ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - This is what it has come to.
A fan in a Jeremy Maclin jersey stood at the fence above the Eagles' idling buses. Each player and assistant coach who trudged up the ramp from the tomb-silent locker room, dragging the weight of another appalling loss, was greeted with the chant.
"Fire Andy! We want Gruden!"
This is what it has come to in Andy Reid's 13th season as head coach of the Eagles. His team is 1-4 after a miserable, sloppy, unprofessional effort here led to a 31-24 loss. Every major decision Reid has made in the last three years has blown up in his ever-redder face. The seasons of consistent success, of double-digit wins and deep playoff runs, feel like ancient history. They feel like the work of another coach.
Start with the knowledge that Reid is very unlikely to be fired now or at any time during this season. It is not the norm in the NFL. It is not the style of this ownership regime. And it probably won't really help anything except the fans' bloodlust in the aftermath of an especially grueling four-game losing streak.
But this has the look and feel and especially the smell of Reid's final season. He has burned through the equity he built with his first six seasons. He must be judged now on the product on the field and the decisions that led to its utter failure.
Reid decided on the unheard-of promotion of Juan Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. The defense is a mess.
Reid was fooled by Michael Vick's stretch of midseason performances and committed the franchise and millions of dollars to the quarterback. Vick is a turnover machine on the brink of breaking down at any time.
Reid had final say on drafts that have not produced a difference-making defensive player since Trent Cole in 2005, and he was a fifth-round accident.
Any coach in the NFL would be fired after Reid's last three declining seasons. There is no reason left not to hold Reid to that same standard.
This 2011 team was overhyped after the spending spree in the beginning of August. Those sky-high expectations make this horrendous start look even worse. But throw out those expectations - which, by the way, were shared and encouraged by the team's front office - and this is still a firing-offense of a football team.
Reid's teams have struggled at times over the years. Bad starts have given way to strong finishes, and Reid could still turn this around. But this doesn't look remotely like those teams, because Reid has rebuilt the roster and the coaching staff in such deeply flawed ways. This team will look familiar to anyone who watched the final death-throe seasons of Marion Campbell (1985), Rich Kotite (1994), and Ray Rhodes (1998).
There is the same impotent desperation in the head coach's eyes. There is the same lack of on-field results from the previous week's coaching adjustments and lineup changes. There is the same grim resignation on the faces of players who recognize a doomed season when they're in the middle of one. Worst of all, there are increasing signs on the field - halfhearted effort, mistakes from lack of focus - that the coach has lost this team.
Jeff Lurie was Eagles owner for Kotite's final season, which ended with a seven-game losing streak. That was easy, firing an unpopular head coach he never hired in the first place.
Rhodes was easy, too. That 1998 team went 3-13 and looked as appallingly disorganized as this team did again Sunday. By then, a chasm of distrust had opened, with Rhodes on one side and Lurie and club president Joe Banner on the other.
This is tougher, because Reid was successful in the first half of his tenure and because he has built strong, deep, and long-lasting relationships with Lurie and Banner. But grading Reid on a curve would, if anything, dishonor those relationships.
"In the National Football League," Reid said, "your job is on the line every week."
It should be. Lurie ultimately must evaluate Reid with the same respectful dispassion the coach brings to decisions about players. From Donovan McNabb to Brian Dawkins to Jon Runyan to David Akers, Reid has made the tough call about men who played hard, played hurt, and bled to win games for him. Lurie is going to have to make the tough call here.
The litany of mistakes that lost a must-win game to the Buffalo Bills closely resembled the litany from last week and from the week before. Reid's weekly pledge to correct those mistakes now sounds way too much like an empty refrain from Rhodes and Kotite as their teams sank into futility.
This is what it has come to.
"Fire Andy! We want Gruden!"
There wasn't much else to say.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan