Fork, Birds: Some assembly required

Falling flat: After dropping one of two catchable passes he flubbed in the end zone, DeSean Jackson reacts. The Eagles fell to 1-5 at home on the season and have lost eight of nine at the Linc.
Falling flat: After dropping one of two catchable passes he flubbed in the end zone, DeSean Jackson reacts. The Eagles fell to 1-5 at home on the season and have lost eight of nine at the Linc. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 28, 2011

Andy Reid and his players said the predictable things after Sunday's 38-20 loss to the New England Patriots. You've heard it all before. They have to do a better job. They will keep working. They fought until the end, but there were just too many mistakes to overcome.

They did everything but add a "We'll get 'em next time," because even the Eagles - those masters of saying nothing believable - couldn't pull that one off with straight faces.

If there were a next time, the Patriots would win that one, too. And a next time after that. And a next time after that. The Eagles, regardless of their protestations, are a done football team, and once New England punched back from a 10-0 deficit, the Eagles packed it in mentally and physically.

On Sunday, they were that worst of NFL combinations: stupid and soft.

They committed idiotic penalties, missed blocking assignments and fouled up coverages just as if they had already checked out on the season. They whiffed on tackles, didn't work to extend plays, and their receivers - particularly DeSean Jackson - developed a bad case of the short arms.

Jackson had a particularly horrendous game in that regard and, after he dropped a long pass in the end zone because there were some defenders in the area, Reid benched him. If you want to gauge exactly how angry Reid was, he didn't protect Jackson in the postgame interview session. Reid could have said that he decided to rest Jackson for the remainder of the evening because the Patriots were out of reach and Jackson suffered a slight foot injury at the end of the Giants game a week ago. Given the chance to say nothing, Reid almost always takes it. Not this time.

"I just wanted to give the other guys an opportunity," Reid said. "I just wanted to give the other guys a chance to make a play."

That's about as direct as he gets, admittedly not a high standard, but telling in this case. If he could have benched them all, he probably would have. He chose to embarrass only Jackson.

From their point of view, Jackson and the other receivers had cause for concern on the field. Quarterback Vince Young was lofting hospital balls in their directions, leading receivers directly into the waiting helmets of the nearest safety. If Michael Vick doesn't return soon, Young is going to get someone seriously injured.

"You've got to keep your head on a swivel," Jackson said.

It isn't a game of football for the Eagles any longer. It is a game of getting to the finish line in one piece. There is no earthly reason to risk injury for the cause of a lost season. Regardless of what the mathematics of the division race or the wild-card race might say, the season is over because the players say it is.

With five wins in the five remaining games, the Eagles would finish 9-7, and maybe that would be good enough to make the postseason. Maybe not. Winning five in a row in the NFL, including three on the road, is very, very difficult. The players know that, and they know they will have to extend themselves and accept the pain required just to make the effort. It would probably be in vain, but that would be the deal.

Some of them will take that bargain and will show up for all the games. Some of them will not. There were already some vacancies in the foxhole on Sunday. That was already obvious. With another loss, there will be more.

The fans gave it to the Eagles on Sunday, and deservedly so, and they also called for Reid to be fired. When a team loses eight of its last nine home games - which, including the 2010 playoff loss, the Eagles have somehow managed to do - then the paying customers are going to voice their disappointment.

"The fans don't understand some of the situations in the games," Young said. "You can't put it all on Andy."

There are some things the fans do understand, however, including the total ticket price for these last nine home games. They can recognize when a team isn't bright enough to keep from jumping offside at the worst times. They can see players more worried about being hit than making plays. And they can judge for themselves the play-calling when a team has a third and 1 at the 2-yard line and doesn't gain an inch in two tries.

"I was disappointed in a lot of things, starting with myself," Reid said. "There wasn't a lot of things working."

Now they have to recover, practice, fly cross-country, and play again in three days. It will be a test of character and, depending on how much opposition the Seattle Seahawks can muster, they might even pass it.

Against the Patriots on Sunday, though, they failed badly. The Eagles looked across the line and, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively, decided the odds weren't worth fighting. "For who, for what?" Ricky Watters said all those seasons ago, the mantra of professional self-preservation.

Here we are in 2011, and the answer to the question is still the same.

Not for you, not for their coach, and, apparently, not even for themselves.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

 

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