The negative reactions are understandable and natural. Once again the Eagles will not be crowned world champions, and until they finally cast off the proverbial monkey, there will always exist a void inside many fans. Another season has concluded with disappointment.
As the initial gloom subsides, and we begin to put a wrap on the season that was, it's time to acknowledge this outcome was not even remotely surprising. Nobody predicted the Eagles would go all the way. Most people thought they would miss the playoffs and finish below .500.
This team was incomplete, and everybody knew it. Why such outrage after they came up short?
Play the blame game if it makes you feel better. Question why Michael Vick was targeting Riley Cooper when it mattered most. Point your finger at the receivers who dropped the ball. Shake your head as Winston Justice regresses right before our very eyes. Ponder how the front office can fix a defense that was historically bad in the red zone, and not great anywhere else. Ask how David Akers, in the midst of one of his best seasons, blows two makeable field goals. Criticize Andy Reid for, among other things, being Andy Reid.
The Green Bay Packers are a better team. They entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, and the Philadelphia Eagles did not. Neither club wound up anyplace we didn't assume they would five months ago.
In professional sports, it's nearly impossible to compete for a championship every season. Somewhere along the way, barring flawless scouting and/or unlimited resources, every franchise inevitably must go through a period of transition. Sometimes it can take years, with one or more complete overhauls of the roster, coaching staff, and front office.
That's the traditional definition of rebuilding, which was supposedly happening here this season. The Eagles jettisoned the majority of their aging veterans, most notably the starting quarterback, and filled out their roster with a league high 13 draft picks. Even if the organization didn't outwardly say it, the moves marked a purposeful shift in direction.
Yet despite the notion they were "rebuilding," the Eagles still won 10 games and went to the playoffs. They matched the loftiest of goals set by prognosticators, and squashed the popular opinion they were not contenders.
Given the circumstances, that sounds like a successful season.
Obviously it's not successful in terms of winning the ultimate prize. If you're of the mindset that is the only way the campaign can be described as successful, I can't help you.
By any realistic standard, the Eagles had a quality season. They beat some long odds to go as far as they did. Between the youth movement, changes under center, and a bevy of injuries, most NFL teams would have crumbled.
The Eagles won the division like that, which suggests good things are still to come.
Yes, they have holes, or in some cases just tough questions. Right at the top of the list is what to do with their quarterbacks. They have needs along the offensive line and throughout the defense. Several key players are free agents, such as Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell, and David Akers. Marty Mornhinweg could be named the head coach in Cleveland, and Sean McDermott's performance will come under increased scrutiny.
Those holes and questions were always going to be there at the end of the season though, because they already existed when it began. Nothing suddenly changed on Sunday. The Eagles needed a right corner whether they advanced or not. They were going to draft some offensive linemen either way. There are difficult personnel decisions during any off-season. These issues surely did not catch anybody off guard.
They were just as imperfect in a loss as they were before the game, and before the season began. A deep playoff run was always a longshot.
Now the Eagles have another off-season to address those needs, and complete the sweeping changes that actually have been in progress for years. They'll use free agency and the draft to fortify those positions, like they would after any other season. Plus, a promising collection of young talent and prospects will have another year under their belts, returning in 2011 much stronger, healthier, and wiser.
Until then, while it may be hard to shake the fact that you're dissatisfied with this finish, it deserves to be put in proper perspective. Nobody on the coaching staff deserves to lose their jobs over this effort. By not only avoiding a total collapse, and instead taking back the NFC East and earning a home playoff game in the process, the Eagles put next season's opponents on notice. With the right moves, and a little luck, the Eagles can take a step forward from this and perhaps rejoin the rank of the elite.
If there is a next season.