THE TEAM'S personality was forged in Week 2, when the Eagles lost in Dallas by four points, lost on the road by a play or two. At the time, I saw it as Andy Reid saw it, as a valiant effort against a team many thought was the team to beat in the NFC, a team many had winning the Super Bowl.
Maybe this team would be better than the 7-9 I predicted, maybe even be the Super Bowl contender that optimists boasted it would be.
After the loss, Reid vowed his 1-1 team would bounce back from the miscues that cost the game, asserting that the Eagles were "a tough-minded bunch." On Sunday, as I saw that bunch squander its sixth game this season by a touchdown or less, that phrase again regurgitated like something way beyond its expiration date.
Five receivers dropped passes, several at critical junctures. Other times, like on the game's last play and on a key third down, receivers ran routes short of the first-down markers, in the latter case forcing a punt. The quarterback, perhaps wary of an injury that would impede his chances of a new contract here or elsewhere, once again showed a reluctance to scramble and make plays with his feet, once scooting out of bounds well short of the first-down marker late in the game rather than take a hit.
Even the defense, so bullish in the team's December resurgence, allowed an unconfident and struggling Redskins offense to mount a 16-play drive in the second quarter, taking 8 minutes, 31 seconds off the clock.
So yesterday, I asked the coach the obvious. Given all the close losses, given that the Eagles have not pulled out one tight victory this season, did he still believe his team to be "tough-minded"?
"I do think they're tough-minded," Reid said. "We had several guys playing who were banged up a bit. And they'll need that toughness this week. They all will. And I expect us to utilize that."
Reid is partially right. He has a few guys who play hurt all the time. This is not about Brian Westbrook. It is not about Brian Dawkins, or even newer faces like Quintin Mikell, Stewart Bradley and Trent Cole.
It's not about the offensive line, either. There is no tougher man on Earth than Jon Runyan. What he plays through to be on the field each week allows him the candor to question Reid's playcalling at times, or to say after Sunday's loss, "The biggest issue is, you've got to catch the ball . . .
"That's been the story around here for many years."
This is about those other guys. Some weren't part of the stretch of seasons when the Eagles built gaudy regular-season records by winning ugly games like Sunday's. Some have lost their toughness along the way, because of money or injury, sometimes because of both.
The Eagles are not about Runyan, Dawkins, Westbrook or even Cole and Bradley. They are about L.J. Smith dropping balls and lining up in the wrong place, forcing a haunting timeout on the third play of the second half. They are about Jason Avant pulling his arms in while going across the middle Sunday, unaware of how Pinkstonish it made him look. It's about Reggie Brown not knowing where the goal line was on the final play of the game, about DeSean Jackson dropping those two huge passes after he threw a minitantrum when Donovan McNabb did not see him wide open on a play.
I asked Jackson after the game whether he thought the two were connected.
"You really don't try to have that mentality," the rookie said. "But it definitely has something to do with it. I felt I was open a couple of times. Got a little excited when it didn't come my way. Then the next time around I was probably still thinking when I was open and things. But as a professional you can't really worry about that. Every time the ball comes your way, you have to try and make a play any way possible."
Jackson also said, "I thought I should have had both of them," when someone tried to give him an excuse for the first drop, which he had to turn for.
But that he would even concede a connection between the drops and the early frustration suggests the polar opposite of a tough mind.
He's a rookie. There's hope for him. So many of the others, though, well, the jury is in. You can grow all the facial hair you want, but when you come out as flat as so many of the Eagles did in a game of such magnitude, against a team that had lost five of six, then all it looks like is a gimmick, and a pretty cheap one at that.
There should be no doubt by now that Reid totally overestimated the character of this team, and its resolve.
You let six wins slip through your hands by seven points or fewer?
The only thing tough about that is watching it. *
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