WASHINGTON -- When Wes Hopkins reached for the pulse of the once-soaring Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, the veteran free safety found only a faint response.
"It didn't look like we were confident as far as coming back," Hopkins said after the Eagles plodded through a 16-12 loss to the Washington Redskins in raucous RFK Stadium.
"That's in the third quarter, when they're only up a touchdown. I saw some head sagging down on the sideline. No one ever said the Eagles were going to go undefeated all season, that everything was going to go right for us.
"When you get down, you have to have the mental capacity to fight back. But when we got down, some heads started to drop. You can't have that if you're a good team."
Two weeks after the Eagles assumed a stance as the team to beat in the NFC with a Monday night romp over the Dallas Cowboys, they have retreated to second place in the NFC East. They are tied with these Redskins, a game behind those same Cowboys.
Two weeks ago, the Eagles were 4-0 and talking Super Bowl.
Today, they're 4-2 and circling the wagons.
Yesterday, coach Rich Kotite found it necessary to invoke the memory of last season, when the Eagles rallied from a 3-5 start to win seven of their last eight games.
"I look at the light at the end of the tunnel," Kotite said, "and I don't think it's an oncoming train. This is the way the division is, the way the league is. We responded last year [to adversity]. We will respond this year."
Some things do repeat themselves. Like Eagles visits to the nation's capital.
During the Joe Gibbs coaching era in Washington, the Eagles have won only two of 12 trips to RFK. That includes a current
four-game losing streak.
"We lay an egg," defensive tackle Mike Golic said about that streak. "Unbelievable. We come down, never get a lead, let them get the jump on us. They stay in their game plan. The way to beat these guys is get them out of their game plan."
The Redskins turned the tables on the Eagles this trip.
It was the Eagles who were supposed to take advantage of the Redskins' depleted offensive line. Instead it was the other way around. Washington's pass rush sacked Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham five times, knocked him down four more, hurried him 10 times and intercepted him once. Cunningham broke the NFL's all-time quarterback rushing record with 39 ground yards to top Fran Tarkenton's mark of 3,674 yards, and passed for 207 yards. But those were moot points in the game.
How did Cunningham measure the pounding he took?
"In results," he said. "It doesn't matter what the defense does if we win the game. We should have put more points on the board, but we didn't. You've got to give their defense some credit. They've got a great defense."
The Eagles didn't get into the end zone until Baltimore Dunbar alum Calvin Williams caught a 6-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left. Before that, they squandered their best chance when Redskins safety Danny Copeland caused a Keith Byars fumble with his helmet at the Redskins' 10. What appeared to be a potential tying touchdown run for the Eagles turned into a crucial turnover. The Redskins then marched 85 yards to a Chip Lohmiller field goal and 13-3 lead in the third quarter.
"That hurt," Byars said. "If we put points on the board instead of them, it's 10-10 instead of 13-3."
The Eagles took a beating all around in this game.
Strong safety Andre Waters, a longtime Redskins nemesis, suffered a broken left fibula on a running play and is likely out for the season. Offensive tackle Antone Davis went down in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee.
At least one Redskin seemed to rub it in. That was linebacker JTC Wilber Marshall, who openly taunted the Eagles throughout the game, once scuffling with Cunningham in front of the Eagles bench.
"You couldn't understand what he was saying," Eagles guard Mike Schad said of Marshall. "He's not a literary genius.
"He was talking and laughing, trying to play his game. A man's got to do what he's got to do to get his job done. He's more vocal on their defense, that's for sure."
The Redskins laughed, the Eagles regrouped. Have the Eagles suddenly lost their fire?
"Watch next week," Byars said, eyeing a Week 8 game against the Phoenix Cardinals. "It's a 16-game season here."