Even those who questioned the Philadelphia Eagles’ ambitious summer free agent shopping spree probably didn’t envision things going quite so wrong, quite so soon for a team that has been anything but dreamy.
It has taken only five games for the Eagles’ championship aspirations, and their season, to shatter into tiny pieces. They have followed a season-opening triumph over the St. Louis Rams with four straight losses. They squandered fourth-quarter leads in three consecutive games, then had a late comeback bid fall short last weekend in Buffalo.
The Eagles are left trying to put those pieces back together beginning Sunday at FedEx Field against the Washington Redskins.
If they don’t, Philadelphia fans who just watched their expensive baseball team make an early exit from the playoffs may not be inclined toward patience.
“It’s really disappointing to us,” linebacker Moise Fokou said in the Eagles’ locker room after the 31-24 defeat to the Bills. “But it’s a long season. You can never give up. It can turn around very easily. We’re going through a lot of disappointment, a lot of misfortune. But we’ll never give up.”
The Redskins return from their bye week with a 3-1 record and a chance to strengthen their hold on the division lead. It’s a scenario few would have envisioned for the teams’ first meeting of the season. The Eagles entered the season widely regarded as the solid — and perhaps overwhelming — favorites in the NFC East, while the Redskins were considered afterthoughts by many preseason prognosticators.
But there were skeptics all along. Football traditionalists warned during training camp that history has demonstrated that Super Bowl victories cannot be purchased. But the Eagles were undeterred. They trusted Coach Andy Reid to pull things together quickly after their string of attention-grabbing additions that included cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, defensive end Jason Babin and backup quarterback Vince Young.
The stakes were raised not only by the Eagles’ moves, but also by Young calling them a “dream team” in training camp. It was set up for the Eagles, win or lose, to be one of the sport’s main storylines this season.
Now that things have gone awry, the scrutiny is intense indeed. Reid already is being asked by reporters about his confidence in his job security. He was asked at his news conference Monday if he would retain first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Reid said yes.
“We’re all part of the situation here,” Reid said. “It’s not one guy. It’s all of us, and we’re all in it together. . . . We’ve all got to do our jobs better and when we do that, we’ll have better results.”
The Eagles are ranked 27th in the league in scoring defense and 30th in rushing defense. Analysts have pointed to missed tackles, have questioned whether the team’s defensive system works against the run and asked whether the coverage schemes used in the secondary suit Asomugha’s skills.
“It’s my responsibility. . . ,” Castillo, the Eagles’ offensive line coach for 13 seasons, said Sunday in the Ralph Wilson Stadium locker room. “I don’t know if you call that pressure. That’s my job.”
But the struggles aren’t limited to the defense. The Eagles committed five turnovers against the Bills, four of them on interceptions of quarterback Michael Vick. Not all were his fault. Wide receiver Jason Avant had the ball knocked from his hands for a deflected interception with the Eagles driving toward a potential tying touchdown in the late stages of the game. Still, Vick has eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season after throwing 21 touchdown passes and only six interceptions last season.
“I think at this point it’s out of the coaches’ hands,” Vick said after the Buffalo game. “I think it’s the players, because we’re the ones that are out there. We’ve got to go out and put it all together and take control.”
“Coach isn’t turning the ball over,” added wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. “We made mistakes, simple as that.”
Even so, Reid said Monday he “completely” understands fans’ frustration and shrugged off the criticism.
“Well, listen, it’s a free country, man,” Reid said. “Everybody can have their opinion. We don’t worry about all those things. We’re worried about getting better and fixing the situations that we need to fix.”
The last-place Eagles already are 21 / 2 games behind the Redskins in the NFC East, and they could be playing for their season Sunday. Reid said Monday it would be “a stretch” to think that injured left tackle Jason Peters and defensive end Trent Cole, who were on the inactive list last weekend, will be ready to play against Washington.
Yet there also is hope in the organization. Reid has taken the team to five NFC title games since he was hired in 1999 by owner Jeffrey Lurie and club president Joe Banner. When the Eagles have faced trying circumstances previously and outsiders have speculated that Reid’s coaching tenure could be winding down, Lurie and Banner have been unwavering in their support and Reid has found ways to steady the team.
“There are no excuses for anything here,” he said Monday. “I’m very up front with you here: It’s my football team. I’ve got to get it right and we’ll do this thing as a football team.”