Gambling Birds roll snake-eyes

Posted: November 14, 2011

Is this what you get for $100 million?

Is this what you get when a stack of chips - all of them, we were told - were pushed into the pot?

Is this what you get after 13 seasons of patience?

The Eagles, following a pathetic 21-17 loss to the equally pathetic Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, have hit rock bottom. The mathematicians will compute that the playoffs are still possible, but even an eternal optimist would come to the conclusion that the 3-6 Eagles season is over.

It is fair to say that this is the franchise's worst team since 1998, the year before owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Joe Banner hired Andy Reid as coach. The 2005 team, after Donovan McNabb was lost for the season, was truly wretched by the end. But that was with Mike McMahon at quarterback.

This team has Michael Vick - who was given a nine-figure contract, the kind normally reserved for elite quarterbacks - at the controls. This team has 12 former Pro Bowl players on the roster. This team has a head coach with five NFC championship appearances and one that has guided the Eagles to heights they hadn't reached in generations.

But Reid does not have a Super Bowl ring and will not win one with a team that has his fingerprints all over it. How much longer can Lurie and Banner test the patience of their fan base?

This season alone could make even the most loyal Birds fan rip up their season tickets and burn them. It's as if the Eagles have patented a way to lose.

They blew a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time this season. They committed 11 penalties, a few of which were devastating. They coughed up two turnovers. They were woeful in the red zone on both sides of the ball. They were outcoached.

And the losses keep getting uglier and uglier.

"Obviously, you can't turn over the football as many times as we did, have 11 penalties on top of that and be a disaster in the red zone like we were," Reid said. "That's my responsibility, and the way this team played is my responsibility."

Reid's players, though, have let him down. You can start with Vick. Dating back to last season's momentum-killing loss to the Vikings, Vick is 3-8 as the Eagles' starting quarterback. After a superb performance against the Cowboys two weeks ago, he has regressed to the point where John Skelton outplayed him.

The Cardinals quarterback was filling in for the injured Kevin Kolb, who had wished to make a triumphant return against his old team. But Skelton, while just as shaky as Vick for stretches, engineered a fourth-quarter comeback that Vick hasn't looked capable of producing.

Vick completed just 16-of-34 passes for 128 yards. He tossed two interceptions - and could have had more - and finished with a 32.5 passer rating, by far his lowest as an Eagle. Some of the throws were wildly off-target.

"I was inaccurate today and never really got comfortable," Vick said. "I'm very hard on myself, and that just can't happen."

He was without DeSean Jackson, benched and left at home because he missed a meeting, and was without Jeremy Maclin for stretches because of shoulder and hamstring injuries.

And Vick was dealt a game plan that leaned heavily once again toward the pass when a number of signs - top two receivers out, LeSean McCoy - screamed for more run.

"It's always helpful when you balance out the run and the pass," Vick said. "We make a living on throwing the football, and we just can't change our strategy right then and there in the moment. I think LeSean got his fair share of touches."

McCoy, who entered the game as the NFL's leading rusher, finished with just 14 carries for 81 yards. He also had three catches for 12 yards. When the Eagles led, 14-7, early in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for four straight passes on a drive that ended abruptly.

After the Cardinals tied the score on their ensuing possession, three straight passes were called again. Yes, the Cardinals' 29th-ranked pass defense called for airing the ball out, just as the Bears' 29th-ranked unit did last week. But Vick just hasn't been the quarterback he was for much of last season, one capable of picking on average secondaries.

The Eagles' once-prolific offense has scored just 27 points over the last two weeks. Three of the 10 points the unit produced Sunday were thanks to Nnamdi Asomugha's fourth-quarter interception.

The offense had great field position at the Arizona 26. But Vick had the wind knocked out of him during a second-down run, and when Vince Young replaced him on third down, a McCoy run was stopped 2 yards short.

Alex Henery's 36-yard field goal gave the Eagles a 17-14 lead with 5 minutes, 10 seconds to go. But Juan Castillo's defense came up soft once again with the game on the line.

Earlier in the quarter, the defense allowed an eight-play, 89-yard drive that resulted in Larry Fitzgerald's (seven catches for 146 yards) second touchdown of the game. On Arizona's game-winning drive, Castillo's unit looked even more befuddled.

Linebacker Jamar Chaney was beaten by running back LaRod Stephens-Howling for a 30-yard completion on fourth-down-and-2. Then rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett somehow ended up on Fitzgerald, whom he allowed to make an over-the-shoulder grab for 37 yards down to the Eagles 1.

Three plays later, Skelton hit receiver Early Doucet for a 5-yard touchdown. Vick had plenty of time - 1:53 - and one timeout to pull out a victory. But the Eagles advanced as far as their own 46, and a Vick prayer was intercepted.

"We still have opportunities," Vick said. "Lord willing, maybe we can end up 10-6. Who knows? Nobody believes it but us."

Vick hit the mark on one thing Sunday: Nobody believes it.


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com

or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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