Trick or treat? Unpredictable Eagles soar in 34-7 win over Cowboys

Posted: October 31, 2011

The Eagles are unstoppable. After Sunday night's prime-time humiliation of the Dallas Cowboys, we can all be certain of that much.

Just as we were certain the Eagles were unstoppable last November after Michael Vick's epic performance against Washington on Monday Night Football.

Just as we were certain the Eagles were unwatchable after they blew three consecutive fourth-quarter leads earlier this season.

Say what you want about Andy Reid. In his 13th season as head coach, his team is unpredictable. These Eagles are capable of beating any team in the NFL, especially themselves. They can look inept and, well, ept in consecutive weeks. It's as tough to get a handle on them as it was for them to get a handle on the football in Buffalo earlier this month.

"We don't have a winning record right now," Reid said. "As good as this game is, there's still a lot of season left."

A defense that couldn't stop Buffalo or San Francisco almost shuts out the Cowboys. An offense that fizzled in the red zone and turned the ball over for weeks scores on its first six possessions. A turnover-prone quarterback is almost perfect in piling up a 24-0 halftime lead.

It wasn't quite the once-in-a-lifetime performance Vick unleashed in that 59-28 romp over Washington last season. After that, reasonable people wondered - out loud! - whether it was possible for any NFL defense to stop Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and the rest of them.

Except, of course, that Aaron Rodgers was the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl. Vick and the Eagles turned out to be quite stoppable, losing their final three games. The last was a playoff game against Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

The unstoppable Eagles became so stoppable, in fact, that Reid replaced his defensive coaching staff and made radical changes in the team's approach to offensive-line play. There followed a spending spree to infuse talent onto the roster.

Expectations spiked again, almost as high as they were after those thrilling wins against Washington and the Giants a season ago. Surely the Eagles had the talent to dominate in the lockout-hobbled NFL.

"I think you're seeing this around the league," Reid said. "I think everybody is kind of a work in progress as we go here."

The Eagles regressed first, starting off 1-4 and sending expectations crashing again. It was as if every decision Reid made was a beautiful, hand-rolled Cuban cigar, and every single one had an explosive charge in it.

So we knew they were great last year. We knew they were great this summer. We knew they stunk three weeks ago.

What do we know today?

Not much. We know Reid's bye-week magic formula still works. He is 13-0 in the games after the Eagles' bye. Considering the opponent and the stakes, and the sheer one-sidedness of it, Sunday's may have been the most impressive of those 13 wins.

But does it mean the ship is righted? No more than that Washington game proved Vick had been transformed into a quarterback god.

There were some similarities between the two prime-time routs. Some of the Washington players got the Eagles fired up by talking trash. They were thus inspired to inflict a beating so humiliating that veteran defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth said it looked like the Eagles were compiling "BCS points. They should be ranked No. 1 now."

This time, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, in the grand tradition of his father, was the culprit. Ryan called the Eagles "the all-hype team" and promised the Cowboys would "beat their ass."

For those of us who remember Buddy Ryan's "Greg Bell, my ass" quote before the Rams running back ran for 124 yards and a touchdown in a 1989 playoff game, this was especially amusing.

The Eagles may indeed be the all-hype team. Time will tell. But the scoreboard said "Eagles 34, Cowboys 7" Sunday night.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Vick said. "This was a win to be proud about, and there should be jubilation throughout the locker room. We deserve to take a moment and enjoy this, but at the same time understand our position. We've got Game 2 next week, the start of our new season."

The problem with motivation-by-perceived-slight is that you can't rely on it. There wasn't any of this stuff in those boring seasons when Reid's teams consistently won 11 or 12 games and went deep into the playoffs. Those Eagles were just professional, tough, and determined to find ways to win. Yawn.

It is possible the Eagles have figured things out and are about to embark on a strong run to the postseason. The state of the NFC East certainly makes that possible.

It is equally possible that the Eagles will be terrific some weeks and terrible other weeks, that Vick will wear down as he did last year and that expectations will soar before crashing cruelly once more.

Mirage or shimmering pool of Super Bowl hopes?

Dive in at your own risk.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his past columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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