As the Eagles slip toward the playoff margins, this is not the "failure" scenario I envisioned in the preseason.
I thought if the Birds weren't pretty solid this year, it would be because either Donovan McNabb or Brian Westbrook suffered a serious, season-altering injury. I figured the most likely outcome in that case would be that management would decide it was time to rebuild, and focus on trading McNabb in the coming offseason. I didn't see anything endangering Andy Reid's status.
But though McNabb and Westbrook (especially Westbrook) have been dinged and dented, the Eagles aren't the third- or fourth-best team in the NFC East because of injuries to those guys. Neither McNabb nor Westbrook has much to do with blocking or tackling, and it is on the offensive and defensive lines that both Washington and New York seem to have moved past the Eagles. (Dallas, who knows? We'll leave the Cowboys out of this for now.)
Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner are pretty stubborn when it comes to acquiescing to a panicky populace. They've had quite a bit of faith in Reid, quite a bit of appreciation for how he led their team out of the 3-13 wilderness. But "stubborn" and "stupid" are two different things.
If I'm Lurie or Banner right now, I'm looking at things like the miscalculation involved in the Lorenzo Booker trade, the fullback follies, and the inability of the defensive line to stop the Redskins or the Giants, despite a bunch of money and draft picks spent in that area the past several years. I would have serious questions about whether Reid is the guy to rebuild this team in 2009, the way he was in 1999.
I'm not saying anything is going to happen. Lurie owes Reid at least $10 million on a contract that runs through 2010. The Eagles could still make the playoffs, could still catch a Washington or New York napping in the rematch and succeed just enough to allow management to cling to the mistaken belief that it has the personnel in the trenches to line up with the best. Titular GM Tom Heckert, whose rise abruptly stalled a little while back, could become a sacrificial lamb
Overall, I still favor the blame-it-on-Donovan scenario: reporters historically sympathetic to management favored by postseason not-for-attribution whispers about how, you know, film review showed the team would actually have won this game or that game if McNabb weren't so erratic, it wasn't really that the team or the playcalling weren't good enough, you see.
I don't see any way Donovan stays, at age 32, and Andy leaves. That wouldn't really make sense. And though I don't blame McNabb for what has happened this year, I also don't think he's been good enough when it counts. He is not the QB he was four years ago, and I guess now he never will be that guy again.
But for the first time, I can envision another coach behind that NovaCare microphone -- I never thought Reid was close to stepping down last year, when his kids ran into trouble. Now, I keep flashing back to Sunday night, and the Eagles being pushed around the field by the Giants in a nationally televised game that was not as close as the final score indicated, the scoreboard cameras settling on Jeffrey Lurie entertaining vice president-elect Joe Biden in Lurie's suite. The booing was visceral. I have to think Lurie knows Philadelphia wasn't booing Biden.