Eagles were 'Dream Team' for a night

Even the usually stern Andy Reid had to smile after the Eagles' best performance of the season topped the Giants.
Even the usually stern Andy Reid had to smile after the Eagles' best performance of the season topped the Giants. (ALEX BRANDON / AP)
Posted: November 22, 2011

Almost immediately, the phrase became an irritant instead of an inspiration. Ironically, though, Vince Young's "Dream Team" comment never fit better than Sunday night at the Meadowlands.

In the Eagles' 17-10 win over the New York Giants, many of the splashy signings that seemed so exciting in August finally paid off as planned. It was as if the denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys took over FAO Schwarz.

Young, who threw one ridiculous interception in a brief appearance at Washington, bounced back from a poor first half to engineer the game-winning touchdown drive.

Steve Smith, who was tackled by an invisible Cardinal shy of a first down last week, caught a touchdown pass against his former team.

Ronnie Brown, whose signature play before this was an intentional fumble, ran for the first of six Eagles first downs on the winning drive.

Even guys who hadn't embarrassed themselves delivered at a higher level in this game. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins tormented Eli Manning all game and laid out running back D.J. Ware with a Bednarikian hit. And Jason Babin, who has piled up sack numbers, made his single biggest play as an Eagle by forcing a game-clinching Manning fumble.

It was hard to criticize the Dream Team on this one night. But it was much harder to know what any of it meant. Was this, like the win over Dallas three weeks earlier, an isolated good game delivered in response to another week of withering criticism? Or was this the beginning of a late-season run to the playoffs? And how many of the Misfit Toys even have a chance to make a difference over the final six games?

First things first. The Eagles won't have to wait long for another stern test. If they play as haphazardly as they did for most of the season, especially on defense, the New England Patriots will tear them to pieces on Sunday. If they play as tenaciously and as physically as they did against Dallas and the Giants, then beating the Patriots is possible.

That's because the Eagles' greatest strength - their offensive versatility - lines up perfectly with New England's biggest weakness - its pass defense. Of course, the opposite is also true, and it could get ugly if Tom Brady is allowed to stand still and pick the Eagles' secondary apart.

That game is yet another must-win if the Eagles are going to get to double-digit wins.

"We have six losses now," Jenkins said the other day. "The best we can do is make sure we have six losses at the end of the season."

There will be endless debate about what that would mean. A 10-win season would require a magnificent finish, and a measure of consistency this group has not come close to attaining. But a 10-win season without a long playoff run would be just another good-but-not-great year for Andy Reid. Given the expectations for this team and all the changes Reid made, 10-6 would have to rank as a disappointment.

It remains this team's best hope, however, and Young deserves much of the thanks. He is truly a player who finds ways to win games. His record as a starter in the NFL is 31-17, a better winning percentage (. 646) than Reid's own career percentage of .607.

And yet Reid will almost certainly bench Young if Michael Vick's ribs heal enough for him to play against the Patriots. It is what Reid almost has to do, even though Vick has been at the heart of this team's inconsistency all season.

Vick is the one the Eagles committed to with a big multiyear contract. It is hard to imagine them turning the team over to Young, who will be a free agent again after this season. Those considerations shouldn't matter as much as winning, but it's not like Young's three-interception performance made a strong case for him as the No. 1 quarterback.

"I don't have a long history with Vince," Reid said Monday, "and I felt confident that he would be able to be successful, knock a little of the rust off, get kind of caught up with the game speed and then be OK."

There is an intangible involved - that knack for winning - but it's important to remember that a pretty good coach, Jeff Fisher, didn't find that compelling enough to believe fully in Young. If Vick were to miss one more game, Reid would have a much better feel for Young. The decision might make itself.

Most likely, Vick will start against New England. Jeremy Maclin's return will send Smith back to a smaller role. Young, Smith and Brown will play out their one-year deals as backups here and then look for better situations for themselves.

They may never be the Dream Team, but for one night, they were a team.

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