Saturday, November 22, 2008

Donovan and Eagles at a Crossroads

Despite what the gloom and doom crowd at 610 WIP AM Sports Talk radio would tell you, the Philadelphia Eagles football team does not stink. Their coach does not need to be fired. Their quarterback is not washed up.

Eagles fans have become spoiled by the Andy Reid era. That is a fact. They must have forgotten the Ray Rhodes era that preceded it, when the team went 29-34-1 over a four year period. Or perhaps the Rich Kotite era before that, when the team went 36-28 over four years but only made the playoffs once.

Maybe they loved those brash Buddy Ryan years before that, every one a winning regular season. Of course there was that little matter of zero playoff wins. None. Marion Campbell, the 'Swamp Fox', and his 17-29-1 over three years and no playoffs? Forget those.

Fact is that since the end of Dick Vermeil's final full season in 1981 and the start of the Reid Era, the Eagles floundered, sputtered, and crashed after brief periods of soaring.


Fact is also that since the end of Reid's first season he has guided the team to an 88-52-1 regular season record, 8 playoff wins, 4 NFC east division titles, an NFC championship, and a narrow Super Bowl defeat to this decade's dynasty team.

The biggest mistake that professional sports teams make is hiring the wrong manager/coach. The 2nd biggest that they make is hiring the right guy, then giving up on him when the going gets tough.

The organizations that remain the strongest consistently, year-in and year-out over lengthy periods of time, which is exactly what their fan base wants, are the organizations that keep their good coach through the tough times.

The fact is that the Eagles are in a transition period with their personnel, they play in a tough division with superior competitors, and their superstar running back is playing at less than 100%. Andy Reid and his staff deserve a full chance to work their way through this tough period.

My bet is that they quickly have the team back in contention. Of course that's not to say that they aren't in contention right now. The team sits at 5-4-1, just a half game off the final Wildcard pace. Their defense has allowed the 8th lowest points in the entire NFL. Only 5 teams have scored more points than their offense.

The simple fact is that the Philadelphia Eagles remain one of the top teams in the league. They don't get blown out. They do not get dominated. In other words, to say they 'stink' is to completely ignore reality.

They are in such a difficult playoff situation because they have not come through in critical situations in close games, not because they are any worse than any of the teams to whom they lost. Their four losses were twice by 4 points, once by 5, once by 6, and then there is last week's dispiriting tie with Cincinnati. Their five wins have all been by more than a touchdown.

In other words, this is a good team. They have simply suffered some bad breaks, and some bad breakdowns at key moments.

You can blame that on poor coaching decisions and be correct in a few instances. You can blame that on the inability of players to make plays, and be just as correct. You can also look at the fact that their most dynamic offensive component, running back Brian Westbrook, has been a shadow of his Pro Bowl self in an injury-marred season.

The Eagles are in a four-team race with Washington, Dallas, and Atlanta for the final playoff spot. A look at all of their schedules shows that none has a real advantage. In other words, the Eagles are a playoff contender during a difficult season.

On Sunday they have a difficult challenge in playing at Baltimore, an AFC contender with a defense as good as the Eagles. It should be a defensive struggle for both clubs.

It is up to Donovan McNabb, the veteran quarterback whose career in Philadelphia (but certainly not his entire NFL career) is perhaps at as big a crossroads as this team's season.

If McNabb steps up and leads the team to victory this week, the Eagles stay in contention, the WIP crowd is silenced for at least a week, and McNabb stock rises.

If the Ravens dominate him and win the game, the Eagles season is likely over, and perhaps McNabb's career here as well.

The Philadelphia Eagles and their longtime quarterback are indeed at a crossroads. Their coach should not be considered in the same light.

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