Two games. Two double-digit leads going into the fourth quarter. Two outcomes that were seemingly decided way before the final minute.
Both times, it came down to the wire.
For the second time in as many games, the Eagles won by the skin of their teeth after it appeared they were headed for a blowout.
On Sunday, they escaped the Linc with a 24-21 edging over the Cardinals -- their fourth straight win -- but only after watching Arizona whittle a 17-point third-quarter deficit down to three (see Instant Replay).
Two Sundays ago, also at the Linc, they took a 24-point lead over Washington into the fourth but needed Brandon Boykin’s end zone interception with 24 seconds left to seal the victory.
“When the game’s like that, you sort of have to put a dagger in them,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “You have to execute. It’s really important to come away with points on the board to really help our defense out. We need to play better in the second half, that’s obvious. We need to help our defense out."
The Eagles (7-5) are making their run under Chip Kelly, a first-year coach with no prior NFL coaching experience who has already won more games in his first year than Andy Reid did in 1999.
They’re tied for first in the NFC East with Dallas with a top-five offense and the NFL’s only defense that hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in eight straight games.
Their only issue lately is putting opponents away. When it’s time to put the foot on their throats, the Eagles have looked tentative and unrelaxed.
“We’re learning,” receiver Jason Avant said. “We have a lot of young players. We have a new coaching staff that hasn’t been in the National Football League. We’re learning. That’s the whole thing, as the year goes on we’re constantly getting better. We’re learning how to win in close situations. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
But neither of these games should have been that close.
The Eagles went up 24-7 on the Cards on the opening drive of the second half, an 80-yard, 13-play march that ended with Foles connecting with rookie tight end Zach Ertz for a 24-yard touchdown.
At that point, they had outgained Arizona by more than 100 yards (277-162) and had strung together three consecutive long possessions. They had gone 64, 78 and 80 yards and they totaled 17 points on those three drives.
Then they just went in the tank.
On their next five possessions, the Eagles netted 26 total yards. All five ended in a punt for Donnie Jones, who set a team record for punts downed inside the 20. None of those five possessions went more than five plays or 16 yards.
“We’ve just got to convert and do a better job,” Kelly said. “We’ve done it a couple of games, and against that stout defensive line it’s tough to line up and run the football on them. It’s a good group over there. So, again, it’s something we need to continue to work on and we’ve got to get better at.”
This wasn’t an issue a few weeks ago in Green Bay, when the Eagles chewed up more than nine minutes of the fourth quarter on mostly LeSean McCoy runs in a 27-13 win.
But it’s become a problem. Against better teams with advanced offenses, like next Sunday’s game against the Lions, it could come back to haunt them.
While the Eagles were doing nothing offensively, Palmer threw two second-half touchdowns and had the ball in hands, at his own 10-yard line, with 2:03 to play until the Eagles' defense came up with third- and fourth-down stops.
“Obviously, we just need to get more first downs when we’re up like that,” left guard Evan Mathis said. “There were some situations today where where we could [have] closed them out instead of giving them a few more chances, if we just had made a few more plays.”
They barely made any. Just like the fourth quarter of the Redskins game.
After going up 24-0 on Washington, the Eagles had their next five possessions result in zero points, four punts and one failed fourth-down conversion that led to a turnover on downs.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III threw two touchdowns and converted a pair of two-point conversions and was headed for another until Boykin’s end zone heroics ended the game.
The only difference?
Washington’s defense is one of the NFL’s worst. The Cards entered with the NFL’s eight-best defense.
“I don’t think you can say much about a trend when you play a defense like we just played,” Mathis said. “They are very, very solid. A lot of good players doing a tremendous scheme. They were able to figure out what we were doing a lot. We had to fight against that. It was an uphill battle.”