- - Sunday, September 8, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Redskins got off to a fast start Sunday in their season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. The home team took a while to get in gear, perhaps due to excessive confidence and insufficient motivation against a division foe predicted to dwell in the cellar.

But by afternoon’s end at Lincoln Financial Field, normalcy had returned. Philadelphia resembled a Super Bowl contender and the ‘Skins looked like a candidate for the No. 1 draft pick. The Eagles put Washington in its place and coasted to a 32-27 victory.

The difference between the first 30 minutes and latter 30 minutes was stark, highlighting the gulf that separates these teams. In a sense, it mirrored last season, when Washington started 6-3 but won just once down the stretch.

The culprits in 2018 were an injury at quarterback and a collapse by the defense. On Sunday, starting quarterback Case Keenum escaped unscathed but defensive end Jonathan Allen was hurt in the first quarter and didn’t return, while both sides of the ball caved during a second half dominated by Philadelphia.

Of their seven possessions after Allen departed with a sprained left knee, the Eagles scored five times. Making matters worse, backup defensive end Caleb Brantley suffered an ankle injury that ended his day, too, leaving the D-line with just three healthy players.



“They took our bulls off the field,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “When you don’t have that surge up front, (Eagles quarterback Carson) Wentz is just back their freaking and extending drives.”

For a squad among the league’s most injured in recent seasons, and a medical/training staff facing internal and external criticism, this was a most inauspicious start. But the ‘Skins did themselves no favors with self-inflicted wounds like penalties and blown coverages, pillars of losing that are all too familiar.

No one was imagining a defeat when Washington went up 17-0 early in the second quarter. Keenum was gashing the Eagles defense, finding wide-open receivers or hurdling tight ends. The latter was Vernon Davis. He leaped over a would-be tackler en route to a 48-yard touchdown on the game’s opening possession, then was overcome by emotion and thoughts of his grandfather, who passed away on Saturday.

Keenum’s beauty of a 69-yard bomb to rookie Terry McLaurin, and a pair of Dustin Hopkins field goals gave Washington four scores in its first six possessions. They looked like the Maryland Terrapins for a while but couldn’t sustain it once the Eagles realized that the regular season was underway.

“The game is 60 minutes,” Philadelphia defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We started kind of flat but got a wake-up call when we were down 17-0.”

The Eagles executed a sleeper hold after intermission. They maintained possession for 21 of the second half’s initial 27 minutes. Washington was limited to 10 snaps while watching its 20-7 lead deteriorate into a 32-20 deficit. Penalties on offensive linemen doomed Washington’s first three drives of the second half, none of which included a first down.

Truthfully, the end result was pretty as much expected, although Washington’s TD with a half-dozen seconds left allowed it to cover the spread (despite the inability to cover DeSean Jackson). There was plenty of reason for optimism in the locker room — typical for 0-1 teams that enjoyed modicums of success — but Washington has been selling confidence and positivity for a long time without much to show for it.

“I think there’s a lot to like about the offensive performance with Case Keenum and the young receivers,” coach Jay Gruden said. “But defensively, we have too good of personnel to play like that.”

You certainly couldn’t tell by the 436 total yards allowed, 123 on the ground. You couldn’t tell by Wentz’s 72% completion rate and 313 passing yards, or Jackson’s eight catches for 154 yards with a pair of long touchdowns.

You could almost hear the Eagles saying, in Dennis Green fashion, “the ‘Skins are who we thought they were!”

But unlike Green’s Arizona Cardinals, who in 2006 blew a winnable game against a superior Chicago Bears team, the Eagles handled their business as anticipated. The final score is as much a mirage as Washington’s early lead turned out to be.

“I think the 17-0 kind of woke us up, and we knew what we had to do,” Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson said. “We had to just kind of stay within our game plan.”

For Washington, it’s back to the drawing board and they have a tough task ahead. Trading places with elite teams like the Eagles won’t be easy.

And it can’t be done halfway, either.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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