- Ashley Fox
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PHILADELPHIA -- The end could be nearing.
If Jeffrey Lurie is to be taken at his word, then Andy Reid has 10 games left to prove that he deserves a crack at a 15th season coaching Lurie's beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Reid has 10 games to prove his team can start faster, finish stronger, put away inferior teams, protect fourth-quarter leads and not fold the amazing way they did on Sunday against a Detroit Lions team that for 3½ quarters couldn't get out of its own way.
The Eagles lost a game that good teams, winning teams, teams that are going to vie for the Super Bowl -- teams such as the one that hammered San Francisco on the road on Sunday -- simply don't lose. For the first time all season, Philadelphia had a 10-point lead with just more than five minutes to play at home -- against an opponent that was called for 16 penalties on the day and a quarterback who, through the first three quarters, had completed seven passes for 91 yards, including only one to Calvin Johnson.
Good teams step on an ailing opponent's throat, particularly at home. But that didn't happen. The Eagles' offense stalled, the defense bent and the game slipped away into the Philadelphia night, leaving the Eagles after six games no better than they were after 16 last season. After losing to the Detroit Lions 26-23 in overtime, a week after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a field goal as time expired, Philadelphia is 3-3. Lurie wasn't specific in January about exactly how far Reid has to take the Eagles this season in order to hang on his job -- nor has he qualified it since -- but he was specific about what couldn't happen.
With the roster they had and the free-agent acquisitions they made prior to 2011, finishing 8-8, Lurie said in January, was "completely unacceptable," and it filled him with "anger and frustration." A second consecutive .500 record would be inexcusable. Not good enough. It would necessitate a change.
The Eagles don't necessarily have to win the NFC East -- they are a game behind the 4-2 Giants, who beat the 49ers 26-3 -- but they must make the playoffs, and popular opinion in Philadelphia is that they must win at least one playoff game. It is certainly still possible. They aren't out of it, by any stretch, but with a six-game sample, it has become increasingly clear that every Sunday is going to be an adventure, every game is going to be tight, and every win will be hard to come by.
The quarterback continues to turn the ball over. Michael Vick had two more interceptions against the Lions, bringing his season total to eight. He had two shaky snaps with his new center, one he lost and one he didn't. The offensive line is down two starters this season and continues to allow Vick to take too much punishment.
The defense has played well, but playing the Wide-9 technique, the defensive front appears to tire late in games. They haven't had a sack in three games. Nnamdi Asomugha did a fantastic job shadowing Johnson on Sunday until the coaches switched up coverages late in the fourth quarter and started calling for more blitzes, which allowed Matt Stafford to take advantage of mismatches and force feed Johnson the ball.
With 1:19 to play and the Eagles leading 23-20, Stafford found Johnson on a play that changed the game. Johnson dove for the ball on the left sideline. The call on the field was an incompletion, which would have forced third-and-11 from the Philadelphia 41-yard line, and given the Lions -- who were atrocious on third down all day -- one shot at moving into field goal range. But replays showed that Johnson had the tops of his toes in bounds as he fell to the ground with possession of the football, and the call was overturned. That gave Detroit a first-and-10 from Eagles' 25.
The Lions ended up kicking a field goal to force overtime. The Eagles won the toss and let Vick get sacked on the first two plays, setting up third-and-31 at the 4-yard line. With that, the game was over. The Lions got great field position and Jason Hanson booted a 45-yard field goal to secure Detroit's second win of the season.
"He's disgusted with how we played and how we finished," tight end Brent Celek said of Reid afterward, "and, I think we as players are, too."
Disgusted was a good word for it. Disgusted and disheartened. The Eagles could make the argument that they should be 5-1. Aside from a blowout loss at Arizona, they lost at Pittsburgh by two points and to Detroit by three. But they are what they are -- inconsistent, careless with the football and possessing a higher opinion of themselves than they should have -- and after what will be an interminable bye week, they must regroup during a four-week stretch that looks like this: Atlanta, at New Orleans, Dallas and at Washington. There are no chumps on that schedule.
"You're not treating the bye week the same as you would've treated it had we come away with the victory," Asomugha said. "That's why you just see a lot of heads hanging here, because we know it's a different bye week now. Three-and-three is behind the eight ball. We've got to pick it up."
This team knows about urgency. It started 4-8 last season before winning its past four games to finish .500 and one game behind the Giants in the NFC East.
"You never want to wait until the end of the year," Asomugha said. "This is a thing where we have to get it fixed now. The schedule is not getting easier."
No, it is not. The pressure on the coach, and as a result, on the players isn't going to lessen. If wins keep slipping away, it will only intensify, and that could backfire. Instead of motivating players to perform, it could suffocate them. If they are pressing now, what happens if they are .500 at Week 12?
There is time, still, but not much.
"Yeah, it's very fixable," Celek said, "but you can only say that so many times."
The Eagles have to stop talking and start doing, or the end will be here quicker than they think.
2hJohn Keim and Adam Caplan