Eagles' season hits new low after changes on D backfire in big way
PHILADELPHIA -- If Andy Reid and his desperate Philadelphia Eagles were guilty of trying to fix something that wasn't broken during their bye week -- and it appears they were -- rest assured it's broken now. And so too might be their once-hopeful season, which is unraveling faster even than it took the dramatic firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to backfire.
Too early to declare these Eagles dead and buried in 2012? Maybe a tad, because a 3-4 record with nine games remaining means the year's halfway point hasn't even been reached yet. But when it comes to low points, Sunday was it. The debacle on defense that played out in Philadelphia's 30-17 loss to undefeated Atlanta, less than two weeks after Castillo was summarily sent packing, had a reeling team plunging to new lows.
If this does indeed turn out to be the last season of Reid's long and eventful 14-year tenure with the Eagles, Sunday's game was when you first realized the gig might be up. There was no week-after-the-bye magic this time. No focused and prepared locker room of players ready to back up their head coach's gamble, rallying to his cause and responding to his message.
Just a confused and uninspired team, grasping for answers and coming up empty, kind of like the Todd Bowles-led defense did all day against Matt Ryan and the soaring 7-0 Falcons. Never has one game under .500 looked or felt so hopeless.
"We didn't do it, we didn't show up,'' Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said after Philadelphia's third consecutive loss, which was essentially over after the Falcons scored on all four of their first-half possessions to grab a 24-7 lead at the break. "Whatever we could have done wrong, we pretty much did it. That was pretty bad today, right from the get-go.''
So bad that Reid himself called it an "embarrassing performance,'' and no one in the Eagles locker room dared disagree. So bad that the Eagles surrendered points on Atlanta's first six drives of the game and forced just two punts all day, both late in the fourth quarter. So bad that Philadelphia somehow ended its avalanche of turnovers (no interceptions or fumbles lost against the Falcons), and it didn't even matter. That's how outclassed the Eagles were from start to finish against the Falcons, even if the 13-point margin of victory wound up sounding respectable.
"I'm angry, disappointed, all of those,'' Jenkins said. "I've always said you've got to have pride, and what you've done before, anything like that, it only matters what you've done lately. [And] lately we haven't been doing anything.''
Questioning the Eagles' pride and effort was the only logical place to start after this one. Philadelphia had everything to play for Sunday, and came up mind-bogglingly small on all fronts. The Eagles let the Falcons ballcarriers run free in wide open spaces all day, with Atlanta clicking off scoring drives that lasted 16, 13 and 12 plays, and converting on six of seven third-down attempts in the pivotal first half. There were busted coverages in the secondary, shoddy tackling everywhere, and enough confusion and chaos on defense to paint the mother of all bullseyes on Bowles, the former Eagles secondary coach who was elevated to take Castillo's place 12 days ago.
As debuts go, Bowles' as defensive coordinator might have been the most calamitous seen in Philly since newly acquired running back Ricky Watters short-armed a pass over the middle in a Week 1 loss in 1995, then brazenly asked in the postgame why he should have been expected to sell out and risk injury in that situation (Watters' infamous "For who? For what?'' quote).
Castillo certainly absorbed his share of blame these past two weeks, but his defense never bottomed out like Bowles' did against Atlanta. From horribly timed penalties to continued failure in terms of pass rush, Reid's bold move to Bowles on defense paid absolutely no immediate dividends.
"It's frustrating that we didn't play well and we lost,'' Bowles said. "It's not going to make or break me. We'll line up next week. You're going to have some ups and downs in this business. We're frustrated today. I'm pissed off, as well we should be. I don't like losing. I'm a sore loser, and we lost. It's a long season. We've got to keep swinging. You can go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one week, and right now we're in the damn outhouse.''
The outhouse is at least the right imagery in terms of where this season down the drain stands in Philadelphia at the moment. If this week's game against Atlanta was a must-win, and the sense of urgency had never been higher, what does that make next week's trip to New Orleans, now that the Eagles have even more reason to doubt themselves? And you thought there were storm clouds gathering in Philadelphia even before this game, played as it was amid the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy's impending approach?
"I don't know, I thought the barometric pressure was down pretty low with the storm coming,'' said Jenkins, trying to joke when asked about his team's lack of pass pressure (just one sack in October). "I mean, until we show it .... We've got to show it. We've got to come out and do something. When it comes down to it, you've got guys on the field to make plays and we didn't make plays.''
Strangely, the Eagles' collapse on defense was so thorough that it almost served to obscure Philly's ongoing Michael Vick issue. Vick wasn't horrible against the Falcons (21 of 35 for 177 yards, with one touchdown and no turnovers), but he led the Eagles to just one score and 94 yards of offense in the first half, when the game was being decided. He wasn't the reason the Eagles lost this time, but he certainly wasn't a difference maker either.
And because of that, it could be time for rookie quarterback Nick Foles to play in Philly. Asked afterward if Vick's starting job was in jeopardy, or if any other major shakeup was on the way this week, Reid declined to take much of a stance on his quarterback either way. It spoke volumes about the shaky ground every Eagle seems to stand on these days.
"I'll go back and look at everything,'' said Reid, whose Eagles had been 13-0 the week after byes before Sunday. "I'm not going to sit here and make decisions right now. I'm going to go back and look at it and analyze it.''
Vick is under no illusions. How can he be? He's lived the Eagles' 2012 season and is watching it spiral out of control. He's been around long enough to know where this likely leads. A head coach willing to fire his defensive coordinator after just six games isn't going to flinch when it comes to benching a struggling quarterback. Not when his job has an expiration date of just nine more games on it.
"Obviously he's thinking about making a change at the quarterback position,''
Vick and the Eagles may indeed think they're trying their hardest, but there's currently a canyon-sized gap between their effort and their execution. So now what does the out-of-answers Reid have to do to get his swooning team's attention? Canning Castillo did no good, and probably hurt. For all we know, a quarterback move from Vick to Foles might amount to more of the same.
This much is clear: The urgency in Eagles-land grew exponentially on Sunday. The more Reid tries to fix, the more things seem to be coming apart. Change didn't solve anything. In Philadelphia, the defeats and the desperation keep mounting.