WEEK IN AND week out, Andy Reid repeats the same line after games, as if scripted for him. "We need to do a better job as coaches putting guys in better positions," he said again yesterday, after his team's latest loss, 16-13 to the playoff-bound Giants.
Week in and week out, those guys seem to be in the same positions, their fate determined by a single play, a play often made with too little thought, or too much desperation. Week in and week out this year, the coaching seems as much a part of the problem as it does any solution.
Penalties. Poor passes. Inexplicable playcalling and decision-making. Endgame clock management. From the first game of the season, when Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed handed Green Bay its 16-13 victory, to the latest one, when Donovan McNabb frittered away valuable seconds in the final minute calling a play from his 30, the Eagles have been trapped inside a hell of their making, their own Room 1408. They lose games on last-second blunders. They lose games when the opposition makes a last-second play. They lose games when a field goal try hits the goal post from 57 yards out, and bounces straight back as if it hit a wall.
Bad luck? Hardly. The lot of your 5-8 team is that it has now scored 17 or fewer points in eight of its 13 games this season. The Eagles have morphed into the kind of team the Phillies morphed out of this season, a team just good enough to make you believe it could be good.
If only . . .
. . . "We didn't keep shooting ourselves in the foot," Shawn Andrews said.
"Whenever you get wins by a small margin, it boosts your confidence," wide receiver Jason Avant was saying. "I'm from Chicago and I remember that Bears team the Eagles beat in the playoffs. That whole year the Bears were getting wins by two or three points. Interceptions, those types of things. And it just gave them confidence to go out there and win.
"Our record could be totally reversed."
Reid has made a name for himself through a hard-working, blue-collar approach. He got the job nine seasons ago by impressing Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner with his preparation. Even in his darkest hours - and with all that has happened to him in 2007, this might constitute his darkest - his work ethic has not been an issue.
But his playcalling, especially with the ordinary personnel of this season, can be like pouring diesel into a gas-powered engine sometimes. He can wow you with plays right out of a Bill Cosby monologue one minute, and drive you nuts with forced timeouts and wasted precious seconds the next. Watching the opening drive against the Giants was truly a trip down memory lane, the Eagles moving 68 yards for a touchdown in 3 minutes and 13 seconds, suggesting one of those final basketball-sounding scores of 2004.
Watching McNabb call a play at the line of scrimmage as the clock evaporated during the final minute was a more sobering trip down that lane as well.
A disciple of the system that made a household name of the late Bill Walsh, Reid has proved to be the equivalent of a student who studies hard but does not always test well. Or a pianist who can interpret the masters beautifully but can't write a lick of music himself. He's a winner, for sure, and there will be more fun Sundays here than not as long as he's here. But the evidence is mounting that the big prize might not be part of that, just as it wasn't for Marv Levy or Dan Reeves, two coaches with eight Super Bowl trips between them.
Two coaches with Hall of Fame quarterbacks, too.
Eight times the Eagles have scored 17 or fewer points this season. It bears repeating, because it's the number Jim Johnson uses to grade his defense.
They've done it six times this season, holding the other guys to that.
The Eagles are 3-3 in those games.
"In this league, it's a very small margin," Avant said.
"We're just trying to get on the other side of that margin."
Not this year, Jason. Not with these players, or the coach who picks them and coaches them. Reid finished his postgame news conference saying, "You have to learn from it, and you have to move on." But the truth is, no one seems to be learning. And the only place they're moving to is an offseason of even more uncertainty. *
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