It's a funny thing describing a game on October 2 against the San Francisco 49ers as "must-win," but many observers feel that way, if for no other reason than so the Eagles can silence their critics temporarily. It wouldn't hurt in the standings either, where the Birds surprisingly find themselves in dead-last in the NFC East entering Week 4.
While today's game may not be must-win in the most literal sense, another mark in the loss column would be crippling. 1-3 before they even reach the tough part of the schedule, while not insurmountable, would put even more pressure on a team that is clearly struggling to rise to expectations. And unlike falling to the Falcons and Giants, their inability to handle the 49ers would be the surest sign yet of potentially fatal deficiencies.
Sure, we didn't necessarily anticipate the Eagles would collapse against the injury-riddled G-men either, but that's at least explainable to a division rival with some of its talent intact. The 49ers are much more similar to the Rams, in that they have a capable defense, but are completely outmatched on offense. They haven't run the ball, and they haven't protected the passer.
You might be tempted to argue Juan Castillo's defense is the perfect prescription for such ailments, but the numbers suggest even this oft-maligned group should have success against San Fran. The Niners sport the 30th ranked rushing offense in the NFL, and their inability to keep QB Alex Smith on his feet plays right into the Eagles' hands, who are second with 12 sacks.
Plus, this team should come out like a fire has been lit under their asses. It would be fair to say they've been embarrassed the last two times out, particularly versus New York, but if you think they are feeling sorry for themselves, you would be mistaken. They have a lot to prove, and it was plain for everybody to see at Andy Reid's post-game presser last Sunday that this group was in for a rough week of practice.
Of course, Michael Vick's bruised right hand is a matter for concern, as we've experienced two very different performances from backup Mike Kafka in consecutive weeks -- and nothing at all from Vince Young. If Vick can't snap out of his funk, get the offense moving a little more efficiently, and then finish 60 minutes, you could envision San Fran sparking up some momentum. They've played in three close games so far, winning two and dropping another in overtime.
So it's true, the Eagles cannot afford to let the 49ers hang around, and cannot afford another loss, especially to such an inferior opponent. Even with the Phillies going strong, people will take notice if this club falls to 1-3. But relax... if they lose today, the Birds have much bigger problems than their record or uptight fan reactions.
They will have to deal with the harsh reality that they too are a bad team.