The Dream Team. All those high-profile Pro Bowl free agent signings. The chips are all in. All of that chest thumping. The season win predictions by sportstalk radio personalities and their callers running down the Philadelphia Eagles' 2011 schedule during August: 11-5; 12-4, 13-3, 14-2!
The offense is stacked with weapons. The defense has three of the best cornerbacks in the game and a front four that can dominate.
The only team standing in the Eagles' path to their first ever Super Bowl victory were the Green Bay Packers...and the Eagles were just one play away from eliminating them in the playoffs last year!
Ah, and then the crushing reality that has become the 2011 season.
It was supposed to be the season. The one that ended with Andy Reid and former convicted felon Michael Vick standing shoulder to shoulder being presented the Lombardi Trophy as the confetti rained down.
Instead it has a chance to be one of the worst in franchise history. Pretty much eliminated from the playoffs in Week 10, the Eagles and their fans ask themselves how did it all go so wrong?
Here is a trip back in time highlighting the events that led us here.
The Heir Apparent Dreams of Holding an NFL Clipboard
The 2006 season started out great for the Eagles and their franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb. September 2006 was one of the best months of McNabb's career and there was even early talk of it being an MVP year for the quarterback.
The team and McNabb began to struggle come October and were 5-4 headed into a big game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 11. During the game McNabb tore his ACL and meniscus in his right knee, ending his season.
Surprisingly, backup quarterback Jeff Garcia took the reins and after struggling in the Titan game and being destroyed in a Monday Night game against Indianapolis, he righted the ship and the Eagles went on a nice run, won the division and even a home playoff game against the New York Giants.
The seed was planted then that McNabb's future may not be a long one in Philadelphia.
However, neither was Garcia's. The backup showed signs of wear and tear after playing just eight games and the Eagles decided against offering Garcia a contract.
But...they saw their future out there in a little-known quarterback playing for the University of Houston: Kevin Benjamin Kolb.
Despite assurances that McNabb was progressing well ahead of schedule, they had AJ Feeley, a capable backup QB already on the roster and that the Eagles had holes to fill elsewhere, the Eagles decided to use their first pick in the 2007 draft to—shockingly— select Kevin Kolb.
Kolb would become one of the richest, most successful clipboard holders in NFL history.
Despite Making the Pro Bowl for Denver in 2009, the Eagles Didn't See Any Worth in Keeping Dawkins.
Brian Dawkins, the heart and soul and leader of the Eagles' Defense.
Arguably their most beloved player. A fierce ball hawk. A fiery competitor. An aggressive maniac on the field. A man who wore his heart on his sleeve, always played with passion and heart.
A player capable of swinging the momentum of a game with one hit or one interception was deemed by management too old for the Eagles to re-sign, so the team let him walk in the 2009 offseason.
He took his talents to Denver. There he totaled 116 tackles and two interceptions and made the Pro Bowl.
The Eagles are still looking for his replacement.
Defensive Genius Sean McDermott
Defensive Coordinator in the NFL may be the most valued coaching position in the league. As the saying goes, "Defense wins championships."
Words no doubt originally spoken by someone with very little offensive skill.
Mike Ditka had Buddy Ryan and Mike Holmgren had Fritz Shurmur and Joe Paterno had...nevermind. But the list of great football coaches and their great defensive coordinators is a long and storied one. Add to this list of course, Andy Reid and Jim Johnson.
Jim Johnson was a defensive genius and Andy Reid gave him full control over the Eagles' defense. Johnson's defenses were quick and aggressive; fans loved Jim Johnson and his aggressive style.
It was Johnson's defense that kept the Eagles afloat in 2002 when quarterback Donovan McNabb was felled with a broken leg and the offense had to rely on AJ Feeley and his 75.4 QB Rating, 168 passing yards per game and six touchdowns to five interceptions over six games.
When Jim Johnson passed away in 2009 from cancer he left enormous shoes to fill. The man with apparently small feet that the Eagles turned to replace Johnson was their secondary coach Sean McDermott.
McDermott implemented a number of complex blitzing schemes into the defense with varying success. The Eagles defense under McDermott was nowhere near as effective or feared as the ones all of those years under Johnson.
His tenure lasted just two seasons—shortly after the Eagles were eliminated from the 2010 playoffs McDermott was fired.
The Eventual Face of the Eagles Franchise...and His Attorney
This is America. And in America when you commit a crime(s) no matter how small or how horrifically heinous, once you pay your debt to society you have the right to move on with your life, better yourself and make a living.
So, let's not dwell on all of the awful stuff Vick's done: The dogfighting activities that apparently were going on way back in 2001; the illegal dogfighting gambling ring; the murdering of dogs who lost bouts; the "Ron Mexico" ugliness; the awful company he kept; the obscene gesture to his own fans in Atlanta; fraudulent misappropriation of funds; the suspicion of marijuana possession at an airport; the drug rehabilitation in prison...prison for that matter.
Michael Vick has paid his debt to society, so, let's forget all of that and move on with our lives and concentrate on other matters—namely the fact that the guy was not that good of a quarterback.
Sure, when he was in Atlanta he was a human highlight reel and he could do things with his legs that were just amazing to see.
But as a pure quarterback he left a lot to be desired. He never won anything in Atlanta. Oh, yes, he won some playoff games—exactly two. He never won an NFC Championship game, only played in one actually—you remember, the one where the Philadelphia Eagles basically shut him down completely.
Also, the Eagles signed him at the time when they still had Donovan McNabb and his heir apparent, Kevin Kolb on the roster, as well as the beloved scamp who couldn't get work elsewhere, AJ Feeley.
This was a baffling and controversial signing. Apparently, it was also encouraged by McNabb.
Two theories as to why it was encouraged by Donovan:
1) He's a very decent human being and saw a fellow player who was down on his luck, who had a hard road ahead of him and he suggested the Eagles throw this guy a bone and add him to the roster.
Then McNabb and the former QB Coach/Guru Andy Reid could mentor and help mold Vick into becoming an actual quarterback, instead of a glorified running back who chucks passes up now and again, and become a decent human being as well. Then the Eagles could trade him for a second-round pick in the offseason and improve the team.
2) McNabb hated Kolb, realized he was on his way out the door and figured throwing Vick into the mix at QB would ultimately bring Kolb down.
This theory supposes McNabb has one of the most brilliantly devious, Machiavellian minds in the history of the NFL. This theory was also favored by a number of sportstalk radio callers.
After Years of Brutal Psychological Scarring, McNabb's Tenure Comes to an End.
In the 2009 season the Philadelphia Eagles, led by Donovan McNabb, went 11-5. Their offense was putting up numbers that were some of the best in franchise history. DeSean Jackson was flourishing and rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was coming into his own.
The quarterback himself had thrown for 3,553 yards, the third most in his career, had a 60.3 completion percentage and a QB rating of 92.9, again the third highest of his career.
Their season came down to the 16th game of the year against the Dallas Cowboys. Win and the Eagles go 12-4 and get a playoff bye and home-field advantage. Lose and they were right back in Dallas for Game 1 of the playoffs the following weekend as the No. 6 seed.
McNabb was bad. The Eagles were bad. Andy Reid was bad. Sean McDermott was bad.
DeSean Jackson apparently missed the plane to Dallas. It was a horror show. With a new center in front of him there seemed to be miscommunication all around on offense and McNabb also missed some opportunities. The team was humiliated and lost 24-0.
Afterwards McNabb was asked about the problems between he and Nick Cole, his new center—who clearly was having problems—who was actually a guard the Eagles had to resort to moving over to the center position. McNabb replied that the problems stemmed from them showing their youth.
The media, spearheaded by a certain radio station, jumped on this quote, played it and referred to it out of context ad nauseum and claimed that McNabb was throwing the likes of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin under the bus and the fanbase in turn rallied with torches and pitchforks.
McNabb was on the hotseat with the media, the fans and also the Eagles' management (who believed the Heir Apparent Kolb was a suitable replacement). He needed to play better the next week.
The next week wasn't much better.
While the Eagles were in the game early, McNabb was not sharp again. The offensive line was a wreck. Key turnovers by Leonard Weaver and Michael Vick, and Tony Romo's picking apart of the Eagles' defense spelled doom.
The Birds lost 34-14, the first time in Andy Reid or Donovan McNabb's careers either had lost a first-round playoff game.
Despite many factors contributing to the dual losses in Dallas, the focus was on McNabb.
Kevin Kolb took the opportunity to state that he felt he should be the starting quarterback for the 2010 season...and the Eagles somehow believed him.
On April 4, 2010 McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins. On April 29th the new starting QB in town signed a nice fat one-year contract extension worth $12.25 million.
Kevin, We Hardly Knew Ye
The 2010 offseason and training camp was a big PR run up to the dawning of the Kolb Era.
Columns and articles were written about Kolb focusing on his maturity and his level-headedness. He's a coach's son. Grew up around football all of his life. He hunted wild boar with his bare hands. He was tough, he was rugged and he was going to be the All-American quarterback to lead the Eagles into a new decade of greatness.
From 2000 to 2009 the Eagles went 103-56 and an infamous one.
They won the NFC East six times.
They made it to the NFC Championship Game five times, and made it to the Super Bowl once.
Yet that decade is looked on in some circles as a failure.
With Kolb at the helm though, things would be different. A Super Bowl was on its way.
Since Kolb was on the sidelines backing up Donovan McNabb, the franchise's best quarterback, for three full seasons he was thought to be prepared. He was going to be itching for his big moment and he was going to rise to the occasion.
Boy, were they wrong.
Kolb took the field opening day of the 2010 season, oddly enough against the Packers, and looked anything but prepared, poised or focused. He was skittish, inaccurate and had terrible pocket presence. Visions of Philly's version of Aaron Rodgers were quickly replaced by visions of the new Bobby Hoying.
Clay Matthews knocked Kolb out of the game with a concussion. The enduring image of Kolb is of him dazed after the Mathews hit with a chunk of turf stuck in his face mask.
Kolb was pulled and enter Michael Vick...and surprisingly Vick (who looked awful when he was brought into games in the Wildcat formation the previous season and who didn't look much better in the 2010 preseason) actually played well.
He had some really nice passes and a few electrifying runs—and because of him what looked like it was going to be a rout for Green Bay turned out to be a close game.
The fans were excited by Vick's play. The coaches enthused. Andy Reid's reclamation project of Michael Vick looked like it actually could be a a success.
The team and the city had a new starting quarterback and the Eagles also could boast having a guy who stood on their sidelines in an Eagles cap, who held a clipboard and made $12.25 million dollars to do so.
That quickly, the Kolb Era was over.
DeSean Jackson Channels Herm Edwards and Brian Westbrook
During Week 15 of the 2010 season the New York Giants were apparently given a memo stating that that week's games were only 45 minutes long.
The Giants dominated the Eagles for three quarters and took a 24-10 lead into the fourth...and then the wheels fell off.
Michael Vick engineered a comeback that saw the Eagles score 28—28!—fourth-quarter points. The most memorable points came on DeSean Jackson's walk-off 65-yard punt return for a game-winning touchdown.
The Eagles were flying so high they didn't need a plane to get home that night. More than likely they took a bus since New York is only 90 minutes from Philly, but you get the point.
The highlights of that fourth quarter, of Vick's marching the Eagles up and down the field and, of course, of Jackson's incredible punt return were shown on ESPN and sports shows all week.
There was a heady air in the city. It was the holidays. The team was 10-4. They looked great. They were "the team of destiny."
All that stood between them and a 12-4 record, home-field advantage in the playoffs and a first-week bye were the lowly Minnesota Vikings and equally woeful Dallas Cowboys, and both games were at home!
What could go wrong?
Michael Vick Underthrows Some Hippie.
Well, things did go wrong. Very wrong.
The Minnesota Vikings quite literally limped into town after a blizzard postponed their December 26th game against the Eagles to December 28th.
With their third-string quarterback, some guy named Joe Webb, they beat the Eagles.
Earlier in the day the Giants lost, so even though the Eagles lost they still won the NFC Division title. To commemorate themselves backing into the division title, the players wore their NFC Division Champion t-shirts backwards as they celebrated in the locker room.
Okay, that was a joke.
This set up a meaningless game the following week against the Cowboys. The only intriguing thing about this game was watching one-time heir to the franchise's greatest quarterback of all time, Kevin Kolb, work his magic.
Work it he did, as the Eagles lost 14-13. Seven of Dallas' points scored off of a Kolb fumble.
This set up a first-round matchup at home against the sixth-seed Green Bay Packers.
The Eagles played valiantly and were still in the game in the fourth quarter. On the last drive of the game the Eagles had the ball and a chance to win...and then Michael Vick called a hurry up offensive play and then underthrew a pass to Riley Cooper, of all people, by about five yards, which landed safely right in the hands of Tramon Williams.
It was the first time the Eagles ever lost a home first-round playoff game under coach Andy Reid and just their second first-round loss overall during the Reid era.
Michael Vick's career playoff win total remained stalled at two.
Vince Young Channels His Inner LeBron James
After that devastating finish (losing three home games in a row) to the 2010 season, the Eagles looked around and obviously thought that they had their best receiving corps of the Andy Reid era.
In LeSean McCoy they had their best running back since Brian Westbrook; some would say McCoy was better than Westbrook, and those people would be right.
In Michael Vick they had a quarterback who at any given moment could do something that could turn a game in the team's favor. It's time to go all in and stack the deck in order to win a Super Bowl.
And what they did was breathtaking.
On January 15th, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was fired. Defensive line coach Rory Segrest was fired on January 16th. Former Tennessee Titans' defensive line coach Jim Washburn was hired as defensive line coach by the Eagles on January 19th.
Defensive backs coach and senior assistant Dick Jauron was hired by the Cleveland Browns as their new defensive coordinator on January 21st. On January 25th, linebackers coach Bill Shuey, who served on the Eagles' coaching staff for the past 10 seasons, was let go after his contract was not renewed.
And finally, the biggest move of the Andy Reid Era, on February 2nd, Juan Castillo, who served as the team's offensive line coach since 1998, was named the new defensive coordinator. That same day, Howard Mudd was hired as the new offensive line coach.
Hiring your defensive coordinator after you already have the rest of the defensive staff in place is odd enough, but promoting an offensive line coach? Well...
After retooling their coaching staff they turned their collective genius to their roster.
During the draft they selected guard Danny Watkins with their first pick. They then picked Clay Matthews' young brother Casey to play linebacker, figuring if he has the same face, same hair and same last name as Clay Matthews, he must be as good as Clay Matthews.
They also drafted kicker Alex Henery and center Jason Kelce.
On July 28th, just one summer removed from the "Offseason of Kolb" during which writers, coaches and media pundits alike touted McNabb's Heir Apparent as being the greatest thing to happen to football in Philadelphia since that crazy courtroom in the Vet closed, quarterback Kevin Kolb was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round draft selection.
On July 29th, the Eagles decided to sign quarterback Vince Young to $5-million-dollar deal to be a backup quarterback, one day after he was released by the Tennessee Titans. In the Eagles defense the signing of Young to man the clipboard on the sidelines saved them $7.25 million dollars compared to what they paid Kolb in that position the previous season.
That same day, the Eagles also signed former Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin to five-year contracts each.
On July 30th they signed DL Cullen Jenkins to a five-year contract and LB Akeem Jordan.
On August 1st, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was traded to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2013 draft selection.
On August 2nd they signed Ronnie Brown. Later they signed punter Chas Henry, thus confusing the fanbase as to which was the field goal kicker—Henery or Henry—and which was the punter.
On August 29th, the Eagles announced they and the oft-injured quarter back Michael Vick, who had a history of inconsistency and off-field troubles and who was also 31 years old, had agreed on a six-year, $100 million contact with almost $40 million in guaranteed money.
Said Vince Young of all of these developments, "Dream Team Baby!"
Larry Fitzgerald shows how Good he Is
After starting the season by defeating a St. Louis Rams team that lost their best player on the second play of the game, the Eagles went on to lose four straight.
The defense, which boasted having three great cornerbacks, never seemed to know how to use them. Their big free-agent signing on the defensive line, Jason Babin, specializes in pressuring the opposition's quarterback but not much else.
The Wide Nine formation implemented by Jim Washburn doesn't exactly jive with the rest of the personnel on the defensive side of the ball, allowing teams to basically run at will on the Birds.
Their offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator has been out-coached pretty much every second of the season.
Casey Matthews became a walking joke and went from being the middle linebacker calling the plays on opening day to becoming a name that is never mentioned at all by broadcasters and color commentators on game day.
On the offense's side of the ball, there is not much of an identity.
They make big plays now and again, but there's no grit, no heart, no leadership. Michael Vick, after playing nine very good games for the Eagles in 2010, has reverted to the Michael Vick who was a struggling turnover machine in Atlanta.
After seemingly being surprised with Vick's resurgence in '10, defensive coordinators have apparently found the template to containing and defeating Vick. The Eagles should know, considering they are the ones who wrote and implemented it during the 2004 NFC Championship game.
To add insult to injury, first round pick Danny Watkins couldn't even get on the field.
The Eagles did beat the plummeting Redskins and dominated the Cowboys after they had their bye week—the one thing still consistent about Andy Reid teams, their domination after a bye week.
The team itself and the fanbase were pumped. Two wins against division rivals? That was something to be excited about. Until you realized how bad the division stunk.
On Monday Night Football they choked one up to the Chicago Bears. They never pressured the famously skittish Jay Cutler. DeSean Jackson, trying to relive the glory of the Miracle in the New Meadowlands, fumbled away a punt that led to Chicago points. The following week he'd miss Special Teams meetings and be suspended a game for doing so by his coach.
The Arizona Cardinals came to town and the Heir Apparent Kevin Kolb didn't even play. Instead a truly horrid back up QB named John Skelton suited up and outplayed Michael Vick, who played his worst game as an Eagle.
Afterwards the excuse machine was put into action for Vick.
He broke his ribs, though there's some doubt as to when. Incidentally Tony Romo broke his ribs and had his lung collapse, and he led the Dallas Cowboys to victory without missing a game.
The other excuse was he didn't have DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin missed much of the game.
But Vick's predecessor had marginal-to-terrible wide receivers—save for 2004 when Terrell Owens was an Eagle and 2009 when DeSean Jackson and Maclin began maturing into the players they are now—yet he found ways to consistently win.
Earlier in the season on the goal line against the 49ers, free agent signee Ronnie Brown performed one of the worst half back options in NFL history. Brown has been so bad the Eagles traded him at the deadline only to have the trade rejected due to medical reasons.
Newly acquired punter Chas Henry was called on to throw a pass on a fake punt at a crucial moment of the Chicago game, and threw the football as if it were a shot put.
There was arrogance on the part of the Eagles to start the 2011 season, from the owner on down to the fan tailgating in the parking lot.
Andy Reid's belief that he knows all seems to finally be his undoing.
Elevating an offensive line coach to defensive coordinator? Still refusing to balance your offense after all of these years? Giving an injury-prone, 31-year-old quarterback who never won anything in the NFL a six-year $100-million-dollar deal? Signing a backup quarterback who has had his own on and off field trouble to a $5-million-dollar deal while refusing to pay your most explosive receiving weapon what he's worth?
This train wreck was a long time coming. It dates back to the Kevin Kolb draft and even before that. It started when the Eagles kept making deals looking down the road hoping to keep the team relevant and a contender in the future, instead of adding pieces that would help them win the Super Bowl "now" or actually "then" while they had the likes of Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Westbrook, Chad Lewis, Sheldon Brown, Lito Sheppard, Ike Reese, Duce Staley, David Akers and Jim Johnson on board.
Their about-face decision to bring in big names and wedge them together like jigsaw pieces from different puzzles was both baffling and disheartening and seems to have blown up in their faces.
They had their chance between 2000 and 2009 to tweak things for the, at that time, present. They didn't. They wanted to keep the team on a even keel for years to come.
Now, with all of these big-name mercenaries on the field and on the sidelines, the ship has tipped over.
When a ship tips over there's only one direction it can go.