Still, in the conservative philosophy embraced by many who coach football, Andy Reid's decision to kick a third-quarter field goal after three failed cracks at the end zone in the 29-16 loss to the Giants seemed strategically correct. The Eagles were at home. After surrendering two ugly big plays for touchdowns in the first quarter, they had bottled up New York's injury-depleted offense, had the kind of lopsided advantage in ball possession that suggests a lead 10 times as great as the one they had.
Giants defensive end Justin Tuck's cranky neck had forced him out of the game. The Giants appeared on the brink of break. Later it was learned that Michael Vick's right (non-throwing) hand was broken after completing a pass on that drive, but given that he ran twice into the gut of the Giants' defense, it's hard to believe that was factored in much.
A kickoff followed. Another three-and-out by New York, followed by another promising Eagles drive into New York territory with Vick at the helm. And then one of those little things that often get in the way of Andy Reid's big schemes. On third-and-9 from his own 49, wideout Steve Smith, one of the smartest players on the field, ran his route 1 yard short.
"I thought I knew where I was," he said. "I should have gotten the first down."
Another fourth-and-1, this time on the Giants' 43. Leading 16-14 with an injured quarterback, another head coach might have swallowed his disappointment, chalked it up to the game's human element, and punted the ball. Maybe he pins the Giants deep. Maybe he gives his revived defense and its rookie coordinator a chance for total redemption.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," Reid said. "That's on me, and it's my responsibility there to make sure we call those in the right situations. I didn't do it last week and I should have. I did it this week, and I shouldn't have. That's how this thing works sometimes."
LeSean McCoy lost 3 yards. New York took over. Needing just three points to retake the lead, the Giants had their best field position to start a drive.
For those of you who believe the media doesn't grill him enough, doesn't call him out for answers like this one . . . well, the next question asked was why he thought this was the right thing to do.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," Reid said, staring straight ahead.
About a minute later, Reid stood up and left. Someone had asked if the team had X-ray results of Vick's hand before the time he re-entered the game and Reid said, "I can't remember that, to be honest with you." That was the longest of his seven final answers. There were two yeses, one "we'll see" and three other answers of four words or fewer. His press conference took 3 minutes, 23 seconds.
The games get him. After 13 years, there is no other conclusion. No one prepares better, no one has more tricks up his sleeve. You would lose in Madden to this guy every time, because the players would always do what they were supposed to do. He wouldn't have to go for it at midfield because the Steve Smith who played in that game would have run to the first-down marker, not a yard short of it.
But it is not Madden. And it is getting old. Thirteen years of this, 13 years of red-zone messes and stubbornness, followed by a thin-skinned reluctance to share his logic with the paying public. "The fans here are unbelievable," Reid is quoted saying in his official Eagles biography. "They're fair. If we stink they let us know we stink, if we're doing okay they let us know we're doing okay, but they're always there."
Not in the fourth quarter, they weren't. Some of them left after he dialed up a long bomb for backup Mike Kafka on his very first play from scrimmage, following the short drive that put the Giants ahead, 22-16. New York's Aaron Ross fair-caught it at his own 44, and the Giants had their second-best field position of the day.
Most of the rest left after Ahmad Bradshaw scored the final touchdown with just under 4 minutes left, too numbed to be stunned.
Too worn down after 13 years of it, I suppose, to even boo.
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