There is an old anecdote that goes; if a frog is placed into boiling water, it will jump out of the pot immediately to avoid it’s demise but if this same frog is placed into cool water that is gradually brought to a boil, it will remain in said pot until it expires, never even realizing the peril it was in.
The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles season has been a complete catastrophe thus far, fulfilling even the most pessimistic fans’ worst fears and then some. In the game of football, where so much is based upon chance, it is almost improbable that every single one of the Eagles’ mistakes has come back to bite them so potently. Seriously, they are suffering the effects of many oversights but when it comes to luck, this team has been no darling either. Still, I would argue that the decline of the franchise in recent years has occurred in almost poetic fashion.
There may not have been a more gradual incline through which this team could have descended to this position. It is no surprise, then, that most Eagles fans swear by their own disbelief of the way things have transpired in recent months. When something comes unglued so subtly over a three to four year span, it can be very difficult to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong.
Of course, most people are operating without the benefit of hindsight. Looking back from this train wreck of a situation, some points of decline become far more noticeable. In reality, the past two seasons probably should have felt like falling off of a cliff and landing with a thud but to most, it has been much more of a sinking feeling. Michael Vick was sold as Philadelphia’s bridge to a championship when, in reality, he may have been acting as more of a quicksand.
In 2004, the Philadelphia Eagles had what may have been their most successful season ever. Donavon Mcnabb reached his stride as a professional Quarterback and Andy Reid saw his team operate like a well-oiled machine for months. In fairly dominating fashion, the Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl that year, only to fall to the New England Patriots.
This was the year that Andy Reid and his staff had finally opened up the check book and went for it all. They leveraged the future to make a run at a title, bringing in such names as Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens. Who could blame them? The city of Philadelphia hadn’t seen a world championship in over a quarter of a century. Reid wanted to cement his career with a Super Bowl victory and he had worked to build a solid foundation through the draft. All that was missing were a few finishing touches.
The following few years were marred by injuries and, although the team saw success, the Eagles fell well short of the success they had enjoyed in ’04. Through this underwhelming stretch, players that had become cornerstones of the franchise got older. The team was slowly beginning to decline.
In 2008, Philadelphia fans enjoyed what became a very exciting and memorable season. The team battled its way from mediocrity to championship contention, winning two playoff games to get to the NFC Championship game. There, the team was beaten by the Arizona Cardinals. Although that season was entertaining, the late season run pulled attention away from what was an abysmal season otherwise.
The following off-season saw the departure of fan favorite, Brian Dawkins. He was the first of many big names remaining from the Super Bowl run of 2004 to be scratched from the roster and would not be the last.
2009 was a successful season by most standards before a crushing two-game brutalization at the hands of the division rival Cowboys sent the Eagles home. Andy Reid could sense that the team was in a state of flux. At the time, not one person could determine which direction the Eagles were headed. In what felt like a desperate struggle to regain control, the team cut ties with integral members of the team in Brian Westbrook and Donavon Mcnabb. The 2004 Super Bowl Eagles were dead and gone.
In 2010, Kevin Kolb was set to begin his career under Andy Reid. This was all part of Reid’s “starting over” strategy. In the season opener, Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game, paving the way for the most storied comeback in NFL history. Michael Vick emerged as a suddenly elite quarterback and it forced the hand of the Eagles’ coach. Michael Vick brought an excitement to the team that masked many flaws in 2010.
What most fans had written off as a rebuilding season was becoming more promising by the week. The season peaked in week 15 when Michael Vick led a comeback against the Giants to seal the NFC East Championship and win the hearts of the Philly faithful. The next few weeks were forgettable at best as the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles failed to win another game, being knocked out of the playoffs in round one.
Amid all of the magic of 2010 and Michael Vick’s comeback, the defense seemed to get worse every week. Tackling became a lost art, younger players were taking the field every week without the veteran guidance under which to develop. The youth movement that Andy Reid started in 2009 was suddenly clashing with the emergence of a quarterback that would never be better than he was right then.
What could be done? The team was littered with an odd mix of star power and inexperience. At some positions, stars were coming into their prime. At other positions, failed high draft picks and late round overachievers were taking the field every snap.
The team took on a very inconsistent personality as a result. Big plays drove the team to success and to failure. From game to game, fans never knew which team would take the field; the team that hit 80-yard bombs with obscene regularity, or the team that gave up game changing plays on seemingly every snap.
This strategy works when the good outweighs the bad, but what was being ignored were the clear voids opening up in the roster and heading into the 2011 season, many were unsure of what to expect. When the Eagles signed who they did this off-season, there was a buzz resonating around the league. To the casual fan, this team had stars littered throughout the lineup. To those of us really paying attention, Andy Reid was making a colossal mistake.
In the National Football League, when your team declines, you lose games, draft high, and rebuild. In Philadelphia, losing games is not an option. Perhaps, in an effort to slake our lust for annual success, the Eagles’ front office has tried to do what no team can or should be able to do; rebuild while contending. Unwilling to sacrifice even one season of playoff contention, the Philadelphia Eagles have been borrowing time every year, drafting poorly and trying to patch together the flaws in the team.
What they failed to realize is that this system was created for all teams to be equal. Since the dawn of the Andy Reid era, the franchise has maintained a smug attitude. Joe Banner, Howie Roseman, and Andy Reid think they are smarter than everyone else; that you can contend every year even when you make mistakes, that simply no one else knows how to. It is this exact attitude that has led to the miscasting of Juan Castillo, Casey Matthews, and even Nnamdi Asomugha.
What the Philadelphia Eagles’ front office is learning this season is that sometimes, you can out-smart yourself and that following convention is not always a bad thing. In paying so little attention to detail, the franchise has disrespected the game and is paying dearly for it.
To many Philadelphia fans, this season has come as a shock but allow me to put things in perspective with one question. If Michael Vick never returned to football, would this season’s direction surprise you at all? Why is it that the Eagles’ management believed you could get younger at many key positions without sacrificing production? Was it their plan to have a 31 year old quarterback and surround him with a work in progress? The more this season plays out, the more I feel like there was never a plan to begin with.
There is no doubt in my mind that, eventually, the Eagles will be forced to deal with the issues on this team. There is promise for seasons to come and the future is bright, but I offer a word of advice to fans feeling blindsided by the play of the “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles. There are no shortcuts. This season was inevitable. Do not be shocked, be patient.