As the Eagles franchise continues to write the story of this unlovable campaign, one that has "transition season" scrawled on nearly every page, even the idea of a home-field advantage is not the reliable plot line it once was.
This isn't all that surprising. Good teams are good everywhere. Average teams are unpredictable, even if the audience begins the day in its corner.
Still, the numbers are somewhat surprising. In the last three years, the Eagles are 11-11 at Lincoln Financial Field in the regular season, including 2-4 in 2007. Whether this season can continue with even the faint hope of a playoff berth remaining alive depends on Sunday's game here against the New York Giants.
It is a game that will be played out before a group of fans buffeted by the team's sudden slide. What to root for? Who to root for? Obviously, A.J. Feeley lost a few votes against the Seahawks. Donovan McNabb, quickly becoming a tragedian of Iverson-like proportions, is expected to start again after missing a pair of games with a sprained ankle and a sprained thumb. McNabb may be more popular than when he left but only until the first pass lands at the feet of an intended receiver.
And that's how it goes. The fans are there every year, but McNabb might not be back to join them in 2008 nor many of the foot soldiers who have lost more battles than they have won. You can't blame the paying customers for being conflicted or for having short fuses at the moment.
"Our fans never boo or anything," Andy Reid joked yesterday. "I've always said that when they're booing, you're not feeling real good about yourself, anyway. Then, on the other side of that, when we are doing well, they're the best in the NFL supporting us. I don't think it's an added pressure playing at home. I don't think the players feel that."
McNabb knows he - like all NFL quarterbacks - is a lightning rod for the happiness and unhappiness of the fans. He heard everything that was said in the last couple of weeks, understands the situation and says he doesn't bother thinking about how he will be received on Sunday.
"It's really none of my concern," he said. "I can't waste my energy worrying about how people feel about me."
His last appearance in the Linc, a 3-for-11 beginning against Miami before getting hurt, won't help much. And McNabb has only had two good performances at home this year, against the Lions and against the Bears. Otherwise, he hasn't been able to generate much support in the stands, the kind of thing that can possibly carry over to the field.
Only six other teams have a home record this season of 2-4 or worse: the New York Jets, Miami, Oakland, Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta. Can any team overcome a losing home record and still make the playoffs? Well, you'd have to travel way back in time, all the way to 2006 to find one. The Giants were 3-5 at home (8-8 overall) and snuck into the playoffs as the second wild-card team.
The Eagles can do the same thing but might have to accomplish it without wild cheering from the crowd.
"Right now, we have to make our own atmosphere," Brian Dawkins said. "We can't depend on the crowd to do it, even though they're going to be ready to support us like they always are. We can't depend on it. . . . We have to be ready to bring our own emotion, our own pick-me-ups, during the game."
It has been postulated that the move from Veterans Stadium to Lincoln Financial Field diminished the Eagles' previous home advantage all by itself. Visiting teams didn't like playing on the artificial surface of the Vet - the parking lot would have been more forgiving - and it often seemed that the nasty surroundings made the fans more intimidating as well.
That didn't seem to matter, however, in 2004, when the Eagles were 7-1 at home, with the only loss a season-ending giveaway against the Cincinnati Bengals as Reid rested his starters and prepared for the successful postseason. It's obviously more about the team than about where the team plays.
"I know when I walk under that tunnel when we're not winning, my name hasn't changed from the one [I had] at the Vet," Reid said.
And the name of the game is winning, as it will always be. If McNabb returns to the field and gets the Eagles going quickly, he will resume his place as the solid present and putative future of the franchise. If not, if this broken season becomes irreparable, then he will be something else.
"It's about production on the field," Dawkins said. "That's the way this crowd has always been, and I don't see it changing any time soon."
In a season of change, at least that much has remained dependable.
Bob Ford |
Giants at Eagles
Sunday at 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox29; WYSP-FM (94.1).
Line: Eagles by 3