Rich Hofmann | It's not over, but it won't be pretty

Posted: September 18, 2007

DEEP BREATHS, now.

There you go.

The Eagles' season is not over.

Really, it isn't.

It might not be the season you expected. It almost certainly is not going to be the season that they expected. If the Eagles are going to pull themselves together, it is going to be a long, brutal slog. They are not, as coach Andy Reid said, "off by a hair." They are not, as he said, "off by an inch."

They have significant problems and this will be very hard. Even if it ends up OK in the end, this will not be easy on the eyes. That seems to be a certainty.

But last rites are for losers, and it is hard to believe that the Eagles are losers. The season is not over, even after last night's 20-12 loss to the Washington Redskins. This is not the end, even at 0-2.

"We've had a little bit of everything over the 9 years," Reid said. "Have we been 0-2? Yeah, we've been 0-2 [most recently, in 2003]. Do we need to change it? Yeah, we need to change it.

"They're all different. Every year is different. We have new things to work on that are different than that [2003] team."

They have a dozen things to work on if they have one. But what you can say is that this figures to be a blueprint for the future. This game, this one here, in all of its pathetic glory, has every chance of being replayed by the Eagles, week after week after week. The outcome will change but the style really might not.

The style: bludgeons at 20 paces.

The Eagles do not seem capable of sustaining any kind

of offensive lightning right now. They have one touchdown in two games. The quarterback, Donovan McNabb, still isn't there, not entirely. But the Eagles don't really want to discuss this - besides, what's the alternative?

"I don't think Donovan McNabb is the issue," tight end L.J. Smith said. "I just think collectively we need to improve."

The wide receivers have approached invisibility and it really is hard to know what to think. There are many, many plays when they get no separation. Jason Avant (five catches, 55 yards), who has been the most productive, said: "It wasn't that they were covering us so great. Sometimes they're just

in a great defense for our plays . . . And we didn't capitalize on a couple of opportunities."

They can only lean on running back Brian Westbrook so hard. He was terrific last night - 17 carries for 96 yards, eight catches for 66 yards, 25 touches overall - but you cannot just pound him and pound him and pound him. If you do, you will be left with dust by December.

On the other side of the ball, well, let's just say that most games from now on are going to be more like this one than like the opener at Green Bay. The Redskins ran the ball pretty well with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. They worked the tight ends beautifully. And they did a great job protecting young quarterback Jason Campbell.

Once again, the Eagles' pass rush has disappeared. They spend more money and more time and more draft choices on trying to get to the passer, and they arrive on Opening Day every year with such hopes, and then they can't get there - and it kills them.

"They used a lot of three-step drops - they got rid of the ball really quick," defensive end Trent Cole said, and, well, fine. But you cannot win in the NFL without a pass rush. You just

can't. It is more important than the run defense, much more important. And based on last night, it is again a problem.

That the Eagles have a bus-full of things to work on - special teams included - goes without saying. That they have really looked incomplete so far is clear. This is worse than the 0-2 start in 2003 because nobody thinks the Packers and Redskins are championship-caliber teams and everybody in 2003 thought the teams that beat the Eagles to start the season, Tampa Bay and New England, were that good.

But it is not over. McNabb showed some significant life in the fourth quarter of the game, which was very important. The entire team kept at it, even after the Redskins took their 20-9 lead. Maybe this is grasping at a figment, but probably not. There were plenty of opportunities for the Eagles to roll over late last night and they didn't.

But it is going to be high-wire, even if it all works out in the end. It is going to be brutal. If the Eagles are to start winning, it will have to be winning ugly. There seems to be no other possibility. *

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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