Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
At this point, we all know how scarring an experience last year’s football season turned out to be. The Eagles got our hopes soaring with some potent free agent acquisitions, Vince Young called them a “Dream Team.” Everything that happened after that now lies dormant, along with the rest of our repressed, traumatic memories in some dark corner of our brains.
You wouldn’t think, with wounds so fresh, that a vivid reminder would be necessary for Philly fans. Still, as I observe the optimism regarding the Eagles’ rapidly approaching season swell, I feel I must act as a stabilizing force to guard against another painful letdown. We must learn from our history to ensure we don’t repeat it.
Last season, a number of circumstances kept the Eagles from securing a berth for postseason play. No matter which of these circumstances you choose to highlight, one glaring fact remains.To go along with their terrible luck, the 2011-2012 Philadelphia Eagles were an extraordinarily dumb football team.
This may not seem like an earth-shattering revelation to you. In fact, you may already be recalling some of your favorite blooper reel highlights in your mind. The significance of these spectacular miscues cannot be fully grasped without first understanding just how close the team really was to success. Strap in. This is gonna be a bumpy ride.
Week 1: The Silence of the Rams
Heading into Week 1 of the NFL season, everything was going “according to plan.” To Joe Buck’s obvious dismay, the New York Giants had just been slaughtered by the playoff contending Washington Redskins(Remember how that was a thing?), Cowboys Quarterback, Tony Romo, threw a game winning 4th quarter pass to Darrelle Revis and the Eagles cruised to a blowout victory over the listless St. Louis Rams. As Martha Stewart would say, these were all most certainly “good things”.
In their road opener, the Eagles were every bit as unimpressive as a team can possibly be whilst blowing out an inferior opponent. Maybe this was the first sign of trouble for Philadelphia fans, but we didn’t see it; we didn’t see it because we weren’t looking.
Week 2: Sunday Night of the Living Dead
The second week of the NFL season featured the sizzling primetime homecoming of one media-anointed, prodigal son Michael Vick. Without a doubt, this would be the first true test of the season. On the road, where a team has lost less than a handful of games in the past three seasons, the Eagles had their work cut out for them.
From the opening whistle, Philly dominated the game. On offense, they strode into the red zone on every other possession. On defense, the Atlanta offense was made to look every bit as pedestrian as most educated football fans would have expected. The Eagles were going to win this game by 17 points.
At least, that’s what it felt like as the opening quarter came to an end. Though the yardage wasn’t translating to points and the Falcons took the lead, I was reasonably comfortable in my prediction. I was convinced the score would reflect what was happening on the field eventually.
Sure enough, it took little time for the Eagles to assert themselves, mounting two consecutive scoring drives. Not long after, Michael Vick had his team in the red-zone again. This was going to get ugly for Atlanta. It was at this point in the game; at this point in the season and my night that things took a horrible turn.
As I sat watching, eagerly awaiting the imminent Eagles score before the end of the half, my girlfriend came striding into the kitchen to put something away in a cabinet. “How’s your football?” She asked in the most patronizing way possible. I didn’t care, football was on. “It’s fine.” I said, my fingers creeping into my mouth as I prepared to take another bite out of my nails. “Babe!” She scolded me as I retracted my hands and looked in her direction. “You always bite your nails when you watch the Eagles.” Vick was just dropping back for another pass from the 30-yard line. “I’m sorr-” I started before Al Michaels interjected with a bellowing “THE BALL IS OUT!”
We sat in silence, me watching with the piercing scowl and shaking head of a true longtime Philly sports fan. She knew not to continue our previous conversation. Her eyes shifted from me to the T.V. and back again as a Falcons DE stumbled to the Eagle’s 10 yard line, Desean Jackson’s ragdoll body draped around him like a wool cape.
“What does that mean?” My girlfriend asked. I stood and folded my arms in disgust as if I were actually at the Georgia Dome. “We just lost the game is what that means.” In the moment, I may have been a bit dramatic, but my worst fears were proven correct when the Falcons took a four point lead on the ensuing possession. The Eagles lost this game by EXACTLY those four points.
Week 4: A Nightmare On Broad Street
A dreary loss to the Giants in week 3 sent the fan base into a state of anxiety. This team was not playing like a contender or even a playoff team for that matter. The opportunities were there and the Eagles squandered every one of them vs. a mediocre New York squad. This made week 4’s matchup with the 49ers that much more important. They had to get a win at home at this point in the season and most believed that they would.
The first half was a near masterpiece. Michael Vick was shredding a Niners defense that had stifled offenses in their early season outings. Lesean Mccoy and Desean Jackson looked dangerous. Leading 20-3 at halftime, I knew this game was over. It wasn’t. In the second half, San Francisco committed to the ground game and refused to allow Philly to rush the passer. They were going to allow the Eagles to bury themselves and ramsack the tomb afterwards. The Eagles obliged.
Michael Vick threw an awful red-zone interception. Then, rookie kicker, Alex Henery, missed back to back field goals from short range. It seemed no matter how many times the Eagles marched down the field, they weren’t going to score any points.
Finally, they found themselves at the 1 yard line, knocking on the door to salvaging this debacle and going home 2-2 on the year. Then, it happened; The backwards, downwards, fumble/pass to an invisible Fullback heard ‘round the world. Ronnie Brown literally took the football from Michael Vick, turned around, and threw it on the ground.
If I were a suspicious person…or any kind of person, I would assume this had to be the clearest case of throwing a game in the history of televised sports. I, however, was always taught never to look for a conspiracy when incompetence is a better solution. I’ll be damned if “incompetence” didn’t perfectly fit the HD rendered expression on that poor guy’s face.
That was the straw (one of many) that broke the camel’s back. The game had been systematically, with surgeon-like precision, given away to the visiting team. The defense caved in as usual to a 4th quarter drive, and the Eagles were 1-3. Panic time had arrived in Philadelphia.
Week 5: The Bills Have Eyes
“EAGLES JUMP!” Merrill Reese shouted incredulously, “THEY JUMP!” Andy Reid gasped and threw his hands over his head. Unbelievably, the Eagles had just dropped to 1-4 on the season, their final chance at a comeback squandered, this time by Juqua Parker on an offsides penalty; a penalty that turned a 4th and 4 into a 1st and 10 for the Buffalo Bills with under two minutes to go. The entire audience, both coaching staffs, and all but one player on the field knew that ball was never getting snapped.
At this point, it was becoming painfully obvious that the Philadelphia Eagles lacked the sort of composure it takes to be successful in the NFL. Despite the writing on the walls, the city of Philadelphia somehow held out hope of salvaging the season. This hope was only validated in the coming weeks, but time makes fools of us all and convincing wins over both the Cowboys and Redskins would prove to be nothing more than fools gold.
Week 9: Jaws
“Michael Vick finds the open receiver…puts the ball in his hands, Maclin cannot maintain his balance…Bears take over and they’ll get the victory.” Ron Jaworski lamented the final play run by the Eagles on Monday Night Football. Coming off such an impressive, season-saving win over the Cowboys just a week earlier, nobody thought Philadelphia would let this happen.
Turnovers and miscommunications on defense plagued the Eagles all night but it was ultimately Maclin’s stumble just two yards from the first down marker on fourth and long that sank them. That, and an ill-advised fake punt/pass attempt that Chas Henry sent wobbling into the dirt well behind his target. In a season already bloated with new, exciting ways to lose football games, the Eagles had just discovered another.
Week 10: Sunday the 13th
When the news reached the public that Desean Jackson would not dress for the Eagles’ game against the Cardinals, I knew something was amiss. Andy Reid had to discipline Jackson for disrespecting his rules. It wasn’t even an option if he wanted to keep hold of the locker room in any capacity. Still, it just felt like he was setting himself up for a weird game. That’s exactly what he got.
The offense was stagnant, failing to hook up on numerous open looks between Vick and his receivers. Lesean Mccoy was not playing very well and Vick was taking a pounding. This was another game that the Eagles seemed to dominate from the start though, and I (believe it or not) STILL had faith that the team would pull it together in time to secure the victory.
Trailing by three points in the fourth quarter, the Arizona Cardinals found themselves in a 3rd and 5 situation. John Skelton dropped back to pass, surveyed the field and fired a pass incomplete. The Eagles were finally making a stand in the fourth quarter…or were they? Nnamdi Asomugha’s absent mindedness led him to line up in the neutral zone before the snap, netting the Cardinals a first down, then a touchdown and a win.
Would Desean Jackson’s presence have cemented that victory for Philadelphia? By no means can I assume so, but a case can be made either way. Yet another odd circumstance had resulted in an embarrassing loss at home. The Eagles were just about dead in 2011. God knows everyone in Philly wanted to bury them right then and there, but if you’ve lived here long enough, you knew it’d never be that simple. This team was going to find it’s way back from the dead just once more to be finished off along with our hopes in spectacular fashion.
Week 13: Tavraris Jackson’s “Thriller”
As the Eagles’ limp corpses shuffled into CenturyLink Field on that fateful Thursday night, little remained of their, once prominent, playoff aspirations. Though not mathematically eliminated, their performance on the field of late suggested that the team may not be capable of winning another game. The city of Philadelphia was saying they were done, the national media was saying they were done, other teams around the NFL were saying they were done and the Eagles went out there and proved them all right.
In nightmarish fashion, Philly surrendered third and long after third and long as Tarvaris Jackson painted his masterpiece; the single best game he has ever played as a pro. Marshawn Lynch ran unimpeded for most of the night and the Seahawks rammed a stake into the weakly beating heart of the Eagles. In the coming weeks, the team would pull themselves together just in time to make things interesting before being officially eliminated from contention.
These are just a few of the many remarkable events that prevented the Philadelphia Eagles from reaching their potential in 2011. Go over, in your head, all of the incredibly dumb situations I described to you in the above paragraphs. Go back to the Atlanta game, when Vick fumbled the ball in the first half. Go back to the 49ers game when the Eagles literally threw the game away. Now understand this: after all of those impossible scenarios played out, the Eagles missed the playoffs by one single game.
One single fumble, one interception, one stumble before the first down, one drive-extending offsides penalty, or even something as simple as starting your best wide receiver on game day could have been all the difference. If, at any point, during this horror movie of a season, the Eagles had made even one more intelligent decision, there would be a different defending Super Bowl champion.
If this message isn’t being driven home during every Eagles practice this season, they deserve the consequences. And if the fan base in Philadelphia refuses to embrace this new perspective, then so do we.