WASHINGTON -- Their best passes came not during the game, but afterward, in their locker room at RFK Stadium. Reconciling their fourth defeat in six games this season, the Philadelphia Eagles passed over the truth with Montana-to-Rice precision.
They talked about bad officiating, about getting no breaks all season, about it being just a matter of time before, as tight end Keith Jackson put it, they "turned into a monster that wins a lot of games in a row." Coach Buddy Ryan explained with a shrug that "we'll still be in the playoffs," as if there was no doubt about it.
Nary a word was spoken about the unassailable truths that are bringing down the Eagles this fall. That their running game is pitiful. That their defense is overrated. That they're undisciplined. That their offense isn't of playoff mettle. That, if not for quarterback Randall Cunningham, they might be just so much )) fodder.
Those topics didn't come up after the Redskins' 13-7 victory yesterday. It wasn't just a smoke screen, either. The Eagles truly believe they're just a bad bounce or two away from making a Super Bowl run. The power of positive thinking has run wild here. The Eagles have never won a playoff game under Ryan, but to hear them talk, they're the defending NFL champs.
"This is an excellent team," Jackson said.
"It's a playoff-caliber team," Ryan said. "All we need to do is win some football games."
Right -- Buddy knows logic -- and we can expect the avalanche of wins any day now, right? Sheesh. The Eagles can't run the ball or protect the passer worth a whit, but they lead the league in overestimating themselves. They should write a self-help book: "How to Accomplish Next to Nothing and Still Walk as Tall as Joe Don Baker."
Ryan deserves credit for getting his players to believe in themselves, but the myth has superceded reality. The team that lost to the Redskins yesterday got only 40 yards rushing from its backs, allowed five sacks and collected none, committed stupid penalties at critical junctures and displayed an offense that often resembled a schoolyard scheme drawn in the dirt, everyone going long.
The bad part is that it wasn't an unusual performance. If you take away Cunningham's scrambling, the Eagles are averaging just 69 rushing yards a game. They have no balance on offense. And the five sacks they allowed pushed their season total to 22, high for a team with such a mobile quarterback.
Ryan insisted that "we have the right people here," but the plain fact is that his offensive line is inadequate, his backs marginal at best. His linebackers and defensive backs aren't the best, either. The defense, reputed to be one of the NFL's best, has allowed an average of more than three touchdowns a game. That's mediocre.
Still, even their stabs at humility are laced with chest-beating and excuse-making. "Maybe we aren't the best thing since sliced bread," offensive lineman Ron Heller said. "We believe we are. This may sound like a cop-out, but we lost today because the other team played well. We're OK. Our problems aren't big. There's no need to worry."
If the players all weren't as big as Broad Street, you'd want to shake them and tell them to look in a mirror. But Ryan has talked a big game from the day he arrived in Philly five years ago, and he's been at it for so long that the notion is a fixture in the players' minds. (And remember, this team lost at home to the Colts a few weeks ago.)
What were the excuses they gave yesterday for losing to a Redskins team that was not at its best? For being 2-4 and behind expansionlike Dallas in the standings? Brace yourself. A trip to the Eagles' locker room, especially after a loss, is a trip to the NFL capital of whining, wheedling and paranoia.
Cunningham: "There's a lot of politics in football. Whenever we go to Dallas or Washington or someplace else, the officiating always seems to be for the other team. It isn't intentional. It just happens."
Jackson: "We just aren't getting any breaks. The big thing today is that we couldn't get the ball in the end zone. But I don't think we've gotten a call since I came into the league three years ago. We never get the benefit of the doubt."
(Author's note: The Eagles were penalized seven times yesterday, the Redskins six. For the season, the Eagles have committed 11 more penalties -- or 1.8 per game -- than their opponents. Author's opinion: Is that the difference between 2-4 and 4-2? Hardly.)
Back home, the people in the stands aren't blaming the officials ZTC or bad luck. They're blaming Cunningham. He was booed unmercifully in the second half of last week's Monday night game, which the Eagles won. It's ridiculous. He's a terrific player getting little help.
No, the problem is more fundamental than that. Let's face it: As an offensive coach, Ryan is a terrific defensive coach. He did succeed is pulling the Eagles up from mediocrity to the playoffs, but now they're clearly regressing, the defense not as tough, the offense perpetually confused. Ryan put in a new offense a year ago, and everyone is still using that as an excuse -- yet another -- when they lose.
"We knew it would take time to learn this offense," Cunningham said, as if it were printed in Latin. Ryan said much the same. Hey, he isn't an inept coach, not nearly, but he's hasn't done nearly as well as he thinks he has, and his inflated self-opinion has trickled down to the players. They're just another team. Average. Ordinary. They couldn't carry the 49ers' water buckets.