Former Bears giveth, taketh away in Philadelphia Eagles’ divisional-round loss
The lasting image is Alshon Jeffery, sprawled out on the Superdome turf with his face dejectedly buried in his arms.
The former Bear delivered in crunch time of the Eagles’ wild-card round upset eight days ago at Soldier Field, his first return to the place where he “just was for work” after becoming a Super Bowl champion and folk hero in a city he loves, Philadelphia.
He delivered down the stretch of the regular season, when the Eagles needed to win five of their final six games to make the playoffs (also with an assist from the Bears), with Jeffery playing big in the waning moments of wins over the Rams and Texans.
Not Sunday against the Saints. Not while playing through cracked ribs, teammate Lane Johnson revealed in the immediate aftermath of the Eagles’ magical Super Bowl title defense season, which ended in a 20-14 defeat after Nick Foles’ game-sealing third-down interception whizzed through Jeffery’s hands.
“That’s on me. I’ll take that loss. It’s on me,” said Jeffery, who caught five balls for 63 yards, but only two for eight, respectively, in the second half when the Eagles were shut out. “I let my teammates down, the city of Philadelphia, that’s on me. I’ll take that.”
Judging by their reactions on Twitter, Bears fans will take it too.
I thought Jeffery’s comments two weeks ago were unnecessary, that, said with or without malice, they reinforced the suspicions of many that he didn’t want to be here. But after his vital role in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run — while playing through a torn rotator cuff — and again this season, Jeffery’s toughness absolutely can no longer be questioned. If others enjoyed seeing him fail, to each their own.
But I took more joy in seeing fellow former Bear Cre’Von LeBlanc play perhaps the two best games of his career in succession to give the Eagles a chance. His incredible interception on Drew Brees’ first pass attempt set up the Eagles’ first score. His solo stop of Alvin Kamara — perhaps the game’s most dangerous open-field runner — on a critical third down to get the Eagles ball back might have been even more impressive, even if neither play likely surprised his coach.
Jim Schwartz said last week, after LeBlanc’s excellent game against the Bears: “I don’t know where we’d be without Cre’Von.”
The former undrafted nickel corner out of Florida Atlantic, whom the Bears claimed off waivers from New England in his rookie 2016 campaign and who spent two successful seasons here before being released in final cutdowns in favor of Marcus Cooper, validated his defensive coordinator’s praise.
Now, Bears fans simply must hope that LeBlanc doesn’t become the one that got away, the defensive version of Robbie Gould, if you will. That the Bears boasted the only NFL secondary with multiple All Pros, that Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara each had their finest seasons after receiving lucrative new contracts, might make it difficult to second-guess Ryan Pace. Of course, many of us felt that LeBlanc had more upside than Cooper to begin with, but I digress.
Remember, painful as it is, that the Bears likely would have visited the Rams at the Coliseum on Saturday night if not for another player from the Eagles-Bears pipeline, Cody Parkey, double-doinking his way into franchise infamy. Would Chicago’s run ‘D’ have allowed Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson to go scorched earth on it? I doubt it. Not after the way the Bears dominated the Rams up front last month.
But it’s impossible to play that woulda-shoulda game without doing the same with the likes of Jeffery, LeBlanc and Parkey.
Eddie Jackson took to Instagram Sunday night to bid the Eagles farewell from the playoffs. It’s pretty clear there’s no love lost between these two franchises, their fan bases and even some of their players. It’s a good thing, then, they won’t have to wait too long to renew acquaintances with Chicago scheduled to visit Philadelphia next season.
A few other quick takeaways I have after watching the divisional round that can be applied to the 2018 Bears:
· If Alvin Kamara can open a playoff game returning kicks for the Saints, why can’t Tarik Cohen do the same? After seeing Cohen explode on that final return vs. the Eagles — one of only three attempt in Year 1 under Nagy — to position Parkey for the would-be game-winner, it’s hard not to wonder what he might have done with a few more chances in a field-goal/field-position game.
· The Chargers’ defensive game plan, not that much unlike the one Vic Fangio opted for vs. Tom Brady in the regular season, badly faltered. Brady has been around too long not to know where the voids are in a zone defense, and relying on four rushers — even with as much juice as the Chargers and Bears have up front — is a death-by-papercut sentence. The result was a playoff-high 343 passing yards in perhaps Brady’s best game since Super Bowl LII. He wasn’t sacked and was barely touched.
Fangio’s more aggressive replacement, Chuck Pagano, was barely competitive with the Colts against Brady and Co., going 0-6, including two humiliating playoff exits at the hands of New England. But he didn’t have anywhere near the personnel he suddenly does in Chicago. The question is, now that he has a blue-chip laden ‘D,’ will he maintain that aggressiveness if/when it’s time for the next battle with Brady?
And based on his lone meeting with Brady as Ravens defensive coordinator, a 30-23 defeat in Foxboro in the AFC title game, the answer likely is yes. Brady tossed two interceptions, without a touchdown, and registered a 57.5 passer rating in about as un-Brady-like a playoff performance as we’ve seen. When Pagano was still the DBs coach, Baltimore picked off Brady three times and held him to a 49.1 rating in a Ravens’ wild-card rout two years earlier.
· Running the football obviously still matters. The Chiefs, Rams and Patriots all had 100-yard rushers in the divisional round, with Los Angeles and New England amassing at least as many rushing attempts — in the first half — as Nagy called vs. the Eagles. Even Reid’s mentor, pass-happy Andy Reid, got Damien Williams 25 carries, albeit in a blowout.
But it’s clear in watching Williams, a journeyman originally signed to a one-year, $1.2 million deal last offseason, and Anderson, who has rushed for 100-plus yards in all three games with the Rams after being signed off the street in late December, that the answer to the Bears’ inconsistent run game isn’t attempting to make a big splash on the pro personnel side.
Pace already has proven that he can capture lightning on Day 3 of the draft to bolster the position. The possibility of a shrewd vet signing still can’t be discounted, but the Bears won’t — and shouldn’t be — players for a big free agent who might fit better than Jordan Howard, such as local kid Tevin Coleman.