The Philadelphia Eagles are suddenly in a position to make a run for the playoffs after most had written them off just a few weeks ago. In their recent surge, they have handily beaten a couple of playoff teams in the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, and have many experts debating and fans wondering how good this Eagles team is.
If it wasn’t for some of the late season magic and resilience the Eagles have displayed in recent years, I, too, would have given up on them this season.
One consistent theme with the Eagles has been Donovan McNabb’s inconsistent play throughout his career. He can play like a superstar one week with a depleted receiving core, and then inexplicably play so poorly that a group of the best receivers in the league couldn’t catch up to his errant throws.
This season is not any different other than McNabb’s health, which for the first time in several years can't be looked at as a possible excuse for his sporadic poor play. The Eagles have played very well against some of the better teams in the league this season, most notably the Giants, Falcons, and Steelers. They have also lost (or tied) some games that a team expecting to make the playoffs simply has to win. McNabb has been terrific in some of these games, but also had a remarkably poor stretch where he looked like a quarterback whose career as an Eagle was coming to a close.
The tie to the Bengals a few weeks ago resurrected the chatter that seems to start every year around this time about shipping McNabb and Reid out of Philly. It seems to get louder as each season passes, and is centered on Donovan McNabb (who turned 32 last month) and the $10 million against the salary cap that his contract represents.
The most interesting part about this controversy is that McNabb has always been this player. His game has never been about accurate pocket passing or statistics, and the problem now is that his legs can’t save him on as many 3rd-and-long situations as in the past.
Fortunately for McNabb, Kevin Kolb hasn’t shown anything remotely promising in his brief appearances that would instill confidence in the Philadelphia Eagles faithful (17-32, 0 TD, 3 INT). He has certainly not played enough for anyone to accurately assess where he is at in terms of quarterback development, but he couldn’t play much worse than he has either.
Andy Reid has also taken a lot of heat this season, but he too has been the same coach throughout his career with the Eagles. His pass first (and disproportionately often) mentality, as well as other questionable play calling with a ground weapon like Brian Westbrook at his disposal is suspect at best.
His ability to manage the clock in the final minutes of a half or game has always left something to be desired. But somehow the two of them have managed to get the job done when it counts, except of course in a few championship games and a certain Superbowl.
This brings us to a Monday night match-up against the Cleveland Browns at home. The game is not the make or break moment for McNabb and Reid that some have made it out to be, rather it’s the final three games that will determine their fate in Philly. A win on Monday and two more divisional wins against Dallas and Washington, and the Eagles should find themselves in the playoffs yet again.
It can certainly happen if the McNabb and Eagles of the past two weeks show up. It should also come as no surprise to anyone if the Eagles lay an egg on Monday night and end their playoff hopes. After all, the Cleveland Browns are the only other team to beat the NY Giants this season, and are under a lot of pressure to finish strong if they are to save Romeo Crennel’s job.
The bottom line is Reid and McNabb are still operating on a game by game basis, and are still working on buying more time. The demolishing of Arizona on Thanksgiving was impressive, and their handling of New York last week was a giant step in the right direction.
The rest of the league provided a lot of help as well, with the right combination of teams losing to keep the Eagles playoff hopes alive. Three more wins and an Atlanta loss will bring McNabb and Reid back for at least another season.
If they lose any of the final games, it’s time to start rebuilding in Philadelphia beginning with the coach and quarterback.