Eagle’s head coach Andy Reid

by Clark Groome

After Sunday’s awkward and, for many, unexpected 38-23 loss to the hated Dallas Cowboys, Eagles head coach Andy Reid was asked at the post-game press conference if the Birds still had a shot at the playoffs.

Always the optimist, albeit not always realistic, Reid said something akin to “you never know what’ll happen in this league,” and held out hope his 3-6 club would turn it around “when we get it right.”

Reid may be the only person alive who believes that there is even a remote chance his team will make the playoffs. The defense is inconsistent, the offensive line can’t protect the quarterback or block or avoid unnecessary penalties, and quarterback Michael Vick was sidelined with a concussion and looks doubtful for the game at Washington next Sunday.

And yet the fans still come, and the hope, if not the reality, of having a winning team at Lincoln Financial Field lives on. As that hope diminishes, the vehemence and the anger of the fans, and the pundits, increases significantly.

What’s going on? Perhaps the folks had unrealistic expectations going into the season.

Last year the team – called by one player “the Dream Team” – ended with a disappointing 8-8 record, a record owner Jeffrey Lurie labeled as “unacceptable” after the season ended. Before the start of the new campaign he made it abundantly clear that another weak season would be Reid’s last after 14 years, some of which brought the team to the brink of winning it all but never quite getting to that promised land better known as a Super Bowl victory followed by a parade down Broad St.

The nine games played so far have been characterized by a variety of problems: poor defense in one game, a lousy offense in another, an unexpected and critical injury, and a quarterback who plays his heart out but may not be as good as advertised.

The Iggles’ three victories – against Cleveland, Baltimore and the New York Giants – were won by a total of four points. Four. The six losses have seen the Birds outscored by 69 points.

For the first time in Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach, the team has lost five straight.

As either Ike Reese or Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger said on CSN’s “Post-Game Live” after Sunday’s loss, the Eagles “even lost the bye week,” a reference to having replaced defensive coordinator Juan Castillo with Todd Bowles. The move struck many as strange, considering the general feeling that for all its flaws, Castillo’s D was far better than Reid’s offense.

Another issue is the team’s heart. For most of Reid’s time as chief football guy in Philly, the team was a group of committed players, all of whom were Reid’s guys, appreciative of his never throwing them under the bus and always working to keep the “I” out of team.

This year, for the second straight year, many of the players are new to the organization. They have no real commitment to the coach or to the team. They might be pretty good but they’re not part of a team. That lack of caring, as many see it, may be due to the reality that this is Reid’s last year and so all they really need to do is get through the season unscathed, collect their paychecks, and then see what next season brings.

Clearly there are exceptions to that: Vick and tight end Brent Celek come to mind as perhaps the best examples. The lack of commitment shows the selfishness of the players, to be sure, but it also shows that the coach has, as they say, “lost the room.”

If that’s the case, nothing short of Divine Intervention is going to save this Eagles’ season.

Going back to my premise that maybe expectations were too high at the beginning of the season, it’s really understandable. Philadelphia fans are passionate and knowledgeable. Truth be told, the passion more often than not trumps the knowledge. The “what if”s and “if only”s win out over the “Oh, maybe they’re really not all that good.”

Perhaps we were all a bit overly optimistic going into the season, hoping that the mediocre 2011 team would actually become the winner we ached for. This happened at a time when the city was suffering from the justifiable disappointment of a Phillies season that was much less successful than it realistically should have been.

One of the most exciting things in sports is when a team that is not expected to do well all of a sudden takes off and surprises its fans and its opponents.

The most recent example of that here is the 2010 Flyers, a team that had to win its last regular season game (in a shootout, no less) to get into the playoffs and then had an unexpected run to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Black Hawks. Remember how good that felt?

So the bottom line is that we all should keep the passion and the desire in some sort of perspective with the reality. The Eagles are, nine games in, not very good; certainly not a playoff team.

If we had felt that from the season’s beginning, the horrors we are now witnessing might not have hurt quite as much.

It’s clear that the old saw about “hoping for the best while planning for the worst” is often ignored. Two examples of that last week were Governor Mitt Romney’s not preparing a concession speech in a presidential race that was razor thin and Andy Reid saying the playoffs are still a legitimate possibility.

We all need to get real.

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