Reid misfires, but Eagles loss not all his fault

Andy Reid looks on as time expires on season. Inactive linebacker Stewart Bradley is in background.
Andy Reid looks on as time expires on season. Inactive linebacker Stewart Bradley is in background.
Posted: January 10, 2011

HE HAS BEEN this team's coach for 12 seasons, and as unsatisfying finishes go, this one doesn't come close. The particulars of Andy Reid's second consecutive first-round playoff exit are so far removed from last year's disaster in Dallas that it's hard to imagine we are about to discuss the same team.

Or the same coach.

This is how Andy Reid's latest incomplete ended. Down by five, with more than a half minute left on the clock, Michael Vick attempted a high-risk pass to Riley Cooper in the corner of the end zone that was intercepted by Green Bay's Tramon Williams. Tormented afterward, Vick said repeatedly that he should have checked the ball down to the running back.

Think about how you thought the end of the season would look, and what it looked like instead.

Riley Cooper?

Michael Vick?

The quarterback accepting full blame, after battling the trainers to go back in after suffering an ankle injury on the previous series, after moving the team from its own 34 to the Packers' 27 with a pair of big passes, including one to Cooper?

Riley Cooper?

"There were a lot of guys who had an opportunity to play who don't have a lot of years of experience," Reid said, adding it was not an excuse. But . . .

"There were some experiences that will help us down the road."

Yes, the NFL is all about changing personnel and reloading each year, and about not making excuses. But when you look at what the Eagles sent out there yesterday and how close they came to a visit to Chicago next week, Reid walks away from this latest mess without the usual amount of mud on his boots. Watching Winston Justice try to handle Clay Matthews, watching Nick Cole struggling too, watching 6-9, 330-pound King Dunlap replace Justice mostly because he took longer for Matthews to run around - well, the greatest indictment of Reid this season is that he didn't have better subs.

Injuries did in this team more than coaching or playcalling, although LeSean McCoy's 12 carries, distributed evenly over two halves, were no way to treat the league's 18th-ranked defense against the run.

But, again, look who they had trying to punch holes.

"I told the team that I appreciated the fight that they gave," said Reid, adding later, "We have a lot of things to evaluate."

It's likely to start with the defense, which continued its comic inability to make any kind of statement in the red zone: Moise Fokou. Jamar Chaney. Dimitri Patterson. Kurt Coleman. All added to the mix as injuries mounted and mounted.

The Eagles were the kind of team this season that was adding questions while other playoff teams were answering them. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said as much prior to the final game of the season when I asked if so many personnel changes late in the season limited what he dialed up. McDermott said yes, that, "With so many new players, you can't just say, 'Hey, we've always run this blitz - run this blitz.'

"Because those players don't know those blitzes," said the coach, whose job is likely to be a hot topic in weeks ahead. "If you had veteran players, you can bank on them being comfortable in an NFL game and then they can execute whatever you draw up. So, that's part of the overall equation you take into the game plan and say, 'OK, realistically, what can I expect these guys to handle?' "

That was no clearer than on a third-down play in the third quarter, the game's pivotal moment, in my view. The Eagles had just converted Aaron Rodgers' fumble into their first touchdown, cutting the deficit to 14-10, pushing the crowd into a frenzy. Perhaps shaken by his fumble, the noise, whatever, Rodgers had driven two straight passes into the dirt and faced a third-and-10 from his own 31.

Over his decade as Reid's defensive guru, Jim Johnson had seasons like this one, where he was playing everyone but your brother. Always, in a spot like this, he would have found a way to bring pressure. Instead, Rodgers stood in the pocket for what seemed an eternity, eventually finding Donald Driver downfield for a 20-yard gain, moving the ball to midfield.

The crowd quieted. The defense, as it had throughout the game, looked confused. The Packers glided the last 49 yards for the touchdown, which ultimately provided the margin of victory.

It didn't have to be, of course. David Akers is going to the Pro Bowl because he makes the kicks he missed in this game. DeSean Jackson, another Pro Bowl choice, dropped a pass on the 7-yard line late in the first half that sabotaged a scoring drive. The Packers' second touchdown could have been avoided if Quintin Mikell, a Pro Bowl alternate, secured a fumble that fell into his lap. Brent Celek stepped out of bounds, negating a two-point conversion that would have made it a three-point game late, and likely avoided Vick's lethal pick.

These were mistakes made by veterans, the biggest made by the quarterback that ended the game. Vick's chance to rescue another dire moment was made possible by Reid's unconventional philosophy of using timeouts with around 4 minutes remaining, not 2, when trailing with the ball possessed by the opponent.

It's taken some getting used to, and I've been a reluctant convert, but it has bought him the kind of late-game magic that it appeared Vick was once again destined to make in the final minutes yesterday.

That he didn't is not on Reid. Reid didn't miss those field goals, either. Over 12 years of playoff runs, long and short, there have been plenty of losses that were on him more than anyone else.

Yesterday wasn't one of them.

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donnels@phillynews.com.

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