Rich Hofmann, Daily News Sports Columnist
Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012, 1:03 AM
GOING BY THIS morning's standings, the Eagles do not play a team with a winning record for the next 7 weeks, not until the season finale against the Giants. So there is that.
On those self-same standings, the Eagles have five losses, all well-deserved. If the season ended today, the last wild-card team in the NFC would have four losses. Despite how abysmal the Eagles looked against the Saints on Monday night - and abysmal does not begin to describe the wreckage, not really - we are not talking about a monumental stretch.
Which means that, despite everything, the Eagles really are only as dead as they want to be.
Last year, the oh-my-god game was on a Thursday night at Seattle. It was the one where everybody wrote that they had quit. It was going to be all over for Andy Reid and his staff, and a page was going to be turned - because when your team rolls over on you, it is nearly impossible for a head coach to survive.
But then the schedule softened up and the Eagles won their final four games and built an offseason narrative around that late turnaround. It is a story that isn't worth the paper it is written on anymore, and there is a significant difference between now and then - Vince Young was the quarterback in Seattle, and Michael Vick was the quarterback thereafter - but there is at least this recent history. It did happen.
In the NFL, you can completely fall on your face and still get up - again, if you decide that you want to get up.
Currently, the Eagles are deciding.
"It could be that, when things are going bad now, and it's not happening, it's starting to maybe become normal now," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "And guys are accepting it as being normal. We've got to make sure we don't let it get like that."
Bad plays happen, Jenkins said. Missed assignments happen. The other team is trying, too, and sometimes it goes bad. Still, Jenkins said, "You've got to know that that's not normal. Everybody has to look at themselves, get on themselves harder than anyone can get on them so it doesn't happen again."
Is that happening? Do the Eagles understand?
"It's tough to say," Jenkins said. "Everybody's different. You don't know what's going on in everybody's mind. As a team, we have to come together and make sure everybody stays intense, focused, and is not giving in."
Last year, after the Seattle debacle, the Eagles traveled to Miami to play a team that had won four out of five games. Vick was still hurting from broken ribs that had kept him out of the lineup for three games. Two things happened. First, the Eagles stuck with the running game in an attempt to protect Vick, stuck with it despite the fact that it was impotent: LeSean McCoy, 27 carries, 38 yards. Second, the defense finally showed up, not only recording nine sacks and a safety but also making a half-dozen run stops in short-yardage situations.
Which means that it can turn if you give it a chance.
For the offense, this week facing the Dallas Cowboys, that means an end to the empty backfields and the high-wire stuff and shifting toward a determination to run the ball and shorten the game and do everything possible to protect their struggling offensive line. Fullback Stanley Havili should get his most snaps of the season. That would seem to be a given.
But it also means that the defense shows up or we can all just forget about anything other than arranging the cortege.
The last few weeks, as the defense has softened against the run, well, "It hurts us right in the heart," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. He sounded as if he meant it. But how that hurt translates into action remains unclear. A bad Saints team ran all over the Eagles on Monday night, and the number of missed tackles was alarming - 2011 alarming.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans said what everybody knows - that the problem isn't the initial tackle being missed, but the absence of help.
"You miss tackles," he said. "It's football . . . You just have to have that pursuit and everybody getting after it so when one guy misses, everybody cleans it up for the other guy."
The first four games this season, the Eagles did not miss many tackles. But the number has grown, and some late leads were blown, and it started to look like 2011 again, and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo got fired, and now it looks even worse.
"There's got to be want-to," Cullen Jenkins said.
Now we will find out. The challenge is plain. For the Eagles, the next game will tell us a lot more than the last one.
Contact Rich Hofmann at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, or for recent columns go to philly.com/RichHofmann.
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