It has turned to ashes for Eagles coach Ray Rhodes. The fire is
out. The emotional whipping and driving that propelled a gang of
castoffs and overachievers through two rounds of the playoffs
last season--and won Rhodes Coach of the Year honors--isn't
working anymore. It's finished. Dead.
"One year, that stuff's good for one year," the old Philadelphia
quarterback Ron Jaworski says. "Sometimes not even that long."
Oh, the Eagles did win one last Saturday. They beat the Jets
21-20 in the windy, rainy Meadowlands, but only because the
NFL's biggest screwup team mangled things worse than Philly did.
At 9-6 the Eagles still have a solid shot at a wild-card spot.
But if they reach the playoffs, they'll come in staggering and
reeling like a bunch of drunks.
It hasn't been an emotional roller coaster for the Eagles--it
has been strictly a downer. They started off 7-2, then lost four
of their next five, topped off on Dec. 5 by that horrendous
37-10 loss at Indianapolis to a crippled Colts team. After that
Rhodes tried everything. He toughened up the practices and set a
grim aspect over the locker room, which quarterback Ty Detmer
said "was like a morgue." His team meetings turned into
emotion-filled tirades. On the plane back from Indianapolis he
laced into players he saw laughing and chatting.
December 23, 1996
"He got us focused again," Detmer said the day before the Jets
game. "Now we're fired up."
Some fire. The halftime score was 10-0, New York. The Eagles
were sleepwalking. They had five first downs, 102 yards of
offense, two turnovers and nine penalties. Jaworski, now a TV
analyst, sat in the pressroom with his head in his hands.
"I'm sitting here thinking, How could this team have sunk so
low?" he said.
In the locker room Rhodes told his team, "Just give me two
quarters. We've got 30 minutes to play for all we've worked for
Uh-uh. Wrong words. The Eagles came out and got stuffed on their
first drive, scored a touchdown on their second and then handed
the Jets 10 points with turnovers on their next two. Score:
20-7, New York. And then fate stepped in.
The Eagles' first drive of the fourth quarter ended with a snap
that sailed over punter Tommy Hutton's left shoulder. Hutton
happens to be leftfooted. He ran the ball down and got off a
21-yard kick on the run. "If it goes over his right shoulder,"
special teams coach Danny Smith said later, "he never gets it
off, and we lose."
The Eagles' next possession came down to fourth-and-goal on the
Jets' five. A little more than seven minutes were left. Detmer's
pass was incomplete. Game's over, right? Nope, holding by safety
Gary Jones in the end zone. The new set of downs produced a TD.
Two plays later Michael Zordich, the Eagles' strong safety,
stepped up and turned the game around with an interception and
seven-yard return to the Jets' 18.
Strange fella, Zordich. Third NFL team, 33 years old, smart,
slow, weather-beaten. No one looks as thoroughly whipped as he
does after a game. "I'm lucky to still have a job," is what his
face says. He jumped a sideline pass from Glenn Foley, who was
making his second NFL start. "I talked to some of their guys
afterward, and they told me it was supposed to be a
stop-and-go," Zordich said, almost apologetically. "The
quarterback screwed it up. He just let it go on the stop part."
The Eagles scored two plays later. On the extra point Hutton
barely got the high snap in place for kicker Gary Anderson, and
Philly finally had a lead. Anderson came off the field holding
"The snap was wobbly, high and nasty," he said. "Tommy never
really did get it, just the ends of his fingertips did."
One more heart-stopper remained for the Eagles. Reggie Cobb ran
the kickoff back to the Jets' 44, and he would have been down
into winning field goal range except that the 37-year-old
Anderson pinned him at the sideline. Five snaps later it ended
with an interception by linebacker William Thomas, which gave
the Jets a 5-4 turnover lead. That's how close Philly came to
blowing everything to a 1-14 team.
"Nice game," a fan said to Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, a sentiment
he heard 12 times on the way to the locker room.
"That's 12 lies you heard today," I said to him.
"A win is a win is a win," he said.
Not like this it ain't, it ain't, it ain't.
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