Surprising Cardinals neutralize Eagles offense in 26-10 victory Philadelphia hurt by 6 turnovers

September 09, 1991|By Jack McCaffery | Jack McCaffery,Special to The Sun

PHILADELPHIA -- After the first week, the Philadelphia Eagles thought they had found a certain discipline, a fresh, no-mistakes approach to football preached with vigor by new coach Rich Kotite.

Yesterday, during a 26-10 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals before 63,818 in the home opener at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles discovered a lot was missing besides injured quarterback Randall Cunningham. It seems that long-awaited precision was, too.

After promising to cut back on penalties, the Eagles committed 10 yesterday -- 72 yards' worth. Phoenix, meanwhile, committed two. Further, Kotite's no-nonsense offense fumbled six times, losing five. And Keith Byars was touched for an interception on a slapstick halfback-option play into traffic.

All of which dropped the Eagles to 1-1.

"Offensively," Kotite said, "we've got to relax a little bit. We're making mistakes we shouldn't make. Obviously, that's my responsibility. But we'll all get better and get back on track. It's one game. I think we can learn. We certainly did not play the way we played last week."

The Cardinals took advantage of Greg Davis field goals of 52, 28, 22 and 42 yards, a swarming defense that handcuffed Jim McMahon and an average completion of more than 36 yards by quarterback Tom Tupa. Though Tupa completed six of 19 passes, they went for 218 yards, showing the Eagles' secondary as subject to the home-run ball as it has been in the past five years.

"If we can continue to play football like that," winning coach Joe Bugel said, "we are going to have a chance every Sunday afternoon. Tom was great today. He was really magnificent. He didn't take any chances and had just that one interception. He used the clock well and he was a good manager on the field.

"He is a real winner."

That is what the Eagles expected from McMahon, who rallied them to a 20-3 victory in Green Bay last week after Cunningham suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Yesterday, McMahon completed 19 of 34 passes for 173 yards, was sacked three times and did not throw a touchdown pass. McMahon did not pass with any particular zip, and Eagles receivers stood waiting for passes Cunningham would deliver fractions of a second sooner.

Yet McMahon and the Eagles may have been closer to victory if not for a controversial third-quarter play.

With the Cardinals leading, 19-10, McMahon threw a 10-yard pass to Fred Barnett at the goal line. The fans erupted at the sight of an apparent touchdown, even though Barnett fumbled in the end zone, Phoenix's Aeneas Williams recovering.

The officials ruled Barnett fumbled before crossing the goal plane, and the replay officials could find no evidence to prove the decision wrong. Thus, instead of closing within 19-17, the Eagles still trailed by plenty late in the third, and Phoenix owned possession -- and a significant emotional lift.

"I definitely feel I was in the end zone," Barnett said. "That's why I relaxed.

"If I hadn't fumbled it," he added, "we would have won."

The Eagles had 17 first downs to Phoenix's 10. The Cardinals were 0-for-10 on third-down situations. Philadelphia had more net yards, 307-297. But it was those particular errors -- the ones owner Norman Braman wished would go away with former coach Buddy Ryan -- that kept Philadelphia from winning.

The send-them-home play, for example, came with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left. Freddie Joe Nunn sacked McMahon deep in Eagles territory, forcing a fumble. Rod Saddler recovered and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown, with Davis converting the PAT for a 26-10 lead.

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