I made a classic sports fan’s mistake last month. I effused my joy before it had blossomed. I got really excited about the Phillies and Eagles without remembering how quickly the tides can turn in a city that has never been short on bad luck or misfortune. Thinking we would be with the Phillies deep into October, I was sure we’d have at least one championship quest to latch on to. With them now gone ’til spring and the Eagles fading fast, there’s not a lot of hope left in this town nor is there much to say about such a sobering reality.
Optimists might mention that surely, by now, the Eagles have run out of ways to give away a game in the National Football League–that they’re due for a win this week against the Redskins. The blind faith with which Eagles fans have reassured themselves of a playoff birth each year has vanished, providing little solace in the wake of a 1-4 record to open the season. Andy Reid has always found a way to right the ship, but the ship has rarely been this far off course. There is time to improve still, with eleven games left in the season. Players under Andy Reid traditionally don’t quit and I expect that eventually the wins will pile up. But is it too late? Is 1-4 too difficult to overcome? If making the playoffs is the goal, then beating the Redskins will be a necessity. The Eagles likely won’t grab either wildcard spot, with so many strong teams in the NFC this year. So, winning the NFC East might be their only shot. Losing to the Redskins this Sunday would all but mathematically eliminate them from the hunt. A win, and it’s a new season, albeit one with multiple remaining problems to address and a whole lot of winning to do. Unfortunately, Trent Cole and Jason Peters, two of the Eagles top five players, are out. They’re going to have to win with teamwork and fundamental football, i.e. the opposite of what we’ve seen the past five weeks. A lot of people are trying to wrap their heads around what’s happened to the Eagles. If I had to list the problems and keep it simple, it would go like this:
1. Turnovers, obviously. On offense, they’ve had an absurd bevy of bad luck and poor execution. Namely three killer plays: Maclin’s drop against the Falcons, Maclin’s fumble against the 49ers, and Avant’s kick-ball interception against the Bills.
2. They also haven’t had any help from Andy Reid, mismanaging the clock, making poor decisions with punting/kicking and on third and fourth down, unable to straddle the line between conservative and desperate, modesty and hubris.
3. The defensive players keep looking at each other. Their star-studded secondary is expecting the “other guy” to make the play, leading to missed tackles. There’s no sense of cohesion or accountability. The chemistry issues of adding so many high-profile players ended up being more of a problem than we had thought. Everyone is looking around, on both sides of the ball, for someone to make a play, rather than collectively stepping up together.
The sad reality is that the Eagles could very easily be 4-1 right now. But they’re not, and there’s no use in hypotheticals at this point. The bottom line is that they are not as bad as their record indicates, that they have nowhere to go but up from here, and that all signs point to them finishing the season strong, even if they don’t end up making the playoffs. If they lose to Washington this week and do indeed end up spiraling out of control, finishing with some awful record like 4-12 or 5-11, then, and only then, would the front office even consider firing Andy Reid. I expect that man to coach out his contract, Superbowl or not.
As for the Phillies, I don’t have much to say except that the first round of the MLB Playoffs should probably be seven games long. I mean, why not? I’m not saying the Phillies didn’t deserve to lose with the way that they played at times, but it was a sad and depressing moment, after 162 games, to see everything gone in five games.
Yes, the Flyers will be fun to follow this year. Giroux looks like he’ll become a household name by the end of the season. And the Sixers will be hurt by a shortened season, but hopefully the NBA gets its act together and we can see them in the playoffs again this year. And the Union will be in the playoffs, so maybe they can give us a shot at the 5th most exciting major league team sports championship in America.
Overall, the State of the Union of Philadelphia sports is a whole lot bleaker than it was one month ago, but there will be opportunities for joy soon enough, hopefully starting with a win against the ‘Skins this Sunday.