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Paul Domowitch | It's fair to ask: Is Andy's focus elsewhere?

THIS WAS late August, a good 2 weeks before the Eagles would begin their disappointing September journey to 1-3 by dropping a pair of punts in a three-point loss to the Green Bay Packers.

THIS WAS late August, a good 2 weeks before the Eagles would begin their disappointing September journey to 1-3 by dropping a pair of punts in a three-point loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The youngest of Andy Reid's two knuckleheaded sons, 22-year-old Britt, had just been arrested - again - for failing a sobriety test after driving his truck into a shopping cart in the parking lot of a sporting-goods store.

The next day, Reid opened his post-practice news conference by informing the assembled media not to waste his time or theirs asking about anything other than his football team.

"If you can stay away from questions on my family, I'd appreciate it," he said. "This is about football and our football team. If you decide to go in that direction, then I'm going in that direction [toward the door]."

The national perception of the Philadelphia media is that we're tougher than junkyard dogs. No doubt about it, this is a tough media town. But aside from the occasional stupidity that emanates from the talk shows, it's also a very fair one.

That's never been more the case than with our handling of the problems of Reid's sons. Garrett, 24, and Britt were arrested in separate incidents Jan. 30. Garrett is under house arrest awaiting sentencing on drug and traffic charges. Britt, who pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge and also awaits sentencing, has been in the Montgomery County Jail since the August arrest. While we've reported the hell out of the story, for the most part, we've done it from a respectful distance.

We haven't gone through the Reids' garbage. We haven't stalked Britt and Garrett, or their mother. And we've honored Reid's request to keep the questions to football.

But a month into the season, the line between Reid's family issues and his team's poor play is starting to become blurred.

While questions about his sons don't need to be asked of him right now, this one most certainly does: Are his personal problems starting to affect his ability to coach his football team?

Team president Joe Banner says that's not the case. But it's still a fair question to ask.

For 9 years now, Reid has taken the bullet for each and every Eagles loss. We've rolled our eyes every time he has stared down at us from the NovaCare Ritz stage and told us that it's "my job to put players in better position to make plays."

But we haven't been rolling them this season because Reid, the winningest coach in Eagles history, has done a lousy job of coaching thus far. His fingerprints are all over two of the Eagles' three losses.

His failure to bring in an experienced punt returner cost them the game in Green Bay. Last week, he committed another major gaffe, foolishly thinking his inexperienced left tackle, Winston Justice, who got his first NFL start in place of veteran William Thomas, would be just fine and dandy out there in space against Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

In a game in which quarterback Donovan McNabb was sacked a franchise-record 12 times, including six times by Umenyiora, an astounding 47 of the Eagles' 66 offensive plays were pass plays. Even when it became obvious to anyone with a working pair of eyes that Justice was overmatched against Umenyiora, Reid did little to give him help.

I have enormous sympathy for what Reid is going through right now with his sons. While those close to him insist he is able to keep his family crisis from affecting his job performance, I'm starting to wonder whether that's possible.

I'm seeing a coach who is making mistakes someone with his experience shouldn't be making. I'm seeing a coach who looks distracted and physically run down. I'm seeing a coach who is letting too many things fall through the cracks that he never would have let fall through before.

But Banner said that's not what he's seeing.

"There's two separate questions from where I sit," he said. "The first is whether it has affected him. The obvious answer is, how could you not be affected by it? But the separate question is what impact is it having on the other thing you're doing in your life. And I don't think it's having any.

"There are really strong people out there - CEOs of massive companies, doctors, lawyers, coaches, players, cabdrivers - who are able to both deal with the challenges they face in their life and still continue to be excellent at what they do. Working with him every day, seeing him every day, that's the category he's in for me.

"It would be foolish to try to say it isn't on his mind and doesn't weigh on his mind. The same is true of all the other categories of people I mentioned. Some of those people do get to a point where the weight is too heavy and starts to trickle down to the other parts of their lives. But that's not been the case with Andy.

"I respect people's right to have that perspective [that Reid's family issues are affecting his job performance]. But drawing that as an explanation [for the 1-3 start], I think, is going in the wrong direction."

Banner said it's a reach to use Reid's decision to go into the Green Bay game with Greg Lewis as his punt returner as evidence that his mind isn't totally on his team these days.

"If you want to call that a mistake, we're certainly not the first team that's had a less experienced guy or rookie who wasn't secure with the ball and ended up making a mistake that cost his team a game," he said. "It wasn't an unprecedented error.

"In Tom [Heckert] and Andy, we have the benefit of what, for most teams, is the caliber of two general managers. I don't think we've missed anything [because of Reid's family issues]. That's not to say we don't ever make mistakes. We obviously don't get everything right and have never pretended that we do.

"But when we do get something wrong, it's not because of a lack of time or attention. It's just the nature of what we do. You're going to be wrong a certain percentage of the time even if you're really good at it." *

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