Eagles regain that long-lost winning feeling

Eagles coach Andy Reid gets a hug from trainer Rick Burkholder after the win over the Bucs. RON CORTES / Staff
Eagles coach Andy Reid gets a hug from trainer Rick Burkholder after the win over the Bucs. RON CORTES / Staff
Posted: December 11, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. - Seemed like old times, even if it is the end times.

The Eagles erupted from the sideline in celebration. Duce Staley almost knocked Andy Reid over with a big hug (the only kind possible between those two gents). Players danced on the field, then ran up the tunnel to the locker room, whooping and hollering.

For a few heady minutes, it felt like one of those big December wins of yore, as if the Eagles had clinched a playoff berth instead of being officially eliminated.

"That's the rush we play for," guard Jake Scott said.

"We're stinking happy," Reid said.

The aftertaste was bittersweet. Reid's tenure has provided so many thrilling moments - division titles clinched, playoff triumphs, the nervy weeks before conference championships and that one Super Bowl appearance. It has been brutal, watching it all come apart during a spirit-crushing eight-game losing streak.

So it was impossible to begrudge the embattled coach the small mercy of a 23-21 victory on Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There was no reason Reid, his staff, and his players shouldn't enjoy one of this lost season's few bright moments.

They won. For the first time since Sept. 30, they walked off the field as winners.

"You go two months without winning a game in Philadelphia," Reid said, "that's a tough thing, man."

"I almost forgot what it felt like," wide receiver Jason Avant said.

But the win wasn't as easily enjoyed for fans, and not just because of the impact on the team's draft position. Watching this game only reinforced how easily this season could have been saved.

When Reid fired Jim Washburn a week ago, he sent that gimmicky wide-nine defensive line technique with him. Lo and behold, the Eagles defense immediately settled into a semblance of order.

In the first half, the Bucs were held to 79 net yards and zero points. Even though running back Doug Martin was able to pile up some second-half yards, the Eagles defense allowed only two touchdown drives. And it made an honest-to-goodness stop to give Nick Foles the ball with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left.

Great? Hardly. This defense still can't create a turnover. But it was solid enough Sunday to have won some games along the way.

Reid obviously gets the blame for the entire Washburn episode, as well as the coordinator shuffle. But a fair share goes to the players, as well. There was more energy, more hustle, more sheer heart in this game than they've shown for weeks. There's no excuse for that.

So while it was nice to see, the effort also underscored how soft the defense has been for most of the season.

There were no such reservations about Foles. Watching the rookie grow has become the only real pleasure for fans of this team. Aside from the heroics, Foles was impressive in other ways. He took some big hits and kept popping back up. He ran when he had to, and was effective, if not what you'd call pretty. He managed the ball and the clock on that final drive almost flawlessly, not exactly something we've seen a lot of over the years.

There was more value in Foles' fourth quarter than there likely will be in any change in draft position.

About this time last year, the Eagles began a season-ending, four-game winning streak. With Cincinnati on Thursday night, then Washington and the Giants, they don't seem likely to repeat that feat.

That's just as well, since that streak is what deluded owner Jeffrey Lurie into giving Reid another season as head coach. But even if the Eagles do manage to win out - Cincy on the road on short rest, Washington possibly without QB Robert Griffin III, the Giants potentially having their playoff seed determined - there's no making that mistake again.

The losing and the firings and the forehead-slapping decisions speak for themselves. These are the end times for Reid.

Still, it was nice, just for a few minutes, to remember the good times.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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