Sunday night's 35-31 loss was cruel. The Eagles showed extended stretches of dominance on both offense and defense, but made vital mistakes, suffered awful injuries, and came up just short in the end. Let's break it down with some statistics:
14 = The number of targets by Matt Ryan to his wide receivers, for a meager 71 yards.
14 = The number of targets by Ryan to his tight ends and running backs, for a much-less-meager 123 yards. The Eagles defense stifled the wide receivers once again, keeping them to only 5 yards per target. But the linebackers (and Jarrad Page) proved they can't be trusted to cover at all. They let an aging Tony Gonzalez and "No Afterburner" Michael Turner rack up a ridiculous 9 yards per target, a completion percentage of 71 percent, and 3 touchdowns.
4 = Tackles for a loss by Trent Cole. It's a testament to the Eagles ineptitude at linebacker that Cole could have such a beast of a day, and the defense could still struggle to stop the run. I couldn't see them on every play, but Casey Matthews especially took horrendous routes away from (not to) the ballcarrier.
222 to 98 = Number of first half yards gained by the Eagles compared to the Falcons. If you're ever asked how it's possible to out-gain an opponent by more than twice the yards and still be down going into the half, there's only one answer: turnovers. Without one of those fumbles by Michael Vick, the Eagles run away with the game.
1 = Helmet-to-helmet roughing the passer personal foul on Todd Herremans. If Michael Vick doesn't come out of the game with a concussion at the end of the third quarter, there's no question in my mind that the Eagles win. On that drive, the Eagles extended their come-from-behind lead to 10 points, having scored 3 touchdowns in the last 4 possessions. Meanwhile, Atlanta was floundering. On their three possessions prior to Vick's injury, the Falcons ran 7 plays for 0 yards, an interception, and 2 punts. After, they had 2 drives with 19 plays, 170 yards, and 2 touchdowns to retake the lead. That's called "new life."
And yet, despite everything, if Jeremy Maclin catches that 4th and 4 pass from Mike Kafka (the next AJ Feeley?), the Eagles still might have won this game. What does that tell us? That the Falcons were lucky to sneak out with a win. If Vick comes back healthy and Andy Reid benches his in-over-his-head rookie middle linebacker, I'd make them a two touchdown favorite in a playoff rematch.