PHILADELPHIA -- They had talked trash. Lots of it. Ugly stuff about body bags and stretchers. Silly stuff about knocking off the San Francisco 49ers. Ridiculous stuff about winning the Super Bowl.
But when it came time to back up the tough talk in the playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles performed miserably yesterday.
The Eagles lost to the Washington Redskins, 20-6, in the first round of the National Football Conference playoffs, pulling off their own version of a three-peat -- three straight first-round playoff losses. Add "Revenge of the Hogs" to the Eagles' losing hits collection. This one probably was even uglier than the Fog Bowl loss to the Chicago Bears two years ago and the upset defeat against the Los Angeles Rams last year.
"This was the worst," running back Keith Byars said. "This is a bitter pill to swallow. It doesn't make any sense."
In an apparent act of desperation, Eagles coach Buddy Ryan benched quarterback Randall Cunningham for three plays in the third quarter, replacing him with weak-armed veteran Jim McMahon. It was a disaster. McMahon threw three wobbly passes, the Redskins got great field position at their 45 after the punt and went in for a touchdown and a 20-6 lead.
Cunningham, who had screamed at Eagles offensive coordinator Rich Kotite on the sidelines before the benching, still seemed enraged after the game.
"It was insulting," said Cunningham, who was 15-for-29 passing for 205 yards.
Asked how the move would affect his relationship with Ryan, Cunningham said: "I've got to adjust, and I've got to be a man."
Ryan said he made the move to jump-start his team. The Eagles completed only one pass to a wide receiver, as the Redskins unveiled a defense based on containment. Washington rushed Cunningham from the ends, double-covered the wide-outs and funneled the Eagles' offense up the middle.
"Things weren't going worth a damn, so why not try something?" Ryan said. "You can't make changes next week -- you've got to make them now, so we did. That's the way I play."
The Eagles also had defensive problems. They proved that without a scheme, all the swagger amounts to nothing. The Redskins stopped the Eagles' pass rush cold. No sacks. Tackle Joe Jacoby and tight end Don Warren took care of Reggie White, and center Jeff Bostic shoved around Jerome Brown, whose right arm was rendered useless by a torn rotator cuff. Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, with an assortment of play fakes and rollouts, had enough time to find holes in the secondary.
"Our whole defense revolves around putting pressure on the quarterback," safety Wes Hopkins said. "The difference between this game and the last time we played the Redskins [a 28-14 Philadelphia victory] was their quarterback was able to throw the ball."
Hopkins said the Eagles also failed to take advantage of opportunities. A 66-yard pass to tight end Keith Jackson and a fumble recovery at the Redskins' 26 resulted in only six points for Philadelphia in the first half.
"When you get to single elimination, you have to find a way to win," Hopkins said. "When you have to make the plays, you have to make the plays. We just haven't in the playoffs."
The Eagles, who fancy themselves the "Beasts of the East," now may have to cope with a new tag: losers.
"After this, people will say we can't win the big one," safety Andre Waters said, "but I don't think they're right. I think we can win in the playoffs, but we have to get over the hump."