For the first time, Reid's Eagles don't seem capable of recovery

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER King Dunlap reacts after being penalized during the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Dallas.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER King Dunlap reacts after being penalized during the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Dallas.
Posted: November 14, 2012

IT NEVER HAS been like this. We've all had our problems with Andy Reid's coaching over the years, have all wailed about his aversion to running the football and the time-management blunders and the red-zone stagnation and the smarter-than-you playcalling that too often blew up in his face.

We've seen his teams start slow before, stumble in midseason, fall apart in the fourth quarter the way this group did in Sunday's 38-23 loss to Dallas. But there was always an adjustment, always a recoil and a second strike, always a December that looked so different from September it seemed that he, his coaches and his players had all undergone brain transplants.

It's why this season is so maddeningly paradoxical and uncharacteristic. The Eagles aren't just 3-6. They are 3-6 with no apparent movement forward over the last month of football, no indication that Reid and his staff have even a hint on how to fix any of it. No brain transplants on the depleted offensive line, no brain transplants on the underachieving defensive line, no ah-ha turnarounds by the well-paid-for-little-apparent-reason free agents who made his team seem so much better in the last two summers than what has materialized in consecutive Novembers.

The defense has gone backward. The change in defensive coordinators has not begotten better tackling or schemes but rather increased vulnerability and confusion. Whether it was Kurt Coleman reading a touchdown pass way too late, King Dunlap leaving the field instead of remaining for a field goal, or Trent Cole running past another running back carrying the ball, the touted and experienced position coaches hired before the 2011 season have still not duplicated their successes in other places.

The players seem lost. Even the better ones are playing badly, a sure sign of trying too hard, of expecting the worst. Week after week, the players answer postgame questions as if some type of voodoo has befallen the team, almost pleading for the lone victory they believe will break the spell.

The Eagles were 3-6 after a second consecutive home loss a year ago. But that was after a 1-4 start, after Reid put two rookies on his offensive line to start the season and coached them into competency as the season went on. That was after Juan Castillo's learning curve kicked in a little bit, too. The Eagles were a more promising 3-6 back then, if there is such a thing, singeing from a close loss to Arizona, about to knock off the Giants up in their place.

There was reason to believe the future was going to be better then, especially given the lockout. Now there is absolutely no reason, other than the inherent hope a rookie quarterback with no track record brings.

Imagine if they had not eked out the victory in Cleveland. Imagine if the replacement refs had not greatly aided that victory over Baltimore. Andy Reid is closer to coaching a 1-8 team than he has been since 1999.

If that's the way his time here ends, that's unfortunate. Reid's imperfections may be maddening at times, his public demeanor the polar opposite of warm and fuzzy, but he shouldn't leave this place with the good-riddance aura that people like Rich Kotite or Scott Rolen have left with. Reid never lashed out at his treatment, bad as it sometimes was. And he was genuinely moved by the sympathy and support he received during the legal messes of his sons, and the death of Garrett at Lehigh last summer.

I have no idea how or whether that death has affected Reid's coaching this season. I can only marvel that he has even tried. And although I have often noted that he has not enjoyed the same success since Jim Johnson died and/or Donovan McNabb got old, it should be noted that Reid's most odious playoff Waterloos involved both. People tend to forget the Rams trailed, 17-13, at halftime of that 2002 NFC Championship Game before controlling the ball for 12 minutes and 30 seconds of the third quarter. The 2003 conference championship against Tampa Bay turned on a Bucs 96-yard scoring drive that included Joe Jurevicius' 71-yard catch and rumble. That was Jim Johnson's defense.

But those disappointments occurred in January, after injuries to key players, including the starting quarterback, simply tested Reid's ability to "coach them up." He came up big, every time, in that regard, until now. Give him that.

Monday, someone asked Reid if he still felt the same passion coaching this team as he did a decade ago.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "I love what I do."

I believe him, too, odd as it seems in his worst and most trying season as a head coach. And I believe he will be better off elsewhere, and better too.

So Godspeed, Andy. And may that love for what you do get you through these last, trying months.

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

" @samdonnellon

Columns: philly.com/

SamDonnellon

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