Heading into a week five game against the Buffalo Bills, the Philadelphia Eagles were in all-out panic mode. They had lost three straight games, all by blown fourth quarter leads, and their defense was in complete disarray.
Buffalo was 4-1 and one of the best teams in the NFL. Their victories came when they crushed the defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs, used a huge comeback to stun the Oakland Raiders, and defeated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a shootout.
The Eagles, on the other hand, basically needed a victory to save their season. Starting 1-4 was all but a guarantee to miss the postseason, which is what the Eagles faced if they couldn’t defeat the Bills.
The Eagles trailed 21-7 at halftime, at which point I buried them for the first of many times this season. An interception touchdown put Buffalo up 28-7 but the Eagles staged a furious fourth quarter comeback, cutting the deficit to 31-24.
The game appeared to be all but over when Michael Vick threw his fourth interception of the game with 2:00 left, but the Eagles’ defense stopped Buffalo on three straight running plays, seemingly giving them one last opportunity to get the ball back and try to tie the game.
What happened next is a play that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
The Bills faced a 4th and 1 from their own 49-yard line, and although they lined up to go for it on fourth down, everybody in the stadium knew that they were just trying to draw the Eagles offside. If it didn’t work, they would punt, giving Vick and company the ball back.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard grad, called the signals but nothing happened for about five to seven seconds.
Then the unthinkable happened. Defensive end Juqua Parker, the oldest player on the team and an NFL veteran of 11 seasons, jumped offside, ending the game and dropping the Eagles to an extremely embarrassing 1-4.
It was the only time I’ve ever seen head coach Andy Reid show a lot of emotion, and I’ll never forget the image of Reid throwing his arms up in the air in disbelief. The radio call of Eagles’ announcer Merrill Reese is just as priceless.
With 2010 first round draft pick Brandon Graham expected to return from the PUP list after week 6, there were actually some who speculated that the Eagles would cut Parker, a backup, after the game. But he remained with the team for the rest of the season, although his costly offside penalty will easily override his two fumble return touchdowns as his lasting image of the 2011 season.
Parker’s play sums up the entire season for the Eagles. Stupid, undisciplined, and embarrassing.
*Author’s note: The Bills finished 6-10. The Eagles finished 8-8.