You can feel it when it starts, the winding down. Ive seen it with Eagles coaches starting with Jerry Williams in the 70s through Dick Vermeil, Buddy Ryan, Ray Rhodes and the rest.
You know when time is running out.
The details may differ slightly, but the mood surrounding the situation is much the same. The organizational footing, once firm and sure becomes unsteady. Things that were never questioned before suddenly are questioned. Confidence gives way to doubt. Locker room voices drop and words ring hollow.
Thats where we are with Andy Reid after Sundays youve-got-to-be-kidding 21-17 loss to Arizona. For the fifth time this year, the Eagles blew a fourth-quarter lead and this time it was to a woeful opponent playing with a backup quarterback.
For the second time in seven days, the Eagles were outplayed, outhit and out-coached in their own stadium in a game the players themselves characterized as a must win. A team that last week was called out for being soft proved once again the label fits. Accused of being sloppy and dumb, the Eagles were both on Sunday, turning the ball over twice and committing 11 penalties.
There is plenty of blame to go around but most of it has to be placed at the feet of Andy Reid. He built the team and hired the coaches. He put the pieces in place and mapped the strategy and it has gone terribly wrong.
At 3-6, the Eagles are a punch line around the NFL. Even the national media, which once lavished praise on Reid and the Eagles management, is mocking the Dream Team. Those sneers from the networks will cut deeply at the Nova Care Complex where perception has always mattered greatly.
The Eagles' fall from grace has been swift and stunning. Consider that last Dec. 19 when they rallied to defeat the New York Giants, 38-31, on DeSean Jacksons last-second punt return they were 10-3 and alone atop the NFC East. Mike Vick was in the discussion for MVP. They were riding a wave that many felt would take them to the Super Bowl.
Since then, they are 3-9, counting the playoff loss to Green Bay, and they have lost seven of eight games at home. Jackson is now in the doghouse for missing meetings and an overall lack of interest. Vick is turning the ball over in the red zone more than any quarterback in football. They are tied for last place in the division and, worst of all, they are irrelevant.
We are entering the most compelling part of the season and the Eagles are in a ditch with all the other losers. They dont matter. Oh, a few reporters will come by to do a CSI-type story about what went wrong, but thats hardly what the front office expected when it invested millions into building this roster.
How bad are the Eagles? In their last eight home games, they have lost to quarterbacks Joe Webb (Minnesota), Stephen McGee (Dallas) and John Skelton (Arizona) in addition to Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler. On Sunday, Skelton passed for more yards in the fourth quarter (166) than Vick did in the entire game (128). Skelton threw as many touchdown passes (three) as Vick has thrown in his last four games.
Watching the game unfold, it was impossible to understand what Reid and his staff were thinking. On a day when Reid deactivated Jackson for disciplinary reasons (which I agree with, by the way) and Jeremy Maclin was playing hurt, Reid and Marty Mornhinweg did not do the common sense thing and lean on their best player, LeSean McCoy (see story).
McCoy came into the game as the NFLs leading rusher and midway through the third quarter, he had 80 yards on 12 carries. It wasnt nearly enough considering the alternative was Vick, who was having a terrible day, throwing to a lot of backup receivers. McCoy was averaging almost seven yards a carry. I mean, this isnt hard to understand. Give the ball to McCoy.
Yet Reid and Mornhinweg went from not giving the ball to McCoy enough to not giving it to him at all. After McCoy ripped off a 29-yard run with 4:46 left in the third quarter, he did not touch the ball again until eight minutes into the fourth quarter. Almost 13 full minutes passed without McCoy getting the ball. He had one carry over the final 20 plays as the Eagles coughed up another game. Its unforgivable, really.
There also was the muddled defensive scheme that took Nnamdi Asomugha off Larry Fitzgerald and went to zone coverage with everyone from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel to rookies Brian Rolle and Jaiquawn Jarrett all trying -- and failing -- to cover Arizonas only real weapon. To have Jarrett, who was making his first start at safety, alone on Fitzgerald late in the game is the kind of X and O buffoonery that would get you expelled from a high school coaching clinic -- yet thats what the Eagles did.
When coaches show such poor judgment, it erodes respect. Players lose confidence in the calls coming in from the sideline. It affects their ability to execute because they arent sure about their assignment. If players line up thinking This isnt gonna work, chances are it wont. Thats what I see in these Eagles.
There is a cumulative effect to all this and what I saw Sunday was a fan base that has grown numb. The people turned out in the usual numbers but only because it is part of their Sunday ritual. They were there in body, but not in spirit.
It is easy to understand. The team has played so poorly at home that they havent given the fans a real reason to get excited. The only time they were excited this season was after the Dallas game and Jason Avant promptly told them to shut up and go away (but make sure you stop by the Pro Shop and buy another sweat shirt on your way out).
After so many years of coming up short with this regime, the fans have grown tired.
There was the usual crowd at the WIP pregame broadcast location, but there was no energy or excitement. It wasnt until Randall Cunningham came to the tent that the fans responded. They swarmed the former quarterback for autographs and said how much they loved those Buddy Ryan teams.
It struck me that so many fans still view the Buddy Ball era as the good old days, even though those teams never won anything. The fans feel more connected to those teams than to the Reid teams with all its division titles and postseason appearances. When it is easier to sell the past than the present, thats a worry for ownership.
Seven games remain in this season and weve seen Reid rescue lost seasons before. If he does it again maybe he will rescue himself. But this time it just feels different. Judging by the look on Andy Reids face, I think he feels it, too.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org