Asomugha, Eagles hit stride just in time to possibly save lost season
In five months, the Eagles have gone from Dream Team euphoria to a disappointing start to a midseason revival to Fire Andy-mania to hopelessness in Seattle to one of the strangest and most unlikely playoff runs in recent years.
A Giants loss to the Jets Saturday, plus a quite conceivable Philadelphia win at Dallas later in the day (Oct. 30: Philadelphia 34, Dallas 7), and the Eagles will enter Week 17 as the favorite to win the NFC East ... and to win the NFC's fourth playoff seed, meaning they'd play a home game on Wild Card weekend.
The 2011 Eagles: five seasons in five months.
"You look back now and say, 'What? How'd that happen?'" Nnamdi Asomugha told me Thursday. "Especially these last few weeks. We enter the New England game [with a 4-6 record] and the talk is, 'If we win out, we're in.' We lose there. Next week, at Seattle, it's 'We win out, we've still got a decent shot.' We lose there. We thought it was over. Now, we've all got to be Jets fans, I guess."
Asomugha has taken this wild ride, and he's taken it all in. He's still carrying the stigma of the Victor Cruz juke-for-a-touchdown and the Cruz touchdown at the goal line in the Week 3 loss to the Giants. And he's still getting used to playing multiple secondary positions instead of the outside corner spot he played 90 percent of his last three years with the Raiders. But here he is, and here the Eagles are, with a legitimate shot when all seemed lost just two weeks ago.
With Michael Vick back playing like Michael Vick, we're assuming the Eagles can put up 24 or so on the Cowboys. Also, we're assuming the Eagles D can clamp down a good offense. In the last two weeks, Philadelphia has held Miami and the Jets to 204 and 241 yards, respectively, while holding them to a Niners-like six-of-28 on third-down conversions.
The cries for Andy Reid's job, and rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's, have been silenced. For a few minutes, anyway.
"I think it's the maturation of Juan, and the maturation of guys growing into this defense," said Asomugha. "Were so much smarter as a unit now than we were in the first half of the season. Juan's learned during games what works and what doesn't, the same way we've learned during games. This is something he'd never done before."
Having so many new pieces didn't help. Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were new to the secondary, starting defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins were new up front, and Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle are still green at linebacker. This is a defense, and a coordinator, that needed an offseason program and never had one, and they've all been playing catch-up since late July.
That's an excuse, certainly. Lots of teams had to adjust to new schemes and new coaches, and if the Eagles don't make the playoffs, it will be the inability of the defense to get up to speed fast enough that will rightfully be blamed. Asomugha will have to take his share of the blame, too. Even though he's played outside corner, nickel corner on the slot, some safety and some dime coverage, he's gotten beat this year more than he did in Oakland.
Asomugha said he has no regrets signing with the Eagles and playing for the first time away from the Bay Area. He played three years at Cal, then eight with the Raiders, before entering the furnace of Philadelphia.
"Here," he said, "you're only as good as your last play. But I've learned to embrace it. And I tell you -- I enjoy it. We started 1-3, and it felt like 0-8. The fans were so down. You felt it all over the city. It's like we ruined their lives. Andy helped me a lot with that. We talk all the time. When I got here, he told me, 'Be careful not to mix up expectations with reality. Stay levelheaded.'"
"What's the biggest difference between Oakland and the NFC East?" I asked.
"My goodness," he said. "The East Coast is pretty intense. In our locker room every day, it's full of reporters. We might have 30 cameras in there. In Oakland, there'd be four reporters. It's just different. I've seen what's happened the last two weeks, when you give the city something to be excited about. There's a beauty to it. It makes you long to win and work so hard to win. You don't really think it'd be this way, but the fans here get so down when we lose that you want to win, just to try to make them happy."
Beat the Cowboys Saturday, Nnamdi, and stay in the race ... and it'll be a holly, jolly Christmas in Center City and beyond.
Interesting conversation with new Jacksonville owner Shahid "Shad'' Khan -- and I mean that; it was a 49-minute conversation as much as an interview -- and longtime NFL beat man Bob McGinn on the "NFL Podcast with Peter King'' this week. The podcast is on
The local fans' love of his mustache: "I'm discovering it's got super powers ... And wouldn't that be a perfect world -- everybody's got their own mustache."
Indianapolis 19, Texans 16. Strange game. Touchdown in the first minute, touchdown in the last minute, and nothing but seven field goals in between. Oh, and a whole lot of worry for the postseason fate of the Texans. In the span of five days, they got walloped at home by the 5-9 Panthers and had Dan Orlovsky go 78 yards for the winning touchdown in 97 seconds last night in Indianapolis. All of a sudden, after not being worried about T.J. Yates for the first three weeks of his reign, Houston has to fret about whether Yates without Andre Johnson can run a competent offense (Johnson missed his ninth game of the season with nagging hamstring issues Thursday night, and who knows whether he'll be healthy enough in January to contribute) ... and about the suddenly suspect defense. On Sunday, the D saw Carolina sprint out to a 21-0 lead, and last night, Houston allowed Orlovsky to lead scoring drives of 51, 67 and 78 yards in the final 20 minutes. The Texans had better hope Johnson's hammy is healthy for the playoffs, or they'll be prime candidates for a one-and-done playoff run.