CAN'T EXPLAIN IT.
Player after player said it Sunday, bridging the other two dominant words of the day, embarrassing and frustrating.
The Eagles had their 2 best days of practice all season last week, they said. Their head coach made an impassioned and uncharacteristic speech beforehand, challenging their pride and expressing his faith in them. Andy Reid was a master of the bye week, too, undefeated until Sunday's lifeless, boo-infested, 30-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
"Everybody wants to criticize coach for it," LeSean McCoy was saying after the swell of interrogators had subsided Sunday. "It's for us as players to go out and do the plays. Catch the ball. Protect the ball. Make the sack, make the tackle. Things like that.
"As players we have to do a better job of just competing."
Said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: "The work we put it in. The preparation we had. You couldn't tell we were going to play like that."
Unless . . .
It is the most unnerving part to this panic-stricken season, the thought that Sunday was more than a matter of mistakes and mettle. What if this team is competing, and this is all it has? What if that's the most you're ever going to get out of Dallas Reynolds and King Dunlap? What if Demetress Bell has given you his best, too?
What if this loss and that ugly finish against the Lions 2 weeks ago are indicative not of an intensity level, but a talent level?
Consider Shady's words. The Eagles' first play from scrimmage ended when Brent Celek dropped Michael Vick's low pass. By then the Eagles were down 7-0 after Jason Babin's defensive holding penalty on a third-and-10 revived the Falcons' initial scoring drive. On the touchdown, Rodgers-Cromartie bit on a short route and allowed Dominique Davis to run uncovered into the corner of the end zone.
It went on like this all afternoon. Mychal Kendricks, who didn't start because of what Reid called "disciplinary reasons," kept the second Falcons drive alive when he tackled a receiver.
"It's not early in the year," Nnamdi Asomugha said. "We shouldn't be doing this stuff."
The offense has now been outscored 40-7 in the first quarter of games this season, and that lone touchdown was scored after a turnover teed it up for them on the Baltimore 15-yard line. And yet the idea that this could be about play-calling, after all the offensive success this team has enjoyed, seems absurd. Consider this, from Celek, one of the handful of Eagles who have taken part in an NFC Championship Game:
"I have been in this system a long time," he said. "We have a great system and great coaches. We just have to execute. I am not going to go any deeper than that."
He doesn't have to. The loss inevitably led to questions about the quarterback, who trailed 14-0 by the time he reached a second offensive series. Michael Vick wasn't the main problem or anything near a solution, and once again he got tackled from behind on a scramble by a defensive lineman. But it's hard to have a rhythm offense when the line play is this bad, when the best runs of the day come from improvisation.
They are, of course, Reid's guys, every one of them, and his player decisions and drafts hang over these Sundays like the smell of decaying meat. Thirteen years into his stewardship, they still are a mess with timeouts and time management - they burned two on first downs Sunday. And they still begin every season with a playbook too cumbersome to practice efficiently and a majority of players incapable of executing the plays.
From giving Vick the keys to the car three seasons ago to his infamously underwhelming drafts, Reid's greatest strength always has been his greatest weakness. He can help marginal players excel, provided he doesn't have a team full of them. But his drafts have filled his roster with such people, and his acquisitions from the outside have proven more flawed than fearless. Jason Babin, who saw less time in the second half Sunday, is akin to a big-shot hockey defenseman who makes critical mistakes at critical times. Over time, this gnaws more than the limited capabilities of former first-round pick Danny Watkins, who missed the game with an ankle sprain.
Starting in his place was Dennis Kelly, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick. He struggled, but in the context of the day, it was hardly noticeable. There were too many players out there like him, too many small mistakes and missed assignments . . .
Too many players who might not be as good as we thought or hoped they would be.
Maybe there's nothing here to fix. Or too much to fix.
"We've got guys in positions to make plays who aren't making plays," said veteran Cullen Jenkins, the only player on this team with a Super Bowl ring. "When that happens, you can't look at coaching at all."
Contact Sam Donnellon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon.
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