As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I have grown accustomed to watching my team lose in the most heartbreaking ways imaginable. I could rattle off a dozen games right now that I will never get over again for the rest of my sports watching life.
The ninth game of the 2011 season for the Eagles, a 21-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, ranks in the top five most painful defeats of the past decade.
Where to start?
The Eagles were 3-5, fresh off a painful loss to the Chicago Bears in which punter Chas Henry failed on this wide-open pass to special teams ace Colt Anderson that would have likely given the Eagles a victory.
Another victory would all but knock the Birds out of the playoff race, even in the relatively weak NFC East. Thankfully, the Eagles had a home game against Arizona, who was just 2-6 and would be playing without quarterback Kevin Kolb.
However, the problem started for Philadelphia when star wide receiver DeSean Jackson “overslept” for a mandatory special teams meeting on Saturday, November 12th, the day before the game. He was deactivated for Sunday’s game as punishment by head coach Andy Reid.
Starting left guard Evan Mathis, who had emerged as the team’s surprise star offensive player in 2011, had been ruled out with a toe injury. And starting safety Nate Allen was out with concussion symptoms.
Still though, it didn’t seem like a major concern for the Eagles. Arizona was a terrible team using their backup quarterback, the Eagles were better than their record, and there was no way they could lose a must-win game like this.
So of course that’s not what happened.
On just the second play of the game, Michael Vick took a hard shot in the ribs. He stayed in the game and he appeared to be just shaken up. But his play didn’t show that he was completely healthy. And late in the first quarter, Jeremy Maclin was knocked out of the game with a right shoulder injury. He re-entered the game but also suffered a hamstring injury that officially ended his day.
Thankfully, the Eagles took a 7-0 lead on an Asante Samuel interception touchdown and entered halftime leading 14-7.
But the Cardinals tied the game early in the fourth quarter on an eight-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a touchdown pass to star receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The key play in the drive was a defensive offsides by $60 million man Nnamdi Asomugha, who jumped on 3rd and 10 and allowed the Cardinals an extra chance to extend their drive.
The Eagles got the ball back with 11 minutes left, their season literally on the line. Vick was intercepted on 2nd and 20, but the play was reversed after Reid challenged and won.
The next play is one of the most forgotten but one of the most pathetic plays of the entire season for the Eagles. Vick completed a short pass across the middle to Steve Smith, who turned upfield and appeared to have an easy shot at gaining the 20 yards for the first down. But he stopped about a yard short of the first down and fell down to avoid getting hit by Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington. And the Eagles had to punt.
They came up with a huge stop three plays later, as Asomugha stepped in front of a John Skelton sideline pass to give the Eagles fantastic field possession at the Arizona 30-yard line with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
But Vick was knocked out of the game on a run up the middle, bringing in backup Vince Young. The Eagles’ drive stalled, and they managed just a field goal.
What happened next was the definition of slow torture. It was the most predictable 3:13 of the season, as the Cardinals slowly and methodically marched down the field against a tired Eagles defense.
The key play was a 30-yard pass to running back LaRod Stephens-Howling on 4th and 2 from the Arizona 32-yard line.
And the dagger in the heart? Well that came on a 37-yard pass from Skelton to Fitzgerald, who made a diving, skidding reception on a perfectly thrown ball to put the Cardinals on the 1-yard line.
To make things worse, the Eagles and newly appointed defensive coordinator Juan Castillo had rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, making his first career start, covering Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the best and most dangerous wide receiver in the National Football League. That would be Jaiquawn Jarrett covering Larry Fitzgerald when Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel are on the field.
Just think about that for a second. That alone is giving the game away on a silver platter.
After Fitzgerald’s catch put Arizona on the one-yard line, the Eagles allowed a touchdown catch to Early Doucet, the Cardinals’ third third-down conversion of the drive, giving Arizona an improbable 21-17 lead with 1:53 remaining.
The Eagles had one more chance in the game but with Jackson inactive and Maclin out with a hamstring injury, the Eagles might as well have kneeled the ball four straight times. They gained 13 yards on six plays before Vick was intercepted on a deep desperation pass to Steve Smith, officially ending the game and hanging the Eagles their sixth loss of the season.
Besides the brutal loss, the Eagles suffered a trio of costly injuries. Vick suffered a pair of broken ribs and missed his next three starts. Maclin’s shoulder and hamstring injuries prevented him from playing in the next three games. And cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hurt his ankle on a third quarter kick return and also missed three games.
That game sunk the Eagles to a new all-time low in the Andy Reid era.