Bills Leave Eagles Looking For Answers As Birds Spiral Continues by Matt Lombardo
Before the season began the Eagles were given the moniker of the “Dream Team”, and so far this year the adage has been proven true. Playing the Philadelphia Eagles has become a dream come true for every opponent on the schedule.
After a 31-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Eagles are now 1-4 and in the precarious position of needing to face the reality that only five teams have made the playoffs since 1990 when the current format began.
The struggle of a 4-game losing streak is quickly wearing on this team.
“It’s the same stuff,” LeSean McCoy vented. “Every week I can’t find something new to tell you. We beat ourselves. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. A team like this, they feed off that, and they certainly did today. You can make excuses all you want but that’s what happened. It was the turnovers..”
Michael Vick threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns but also threw a career-high four interceptions, including three in the game’s first 20 minutes. Add in a Jason Avant fumble and the Eagles season turnover ratio is now at an unfathomable minus 10.
Included in Vick’s turnover parade was a Pick-6 to linebacker Nick Barnett, who signed by the Bills in the offseason as a free agent after drawing little interest from the Eagles. There was quite a bit of irony on the play because Vick was hit by one Buffalo linebacker and then threw the interception to another linebacker, which is a position of little value to the Eagles.
Barnett now has 42 tackles, a forced fumble, and two interceptions (returning one for a TD) this season.
The lone highlight for the Eagles was that with 90 yards on the ground, Vick surpassed former Eagles’ great Randall Cunningham’s record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback at 4,928.
Every one of the Eagles weaknesses was brought to the forefront on Sunday. Fred Jackson gashed the Eagles for 49 yards against a toothless defense on a screen pass. And then there was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s nine-yard gain and first down on a quarterback sneak right through the “Reid” sized gap in the Eagles Wide-9 defensive line.
The middle of the Eagles toothless defense was simply exposed by Buffalo Head Coach Chan Gailey and a Bills offense that targeted the Birds linebackers and safeties both through the air and on the ground. Fitzpatrick finished with 193 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but did enough to manage the Bills offense to a gutty win. Meanwhile, Jackson broke the century mark with 111 yards rushing and a touchdown to go with six catches for 85 yards.
After the game, Jackson pointed out exactly how the Bills were so successful in all aspects offensively.
“It was the wide nines,” Jackson said. “They like to get upfield and we knew as long as we could get that nine (the widest defensive end) upfield, we could get under him and be able to spring off it.”
Buffalo simply outplayed the Eagles in nearly every facet of the game.
While the Eagles defense has been maligned in most areas this season, the redzone has been it’s biggest Achilles heal. The Bills finished 3 of 4 while converting redzone trips into touchdowns and continued the Eagles’ league-worst streak of 50 consecutive drives to the red zones allowing points.
The Eagles entered the fourth quarter trailing 31-14, but came out an improved football team Fighting back with a Vick touchdown strike to DeSean Jackson in the frame’s first seconds and later added an Alex Henery 35-yard field goal with 9:33 remaining. The fourth quarter flurry gave a glimmer of hope that the Birds would be on the opposite side of the fourth quarter razor that cost them in each of the last three games.
That is, until 11-year veteran defensive end Juqua Parker jumped offsides with 1:23 remaining when Fitzpatrick used a hard count to try and draw the Eagles off, with no intention of running a play. That penalty effectively ended the Eagles comeback bid and cost them the game.
“I thought they were about to run the ball, so I was anxious,” Parker said. We kind of work on that, hard count, and he got me.”
As always, Andy Reid refused to point the finger at his player.
“I’m not going to hang one player out there to dry on that play.” Reid said.
Perhaps it should be Reid who has the finger squarely pointed at his ample shoulders and torso. Parker, a veteran in this league who has been in countless similar situations before, he needs to know better than to think that Buffalo would risk field position in that crucial situation. But this team is dreadful in fundamental areas such as tackling and now self discipline, which is a direct indictment of the head coach.
At 1-4 the odds are monumentally against the Eagles that they turn this season around quick enough to even compete for a wildcard. At this point even winning a game seems to be a tall order, and with a schedule that still includes two showdowns with the Redskins and Cowboys along with battles against the Jets, Patriots and Giants in New York, the road to improvement isn’t exactly paved in gold.
Time is running out on this season and the signs are there that it may be running out on the Andy Reid era as well. There is little chance that Reid is given his walking papers during the season, however as the architect that built this dream come true for the NFL team and who promoted Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator, ignored his team’s deficiencies at linebacker and safety while playing a scheme that puts those positions at a premium. Put simply, it is his fingerprints on this $107 million disaster that are most indicting.
Even the 13-year coach acknowledged the mounting pressure and perhaps dwindling job security after the game.
“In the National Football League,” Reid said. “Your job is on the line every week.”
Next week, the last place Eagles face the NFC East leading Redskins in Landover, MD and you have to wonder what changes may be looming after that game leading into the bye week.
Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL or by Email at MDLombardo@yahoo.com