Eagles still think they're a good team

Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick avoids the sack in the game against the Cowboys on Saturday. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick avoids the sack in the game against the Cowboys on Saturday. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 26, 2011

For a group that had just been knocked out of the playoffs, sealing their fate as one of the more disappointing NFL teams in recent memory, the Eagles were surprisingly at ease Saturday night.

There were laughs in the locker room and talk about how maybe the team's three recent wins would build toward next season. With some reporters asking about how dangerous the Eagles might have been if they reached the postseason, players happily grabbed the bait, talking about what a threat they could have been.

Perhaps it was because the Eagles had just won, or that their postseason hopes have been fading for so long, but there was precious little perspective on the bottom line: that the Eagles entered the year with Super Bowl hopes and didn't even make the playoffs. That a team that won 10 of their first 15 games a year ago got just seven victories in the same time span this year. That after winning the NFC East last season the Eagles slid further from the Super Bowl instead of pulling closer.

To their credit, the organization did not rest on last year's playoff appearance and embraced bigger aims for 2011. They went on a summer spending spree and backed the notion that the goal for this year was a championship. With 10 wins last year and more talent on board, they took a big swing. But they missed, badly.

On Saturday there was a new spin explaining why: that it took time to jell with so many new pieces.

"You look at all the teams that win Super Bowls the past couple years - those teams have been together a long time," said quarterback Mike Vick. "That's how leaders are born and guys learn to step up and accept the challenge."

That's true, but building that chemistry from within usually requires grooming quality draft picks who rise up together within a system. The Eagles have failed to draft enough defensive players who can form the building blocks of a title contender, so they tried to buy some through free agency. They fully endorsed free-agent signings as a viable route to a title. It's too late to try to change the narrative now.

The Eagles knew they would have a short offseason to incorporate new pieces and knew they were taking a chance when they hired the least experienced defensive coordinator in the NFL. They knew they were putting significant responsibilities on uninspiring linebackers. They knew they had chosen to depend on an oft-injured quarterback who got hurt, missed three games and failed to finish two others. The Eagles went 1-4 in those games. Their strengths in other areas were supposed to make up for these weaknesses, but the flaws were deeper than first thought and assets less robust.

Other problems - a rash of turnovers and underperformances by some big names - were harder to foresee but were never fixed once they became evident.

One talking point in the locker room was that the Eagles are the most dangerous team in the NFC East, despite the fact that it will be the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants actually playing for the division crown.

"I'm not sure we're a team that people necessarily wanted to see get into the playoffs," Reid said, implying that the likes of the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers were losing sleep over the 7-8 Eagles.

Their late win streak is a better alternative than simply quitting. But beating the 5-10 Miami Dolphins, imploding New York Jets and a Cowboys team that treated Saturday as an exhibition doesn't replace an actual playoff run that might have salvaged the year.

"You can sit up there and try to make all the excuses in the world, but they don't mean anything," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, one of the few Eagles who has won a Super Bowl and seemed to recognize what a missed opportunity this season was.

Despite Vick's ailments, the Eagles were relatively healthy - no starter missed more than three full games to injury - and had a weak division. There is no guarantee those factors will break in their favor next year.

Seven or eight wins might be good reason for hope if your team finished with just four or five the previous year. But the Eagles were worse in 2011 than they were in 2010. They moved backward.

That has to be most important fact to consider as the Eagles front office decides how to approach another offseason searching for championship answers.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

 

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