Brian Mitchell saw this one coming. The veteran kick returner and running back said he knew that if the Washington Redskins came to Veterans Stadium today assuming they would beat another undermanned team to get their season jump-started again, they would lose to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles brought a 2-7 record and the NFL's 30th-ranked offense into this game, and were giving rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb his first start.
But Mitchell knew the Eagles would give a spirited effort. Today's 35-28 victory by Philadelphia marked the 14th time in the teams' last 16 meetings that the outcome was decided by seven points or fewer. The Redskins went 1-9 in Philadelphia in the 1990s.
"When you're the Washington Redskins and you play against the Philadelphia Eagles, there's no such thing as an easy game," Mitchell said. "This is a bigger rivalry than Dallas. The Eagles play us as hard as anyone."
Mitchell has struggled to break free on kickoff returns this season, and James Thrash made the Redskins' final return today. Mitchell blocked for Thrash, who settled under David Akers's kick and provided a 21-yard return to the Redskins 36-yard line. The coaches planned to have Thrash return a kickoff during the Redskins' lopsided victory over Chicago two weeks ago, but Thrash never got the opportunity because the Bears tried a series of onside kicks.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said those on the Redskins' sideline never got an explanation from the officials about the call that negated safety Matt Stevens's fourth-quarter interception. The Redskins led, 28-27, when Stevens intercepted McNabb's tipped pass and provided a 26-yard return to the Eagles 30.
The officials called offsetting penalties, a face-mask personal foul on Redskins cornerback Mark McMillian before the interception and a personal foul against Eagles running back Duce Staley for a late hit at the end of Stevens's run. But referee Jeff Triplette announced McMillian's penalty improperly, and Nolan said the Redskins coaches never were told what had happened.
"We still haven't gotten an explanation," Nolan said.
The Eagles, given a second chance at a third-and-eight play, threw an incomplete pass but got a first down on a holding penalty against linebacker Shawn Barber en route to the winning touchdown.
Of the defense's performance, Nolan said: "I thought we played pretty good for a long time. We got beat one-on-one on a couple Duce Staley runs at the end of the game. We didn't give up big plays. That probably means we played pretty sound football, I think. I can live with physical errors." . . .
Defensive end Anthony Cook got his most extensive playing time of the season after Marco Coleman suffered a neck injury on the Eagles' first possession. Coleman didn't return, but Redskins officials said X-rays revealed no serious injury and called it a sprain. Coleman is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on Monday, team officials said. . . .
Mitchell passed Billy "White Shoes" Johnson for second place among the NFL's career leaders in punt return yards. . . . Reserve defensive tackle Marc Boutte was on the Redskins' inactive list for a second consecutive game because of a pulled abdominal muscle. . . .
Veteran wide receiver Irving Fryar didn't have a catch in his first game against the Eagles since leaving them via his brief retirement, and was booed by the crowd in the fourth quarter when his name was announced as the intended receiver on an incompletion.