Ashley Fox | Already, yes, a must win

Posted: September 17, 2007

This is a big one.

You never want to say that one game in September can determine a season, especially a game in Week 2. But that's exactly what the Eagles are looking at tonight when they host the Washington Redskins in their home opener.

After giving the game to Green Bay last week because they assigned two novices the rather important job of returning punts, the Birds are 0-1. They've got issues. They're young. Their quarterback is coming back from knee surgery. Several key players are wrestling with injuries. And they played in Week 1 not like a potential Super Bowl contender that will rise above the muck in the National Football Conference, but like an average team unaware of where to find the opponent's jugular.

By losing to the Packers the way they did, the Eagles made tonight a must-win situation. They have to beat the Redskins, a team possessing just the sort of weapons the Eagles haven't been good at containing - not one but two crafty, strong running backs who wore down the Miami Dolphins last week and delivered a season-opening overtime victory.

"If you didn't have a chip on your shoulder from going to Green Bay, you should have a chip on your shoulder to play with right now," Brian Dawkins said Friday. "If you needed any motivation, which you shouldn't need, if you did need any motivation to really get up and let your emotions go, we're playing 0-1, NFC East, Washington [is a] physical team, playing in the house, Monday Night Football. You've got a whole bunch of things that can motivate you.

"I'm excited. I'm jacked up about it."

It sounds like Dawkins was talking to his younger teammates. If you did, which you shouldn't, but if you do? What is that? Heavy words.

Yes, it's only Week 2, but don't kid yourself. This one matters. This one will determine a season. This one will decide success or failure.

The prospect of 0-2? Don't even go there. Here's what Dawkins said about it: "That's something we do not want to be. You don't want to be that anyway, but you definitely don't want to be that with a younger team."

Imagine how the Giants are feeling today. Or the Saints. Or the Bills. Or, heaven forbid, the Falcons.

Fragile. Vulnerable. Despondent.

Sure, the Eagles started the 2003 season with losses to Tampa Bay and New England, then after an early bye week rallied to win 11 of their next 12 games, finished the regular season 12-4, and hosted the NFC title game, losing to Carolina.

But these Eagles aren't those Eagles. Those Eagles were still making the climb up the NFL mountain. These Eagles have reached a plateau, and now are trying to decide whether to keep climbing or turn back.

Lose tonight, and here's what we're talking about tomorrow: Can the Eagles beat Detroit? Is it really going to come to that? No disrespect to the Lions, but they are the Lions. Entering this season, they had won a total of 24 games in the last six years. That's a .250 winning percentage. Their last winning season was 2000, and their last division title was won in 1993.

If the Eagles beat Washington, they're back on course, at least for the moment.

Look around the Eagles' locker room and who do you see? Where are all the veterans who remember 2004?

There's Takeo Spikes, a great guy, but he hasn't been here. He doesn't know. He's never even played on Monday Night Football - until now.

There's L.J. Smith. He's got this contract issue hanging over his head. He looks like he's in terrific shape, but where's his head? On the Eagles, or on himself?

There's Brian Westbrook. He's on the verge of becoming the star he thinks he is, but what's he going to do to prevent an 0-2 start?

There's Donovan McNabb. He's worked incredibly hard rehabilitating his knee, has put in grueling hours in the off-season. He's done everything he possibly can. But is he back? Why didn't he run, when he could have, against the Packers? Is he really OK with the knee?

And then there's the coach. Two of his children's personal lives are a mess. Yes, Britt and Garrett Reid are adults, but they are still Andy Reid's children. How is he dealing with each arrest, each arraignment, each day that brings more bad news? That can't be easy.

Win tonight, and it all gets a little easier. There will be room to breathe. Lose, and the Eagles will be scattered pieces on the ground, in need of a glue that will be hard to find.

It might only be Week 2, but this game tonight is as big as it gets.


Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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