident and poised at the outset, as if he'd deliver his third straight impressive performance while Carson Wentz looked on from the sideline.
But mistakes by the offensive line and coach Doug Pederson proved costly. Tackle Matt Pryor committed four penalties and guard Isaac Seumalo added two. Cowboys defensive lineman Randy Gregory was in the Eagles' backfield more often than running back Miles Sanders.
All total the Eagles committed 115 yards worth of penalties.
Hurts finally came back to earth, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble, though it appeared as if his knee had touched the ground before the ball popped loose.
"I take complete ownership on (the loss)," Hurts said. "Those guys believe in me to get it done. I take it very personally and today I came up short."
Pederson, as has often been the case this season, was also to blame. Dallas had the league's worst-ranked run defense, but he abandoned that part of the game plan in the second half. They rushed for 43 yards on 10 carries in the second half after gaining 108 yards on 19 attempts in the first two quarters.
"My disappointment is how everything has gone this season," Pederson said. "It's not what we expected. But I'm also part of the solution moving forward."
There are critics out there suggesting the Eagles may be better off with a new coach.
Not me. Pederson is a good coach, having led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl Championship in 2017 and two more playoff appearances after that. More importantly, the players trust and respect him.
In my view, the season was so wacky due to the Covid-19 pandemic - Pederson contracted the virus during the preseason - and other factors that he deserves the chance to turn things around and the Eagles back into the playoffs.
Hopefully, he can do it before the next planetary conjunction.