PHILADELPHIA — The footballs fluttered toward the end zone, one after the other, as the final seconds slipped away.
Nerves shot through defensive end Stephen Bowen in the fourth quarter’s final minute Sunday. The labyrinthine playoff scenarios and once-absurd hope of a division title for the Washington Redskins were, for the moment, far away.
“You count your blessings,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said, “but at the same time, the work you put in Wednesday through Friday makes you feel like you deserve to have the ball bounce your way every once in a while.”
Closer and closer the Eagles crept, an 8-yard dump-off pass here and a 5-yard scramble there by a quarterback with a sore throwing hand. They raced the clock in a season long since torn apart by problems on the field and off.
The Redskins lived this before, crushed by early-season defensive letdowns late in games: Eli Manning’s 77-yard touchdown pass and Michael Turner’s game-winning run and Andy Dalton’s pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
“These games,” outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said, “are so stressful.”
Then Foles lofted a pass for receiver Jeremy Maclin in the right corner of the end zone. The coverage was busted, cornerback Richard Crawford late and Maclin alone. The football fluttered short. Maclin tumbled and couldn’t pull in the pass.
Nerves fluttered through Crawford. That was too close.
Two plays later, Foles zipped the football off the chest of tight end Evan Moore at the goal line. Signed earlier this week, Moore inexplicably couldn’t corral the pass and it bounced through the arms of safety Madieu Williams and fell harmlessly to the turf.
Eight seconds remained. Hold and the Redskins would need only to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in next week’s regular-season finale to capture the NFC East title. Falter and the postseason chances wouldn’t disappear, but the Redskins would no longer control their destiny.
Foles dropped back, then rolled to his left to buy time. No one was open. The seconds moved in slow motion.
All Crawford could think about was sticking to his man, evasive receiver Riley Cooper, and do anything to prevent him from catching the ball.
Cofield dropped back into coverage, per the play call, then spied the quarterback once his man drifted away. Bowen bounced inside to rush Foles. A torn left biceps limited Bowen in the game, thwarting his range of motion at a position where that is crucial. But he plowed through a narrow opening in the Eagles‘ line as Foles clung to the football, as he had all game long, seemingly unable to decide what to do. As the football left the quarterback’s right hand, Bowen hoped time expired.