Maybe it's fairest to say there are different degrees of commitment, and that throwing in the towel is rarely an across-the-board thing. I doubt they took a vote in the locker room and decided to dial down the effort. But if you were to say there are guys on this defense who seem to have lost confidence in, and hope for, what they are trying to do, the flow of the last two games certainly sustains that view.
A big chunk of what we saw Thursday night had to do with Young. A team doesn't play hard when the quarterback isn't giving it a chance to win, and Young did not give the Eagles a chance to win in Seattle. In fact, there were some games very much like this one in 2005, when Mike McMahon was the quarterback after Donovan McNabb really ripped up the sports hernia he'd been playing with. (One of those hopeless games was in prime time against the Seahawks, strangely enough.) When the most important guy on the field, the one who gets the ball every snap, keeps giving it to the other team, spirits droop. Doesn't have a lot to do with the coach, unless players are thinking that the coach must be an idiot for playing this quarterback.
The quitting question is so big because it might determine whether Andy Reid gets another season to turn this mess around. The brass is not eager to fire Reid, after 13 years, with all this high-priced weaponry assembled, talent and schemes that might not suit the next coach. But if the product doesn't look a lot better, starting this coming Sunday at Miami, keeping Reid will become the hardest sell Eagles management has tried to make since the short-lived ban on carrying hoagies into the Linc.
Opinions will be formed about more than just Reid in these final four games, with all reasonable hope of the playoffs gone. Here is a stab at the players with the most to lose and the most to gain before the curtain comes down on the Eagles' season New Year's Day against the Redskins:
Five with most to gain:
1. Jaiquawn Jarrett: You saw another implosion by the Eagles' up-and-down safety corps Thursday night in Seattle. Yes, the second-round pick from Temple was hurt by the lockout, and so on, but it's December. If he can't earn some playing time now, the way this secondary looks, that really doesn't bode well.
2. Brandon Graham: The 2010 first-round pick, which the team traded up to make, was dressed Thursday but didn't play, according to the official gamebook. As Graham noted last week, it's now a year since he suffered that knee injury. He needs to make it clear that he's OK, and is capable of being an impact NFL starter. The Eagles' recent history with high defensive picks is not encouraging.
3. Derek Landri: The Eagles signed the undersized veteran defensive tackle as a stopgap Oct. 4 when Antonio Dixon went down. He was not in their long-term plans. Probably still isn't. But maybe it will occur to somebody that this is one guy who gives everything he has every snap, who knows how to tackle, who isn't more worried about money and status than winning. You need more of these, not fewer.
4. Brandon Hughes/Curtis Marsh: The two young corners are an entry here, because I'm assuming they're both going to get some playing time so management can assess what it really has heading into an offseason that likely will see Asante Samuel moving on. Hughes really struggled against Tom Brady, but that was hardly a fair test. Marsh is a third-round rookie, really raw, with impressive tools.
5. LeSean McCoy: Eyes on the prize for the Eagles' most explosive pure runner since Wilbert Montgomery. McCoy isn't Brian Westbrook's equal as a receiver, and he lacks Duce Staley's pocket-rocket inside power, but McCoy's @cutondime25 Twitter handle is the truth. Shady is 23 years old and is going to end his third season with more yards than any Eagles back has ever gained in such a span. He isn't as focused on individual goals as some people are, but this can be a career year, that will set the table for offseason contract talks. Bring it home strong.
Five with most to lose:
1. Michael Vick: Get healthy and start throwing touchdown passes, Mike, or you could be looking at a caretaker 2012 season under a new coach who is easing in his own high-draft-pick rookie QB. Only DeSean Jackson has had a more disastrous 2011.
2. DeSean Jackson: I really believe that deep down, D-Jax thinks that busting it despite being underpaid is for chumps, that in his world, if someone is disrespecting you, you repay them in kind, or else you're showing weakness. Problem is, the people who write NFL paychecks don't adhere to the Southern California rap culture's view of manhood and respect. The contract Jackson wants is so far removed from what he has shown on the field this season, it isn't even funny. He has 4 weeks to show somebody out there that he's worth it.
3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Don't know if the corner's ready to return from that high-ankle sprain yet, but if the Eagles are going to shed Asante Samuel in the offseason, it would be nice to have a better read on the talented, but incredibly erratic guy they've tabbed to take his place. Has the size and speed to play press coverage. Might not have the head to play, period.
4. Vince Young: His plan was to remake himself under the tutelage of Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid, then hit the free-agent market as a viable starter somewhere. Then he threw eight interceptions in three starts. If Young gets to play again this season, he needs to show he can take care of the ball.
5. Nate Allen: No player on the 2011 Eagles has been a bigger enigma. Awful start, strong middle of the season, horrendous the past few weeks. Bad angles, bad tackling, confusion in coverage. Is he a building block going through growing pains, or yet another high-round draft mistake?
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