The 4-7 Eagles hang on to the last dregs of hope

SEATTLE - As the Eagles did the quick turnaround this week to prepare for their cross-country trek to play the Seahawks, they readily admitted that things don't look so good right now.

It would be hard to argue otherwise, particularly after the ritual disemboweling they endured against the Patriots, but football players are nothing if not resilient. Cast them into a raging sea and toss them a piece of dental floss and they will grab it as if it were a lifeline.

So this week, the mantra has been that they are not out of it until they are, well, out of it, and, just for added emphasis, they threw in a little you-never-know.

That's fine as far as it goes, and it got them from Sunday night in hell to Thursday night in Seattle. The latter might not turn out to be any better than the former, but at least you can get a decent cup of coffee.

Poll

With the Eagles at 4-7, is there any reason for Michael Vick to rush back into the starting lineup?

If they should beat the Seahawks - also a 4-7 team but one that doesn't bother with the notion of salvaging its awful season - then the Eagles will get another week of wearing the you-never-know armor to fend off the interrogatory arrows that fill the sky.

The problem is that they actually do know. Professional athletes can be fooled about many things, including the wisdom of investing in Florida land deals, but they cannot be fooled about the actual state of their teams.

The Eagles can look around and see a roster that has some talent but does not play together consistently. The same team that can play very well one week can also be dreadful the next. The offensive and defensive schemes are a mishmash of competing agendas within the coaching staff, and every now and then the whole thing crashes. That's no way to pull off a five-game winning streak, and the players are more aware of it than anyone else.

Seattle has had a similarly frustrating season, good enough to beat Baltimore and the Giants, bad enough to lose to Cleveland and Washington. The Seahawks are staring up at the first-place 49ers, with a 9-2 record, and also find themselves behind five wild-card contenders. Suffice it to say, the Seahawks don't waste a lot of breath on you-never-know.

Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 - a span of 34 football seasons including this one - the Eagles have had a losing record at this point of the season and won their final five games exactly once. The 2006 team was 5-6 after 11 games and recovered to win the last five under backup quarterback Jeff Garcia. That team made the playoffs and won a game before losing to New Orleans in the divisional round.

One very reasonable question is whether Vince Young, the backup in a starting role this time around, could do the same thing, or at least keep them from falling off the cliff until Michael Vick returns.

Young, in an ironic twist, was the opposing quarterback in 2006 the day Donovan McNabb tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Eagles lost to Tennessee in that game, got creamed the Sunday after Thanksgiving against Indianapolis, and then began their remarkable run to the playoffs that Wilma McNabb famously described as "bittersweet."

In that 2006 season, Young helped bring the Titans back from an 0-5 start to finish 8-8, and he was part of an even more impressive recovery in 2009. He recalled that this week during his own you-never-know dissertation.

"I tell all of the guys that I've been in this situation before. You know, 0-6 and we ended the season just a game short of [making] the playoffs," Young said. "So we just have to continue to keep working and worry about ourselves and not worry about anyone else."

It's a great story and one that makes up in enthusiasm what it might lack in accuracy, which is also a fair reflection of his quarterbacking skills. The Tennessee Titans started the 2009 season with those six losses, then won five straight before finishing up with another 8-8 record. To say they missed the playoffs by only one game is generous, however. Four teams in the AFC were tied for the wild-card spots with 9-7 records and another team also finished 8-8. The Titans, with a 4-8 conference record, didn't hold a tiebreaker advantage with any of them.

Still, it was a good tale to tell this week, and players up and down the locker room were coming up with their own versions. That was easier, and a good deal safer, than dealing with the realities of their situation.

Let's see. The team is 4-7, the franchise quarterback is hurt again and may never have a healthy season, the star wide receiver is avoiding collisions until he gets a new contract, the decision to promote the offensive-line coach to defensive coordinator has been a howling disaster, the fans are chanting for the head coach to be fired, and the offensive coordinator and defensive line coach are fighting on the sideline. That about cover it?

So, yes, we are aware that you never know what can happen in an NFL season. In fact, it already has.

 


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at bford@phillynews.com, read recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford