and it's not because they lost, and the injury combined with a loss to the Titans effectively ends their playoff hopes. It's because now Andy Reid will have another excuse. Another, because he always has an excuse for why the Eagles fail.
We'll go by year here.
2001 -- Played a great Rams team and almost beat them, but couldn't stop the run and couldn't get any offense going early in the game (an obvious sign of bad preparation and playcalling). Forced to win it himself, McNabb threw a late interception that killed their chances. No major injuries to blame -- everybody thought we'd get there next year.
2002 -- See 2001, except with two interceptions and against a better Tampa defense. McNabb was coming off a broken leg. Everybody used that as an excuse.
2003 -- See 2002, except with three interceptions against a team that was clearly inferior. Westbrook was gone with an injury, and everybody used this as an excuse.
2004 -- Hard to fault a coach for a 13-3 season in which his team goes to the Super Bowl and loses to the best Patriots team ever by 3 points, right?
Well, sort of. Obviously his playcalling and personnel decisions factored into his team's success. But let's not forget that McNabb had the best season of his career, one of the best recent seasons by an NFL quarterback. Nobody asked the question, because there's no reason to question success. But the question was, did Reid make McNabb look like the best QB in the NFL, or did McNabb make Reid look like the best coach?
That question didn't arise until the Super Bowl. Down 10 late in the game, they had a chance to win it -- they really did -- except their fourth-quarter TD drive took more than six minutes. Was it McNabb's fault, because he got sick? Or was it Reid's for mismanaging the clock and not having a set of plays prepared for a hurry-up situation? All I know is this -- Reid called seven consecutive short pass plays to the middle of the field to start the drive. When they finally called a decent play (with two minutes left), and Greg Lewis got open deep, McNabb delivered the ball right on target. He wasn't that sick.
The Patriots were a great team that year, and McNabb threw two costly picks. But Reid sure didn't help his cause much. The bottom line is that Reid had the best Eagles team ever, and didn't win the Super Bowl.
2005 -- Last year, it was TO, and then it was McNabb's injury. The TO thing is semi-legitimate; the man obviously disrupted the locker room. But good coaches don't let that happen, and, in that regard, kudos to Reid for banishing TO relatively early. Too early to blame the entire season on a guy who didn't even enter the locker room for the last seven weeks.
Which leaves us with McNabb's injury. He went down for the season in Week 10 of last season, but they discovered the hernia in training camp. So, logically, with his franchise QB nursing an injury, Andy Reid decided to throw the ball 70 percent of the fucking time. It didn't surprise anybody that McNabb got hurt -- it actually surprised me that he lasted that long. So Reid is as much to blame for that injury as anybody can be to blame for another person's injury.
Turns out McNabb's ability to single-handedly keep them in games had been disguising an aging defense, terrible offensive playcalling, poor clock management, and a lack of skill and/or depth at every major position.
Last season's 6-10 was Andy Reid's fault. But he blamed it on TO and McNabb's injury, and everybody gave him a free pass because he'd been such a good coach. Rightly so, I would say -- a record like his (the Eagles won something like 70 percent of their games under his tenure going into 2005) earns you a down year. Even if that record really isn't that good, because you have nothing to show for it, because you shit the bed in every big game you played.
2006 -- Which brings us to this year. The Eagles have been a decent-to-bad team all year, even with a healthy McNabb in his prime. I said this after the first real game we played this year, the choke job against the Giants. Even when they were 4-1, they weren't impressive. That 49ers game was as close as a 14-point loss can be -- only a goal-line fumble that the Birds returned for 98 yards made the difference. It took a classic Drew Bledsoe meltdown to save them against Dallas. The Packers and Redskins suck. Add that to the fact that they've now lost to two 3-7 teams -- the Bucs and the Titans -- and you've got a football team kindly described as average.
They didn't lose to the Titans because McNabb got hurt. They were well on their way to losing before that. But the moment he got hurt, it ruled out one of his classic put-the-team-on-my-back wins, where he throws three second-half TDs and somehow pulls it out despite not looking all that great, overall. Like the one he orchestrated against Tampa, before The Luckiest Moment in NFL History.
They consistently dig themselves first-half holes, especially against bad teams. They drop lots of passes. They literally have not thrown a pass (shotgun excluded) that didn't include a play-action fake in weeks. They only run the ball when the pass game has stalled. They either throw eight deep balls a game (New Orleans) or none (Tennessee). They can't tackle on defense and still can't stop the run, even after five years of this shit. They were third in the league in penalty yards even before the 64 they had today. They have the No. 1 offense in the NFL and have somehow lost half their games.
What does all of that add up to? Bad coaching. That's not all McNabb's fault. The truth is, McNabb's been saving Reid's sorry ass for his entire career. The one brilliant coaching move Reid ever made was drafting Donovan. He's a solid GM -- he drafts pretty well, first-rounders notwithstanding -- but he's a horrible, horrible coach.
And he needs to be fired. But now that McNabb's hurt, he has another excuse. And he'll be back next year, even after the Eagles go 6-10. It'll take another year of mediocrity, another year of playing down to opponents, passing 70 percent of the time even with a so-so line and handless wide receivers, and missing the playoffs. Then he might get fired.
Hopefully it won't be too late by then. McNabb turns 30 on Saturday and just suffered his third major lower-body injury. The best players on the defense are over the hill. Westbrook might need microfracture surgery to fix his chronic knee problems. This year's in the shitter. At this point, I can either hope Garcia finds some magic left in that rag arm of his and lead them to a first-round playoff loss, or I can root for them to lose out and get a higher draft slot. Next year doesn't look good -- McNabb might not be back for the first game, and Westbrook's considering offseason surgery. So, really, I have to look forward to 2008, and hope that the following things happen between now and then:
1. Reid gets fired or moved to GM. (I'm actually hoping for the latter)
2. McNabb returns to 100%.
3. Westbrook returns to 100%
4. They draft or acquire quality starters at all of the following positions:
a)Running back (power)
b)Linebacker (middle and strong-side)
5. They keep Stallworth (and he stays healthy) or acquire a big-time WR.
That would give them a real chance again in 2008. Otherwise, it's back to the perpetual mediocrity that defines Philadelphia sports in my lifetime (did I mention the Phils didn't get Soriano?).
Let's just say I'm not holding my breath. And, since nobody's making them yet, I just ordered a custom "Fire Andy Reid" t-shirt.
(By the way, does the RSS feed for this blog work for anybody else? It never works for me.)