Only time will tell if Reid and Eagles passed test

Posted: December 02, 2001

Sooner or later, every head coach faces a crisis such as the one Andy Reid endured last week.

Actually, it's too soon to be sure that the crisis has been endured. There are five games left on the schedule, all of which are fraught with peril for Reid's young team. It may turn out that the crisis was merely postponed, thanks to the mediocre opponent the Eagles beat Thursday night in Kansas City.

Still, Reid handled the first portion of the test better than his predecessor, Ray Rhodes, did when faced with his defining crisis in November 1996. No one knew it at the time, but it was during one monthlong period that Rhodes lost the handle on what had been, until then, a very promising tenure.

For Rhodes, the test arrived after a big victory in Dallas gave the Eagles a 7-2 record and first place in the NFC East.

For Reid, the test arrived after a big victory in Dallas gave the Eagles a 6-3 record. They were already in first place in the NFC East.

In '96, the Eagles came home from Dallas and faced a three-game stretch that included two eminently winnable home games, one against Washington, and a road game against an inferior team.

In '01, the Eagles came home from Dallas and faced a three-game stretch that included two eminently winnable home games, one against Washington, and a road game against an inferior team.

In '96, the Eagles lost to Buffalo at the Vet, 24-17. The next week, they lost to Washington at the Vet, 26-21. It was during this stretch that Rhodes memorably compared losing at home to terrible things being done to his family. The next week, the Eagles went to Arizona and lost their third straight game, 36-30.

After that peak of 7-2, the Eagles skidded to a 10-6 record and vanished without a fight in a wild-card playoff loss to San Francisco. Rhodes' Eagles were never right again after that.

If anything, last Sunday's wretched 13-3 loss to Washington was more disturbing than any single loss in the '96 three-game streak. The Eagles were utterly incapable of moving the ball on offense. They looked more like Rhodes' final team, the 1998 group that went 3-13 and endangered the NFL record for fewest points scored in a 16-game season.

Reid's response, and his team's, became that much more critical. Just for good measure, the NFL had scheduled the Eagles to play on Thursday night against the Chiefs. That gave Reid and his staff just two full practice days to figure out how to bounce back from the Washington game.

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower made a telling comment about that process.

"Players, a lot of the time, react the way that coaches act," Dowhower said. "We've got a solid group of coaches. As businesslike as we are, we still have a perspective on it. So when you go into a meeting, we're still going to be thorough and do all of the things that it takes to prepare to play.

"We happened to have a situation last week where we had penalties, or we didn't make a throw or a catch, or came up inches short on fourth down. Some things happened to us in succession that normally don't, and we probably didn't handle it as well as we should have."

Or, as Reid put it after the 23-10 win over Kansas City: "You have to have a short memory."

Their ability to snap out of their funk and dispatch the Chiefs was a good sign for the Eagles as December begins. They are 7-4 and they still have control of the division race. A week from today, they host the once-hot San Diego Chargers. A win would put them at 8-4 with the final, and toughest, quarter of the schedule coming up. A loss, and everything they gained by bouncing back against the Chiefs would be wasted.

That businesslike approach by Reid and his staff is a tricky thing. Reid was asked after the Washington game if it might help explain the team's apparent lack of emotion in some games. He said no, but he did not dismiss the idea out of hand.

Rhodes may have had the opposite problem. His repel-the-hordes rhetoric was inspiring at first, especially to younger players, but eventually became a kind of joke.

For the final part of the season, Reid's challenge is to strike a balance between continuing to teach the offense and finding ways to make it work each week. Quarterback Donovan McNabb needs to stay in the groove he found in Kansas City, trusting his instincts while absorbing the nuances of Reid's offense.

It has been an upside-down NFL season in many ways. Reid has pointed that out in several of his news conferences, partly as a caution and partly to explain how his team could look so bad in losses to Arizona and Washington at the Vet. The Bears are up, the Ravens are down. Tom Brady is, at the moment, a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. There are only a few really good teams.

The thing is, if the Eagles are doing things right, they should be able to rise above the mediocrity. They have an excellent defense and enough talent on offense to make a run this year. The anything-goes atmosphere around the league should be seen as an opportunity, not a reason to shrug off losses.

In Kansas City, the only thing the Eagles shrugged off was the weight of that loss to Washington. They did not let it drag them down. That was a start.

Phil Sheridan's e-mail address is psheridan@phillynews.com.

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