10 Things We Learned From the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIJanuary 20, 2009

1. Donovan McNabb is the greatest offensive weapon in team history.


It's not Steve Van Buren or Wilbert Montgomery. It's not Ron Jaworski or Randall Cunningham. It's not Terrell Owens or Harold Carmichael. It's not even Brian Westbrook. The greatest offensive weapon in Eagles history is Donovan McNabb.


From his breakout season in 2000 in which he finished second in the NFL MVP voting, to his 31-touchdown, eight-interception season in 2004 to his comeback season of 2008, McNabb has proven that he is the most important member of the Philadelphia Eagles' offense.


He ranks first in NFL history in fewest interceptions per pass attempt and is six touchdown passes away from joining Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 200 touchdown passes and fewer than 100 interceptions.


His career postseason record is 9-6, which is better than many Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, and John Elway.




2. Brent Celek is the real deal.


I think Andy Reid is a great coach. I really do. He's the most successful coach in Philadelphia Eagles history. But I will never understand what he saw in LJ Smith.


LJ Smith started at tight end for six seasons. During that time, he posted fairly decent statistics for a tight end. He caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, and topped 600 yards receiving in both 2005 and 2006.


However, over the past two seasons, he caught 59 passes for 534 yards and four touchdowns. Those are good statistics for one season. Those are hideous statistics over a two-year span.


But it's not just about the numbers. LJ has always had problems catching the football. He dropped a touchdown pass in his first NFL game, a Monday night loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.


He dropped McNabb's final pass in the Super Bowl, which landed in the arms of Rodney Harrison for a game-ending interception. He had one of the highest dropped pass percentages in the NFL in the 2008 season (14 percent of passes thrown to him).


Meanwhile, backup tight end Brent Celek caught six passes for 131 yards, including a 44-yarder, against the Seattle Seahawks in week nine. His 131 receiving yards were a single-game record for Eagles' tight ends.


Next week, Celek was back on the bench. He started against the Baltimore Ravens and posted respectable numbers: three catches for 26 yards. He started the season finale against the Cowboys and caught a 20-yard touchdown.


He caught six passes for 56 yards against the Vikings in the wild-card round and scored a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Giants in the divisional round.


In the conference championship game, Celek caught an Eagles postseason record ten balls, for 83 yards and two touchdowns. LJ Smith caught one pass for five yards and dropped a pass.


In 2004, LJ Smith watched as backup tight end Chad Lewis caught two touchdowns in the NFC championship game. In 2008, LJ Smith watched as backup Brent Celek caught two touchdowns in the NFC championship game.


This has gone on long enough. Brent Celek, who turns 24 next week, will be the starting tight end next season. That's just about a guarantee.




3. Quintin Mikell will be a Pro Bowler for many years.


He's not Brian Dawkins, but Quintin Mikell might even be better. Including the postseason, Mikell recorded 110 tackles. He deflected 12 passes and intercepted four balls, including one off of Eli Manning in the postseason to clinch a victory. He forced two fumbles and recorded two sacks.


He does everything Brian Dawkins does, and just missed earning a Pro Bowl selection. If Brian Dawkins doesn't return to the Eagles next season, look for Quintin Mikell to be the biggest defensive weapon for the Eagles.




4. Shawn Andrews' presence was greatly missed at right guard.


The Eagles need Shawn Andrews back. The right guard was one of the top linemen in the NFL in 2007, earning a selection to his second Pro Bowl. Just 25 years old, Andrews was looked at as one of the key members of a high-powered Eagles offense.


In 2008, Andrews played in just two games all season, citing depression and a back injury as the reason for missing virtually the entire season.


Whatever the problem is, Andrews needs to figure it out—now. He needs to decide whether he is committed to playing in the National Football League. He knows his value on the team. If he comes back, the starting job is his.


I believe some of Brian Westbrook's struggles this season had to do with the missing 350-pound guard. Andrews is signed with the Philadelphia Eagles through the 2015 season.


All he has to do is come back to the team. Nobody wants a repeat of the 2008 season from Andrews.




5. Brian Westbrook has raised some questions about his future as an elite running back.


There are many possible reasons for the disappointing season of Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook in 2008.


  1. Westbrook had an off-year. It happens. Look at LaDainian Tomlinson this year.

  2. The absence of Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews was more than we realized.

  3. Westbrook is getting old. He's going to be 30 next season. Running backs generally don't perform well after the age of 30.

  4. Injuries. Westbrook was banged up all season. He suffered broken ribs, a badly swollen ankle, and a knee injury. It's not easy playing hurt. Westbrook is not a big guy, and maybe the injuries were too much for him.


Correll Buckhalter is a free agent. He has proven, over the past eight seasons, that he is one of the best backup running backs in the National Football League.


I doubt he could start, but the Eagles should attempt to re-sign him and use him for at least five carries every game next season. The combination of Westbrook and Buckhalter is phenomenal.


When the Eagles ran the ball 20 times in 2008, they were 11-1. When they ran the ball fewer than 20 times, they were 0-6-1.




6. Quintin Demps and DeSean Jackson are the greatest return combination in the Andy Reid Era.


For the first time since 2000, the Eagles had a kick return touchdown and a punt return touchdown in the same season. Unlike 2000, the touchdowns came from different players.


Quintin Demps returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in week 11. He averaged 25.7 yards per return throughout the season. The 23-year-old undrafted safety has future Pro Bowler written all over him.


DeSean Jackson averaged "only" 8.8 yards per punt return throughout the season. However, he exploded on a 68-yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins.


He also returned a punt for 60 yards against the St. Louis Rams in the first game of his NFL career and returned a punt for 62 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round.


He did make some rookie mistakes, notably a negative-13 yard punt return against the Atlanta Falcons, and three fumbles.


If Demps and Jackson can duplicate their rookie seasons, the Eagles will have one of the best special teams corps on the NFL for many years.



7. The Eagles need another wide receiver.


Does anybody remember when we almost got Larry Fitzgerald before the season? I wish we had tried a little bit harder. A lot harder.


DeSean Jackson has a bright future. The 22-year-old kid caught 62 balls for 912 yards and two touchdowns. He made some rookie mistakes, specifically the well-documented "fumble" on the one-yard line against the Cowboys.


He also struggled at times catching the football, dropping two touchdown passes against the Redskins. And he ran the wrong routes a few times, resulting in two Donovan McNabb interceptions.


He also set an Eagles rookie record with 912 receiving yards and looks to be a future Pro Bowler. Jackson would be perfect—as a No. 2 wide receiver.


Kevin Curtis missed the first six games of the season due to injuries, and caught only 33 passes for 390 yards. His only 100-yard receiving game came in the post-season.


His ability to gain yards after the catch makes him a quality No. 2 receiver, but he scored just two touchdowns in 2008 and is now 30 years old.


Hank Baskett had a decent year, with 440 yards receiving and three touchdowns, including a 90-yarder.


He is listed as the Eagles fifth wide receiver and has the ability to move up to No. 3 by the start of next season, but will never develop into a reliable target.


Jason Avant became the Eagles primary target for third down receptions, and is a lock to rejoin the Eagles next season. However, he will never develop into much more than a third- or fourth-string wide receiver.


Reggie Brown has likely played his last game in an Eagles uniform. The second-round draft pick is one of the biggest busts in the Andy Reid Era. Listed as the No. 2 wide receiver, Brown caught 18 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown this season.


In 2000, wide receiver Terrell Owens caught 20 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown—in one game. Brown missed eight games in the 2008 season and will likely be cut in the offseason.


Greg Lewis might be the worst offensive player the Eagles have ever had. He has good speed, and makes a big play about one time a season.


However, he can't catch the football. He is not a good route runner, and he is physically overpowered by the majority of cornerbacks and safeties. Lewis has contributed exactly seven touchdowns in his six-year NFL career. Expect him to be cut immediately.


If the Eagles sign a No. 1 wide receiver, they will solve their biggest problem. DeSean Jackson will thrive as a No. 2 wide receiver.


Kevin Curtis could catch seven or eight touchdowns as a third receiver, and Avant and Baskett can hopefully produce the occasional big play.




8. Four former Pro Bowlers may not be here next season: Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Brian Dawkins, and Lito Sheppard.


Will Tra Thomas be back? Probably not. He's 34 years old and is a free agent heading into the offseason. The three-time Pro Bowler is coming off the worst season of his career, and struggled throughout the entire post-season. Thomas has played in 166 games in his career, all as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.


Jon Runyan? I think so. Big Jon Runyan is one of the most underrated, yet popular players in Philadelphia Eagles history. He has appeared in 209 consecutive regular season games, the second longest streak among active NFL players.


He has a reputation for playing dirty, one of the main reasons he has only been selected to one Pro Bowl throughout his 13-year career. Runyan is 35 and is a free agent, but I think the Eagles will attempt to sign him to a multi-year deal.


Brian Dawkins? I think so. I hope so. He's the most popular player in Philadelphia Eagles history. He is still, at the age of 35, one of the best safeties in the National Football League, as proven by his seventh Pro Bowl selection.


He has been the emotional leader of a dominating defense for 13 seasons and recently played in his 200th game, an Eagles record.


There has been talk around Philadelphia that Dawkins is contemplating retirement, but I think a player like Dawkins loves the game too much to walk away after such a dominating season.


Lito Sheppard? I doubt it. He was our best cornerback in the 2006 season, the second best in the 2007 season, the third best at the start of the 2008 season, and the fourth best by the end of the season.


He's had his moments: the 64-yard interception touchdown against the Panthers in 2004, the 101-yard interception touchdown against the Cowboys in 2004, the game-winning 102-yard interception touchdown against the Cowboys in the 2006, and the game-winning interception in the end zone against the Panthers in 2006.


Unfortunately for Lito, he made a living as a Cowboys and a Panthers killer. He has a knack for the occasional big play, and may be able to start somewhere else, but with Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, the Eagles can use Lito Sheppard as trade bait.




9. Anything can happen.


Don't ever count the Philadelphia Eagles out of a game or the season. Ever. This team was left for dead three separate times.


  1. After the 36-7 loss to Baltimore, which dropped us to 5-5-1.

  2. After the 10-3 loss to Washington, which dropped us to 8-6-1.

  3. After we trailed Arizona 24-6 at halftime in the conference championship game.

Each time, the Eagles came back. Twice it was good enough. Finally, the magical run came to an end on the final play of the conference championship game.




10. 48 years and counting.


In the end, it wasn't good enough. It's never been good enough. We've never won a Super Bowl. It's been 48 years since we were crowned champions of the world, defeating Vince Lombardi—the greatest coach of all time—and the Green Bay Packers.


The pain from this loss won't go away. In my opinion, this was the worst one of them all (excluding the Super Bowl). This was worse than the 2002 NFC championship game.


We were never really in that game, and I believe Tampa Bay was a better team. This was worse than the 2003 NFC championship game. We were better than the Panthers, but that game was torture from the opening kickoff to the end.


This one was worse. This was against a team that many considered to be the worst playoff team of all time. The Eagles, on the other hand, were the team of destiny.


They were supposed to win this—for Donovan, for Dawkins, and for Reid. The Phillies in October, the Eagles in February. It was the season of miracles. The Eagles went down 24-6 at halftime, and then the impossible happened. They came back.


They retook the lead, on a play that should go down as the greatest catch in Philadelphia Eagles history (yes, this was better than fourth-and-26).


Instead, Jackson's play and McNabb's stellar performance will be forgotten. All that will be remembered is that once again, the Eagles lost the NFC championship game. Once again, we weren't good enough.



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