We already know the season is going to end badly. Now the big question is: Will it end ugly?
There is a difference. Over the years, various Eagles teams have experienced both bad seasons and ugly seasons. One thing they have in common, of course, is a lot more defeats than victories, so this Eagles team – now 4-7 after getting spanked by the Patriots on Sunday – certainly qualifies.
No Eagles coach has ever won more games than Andy Reid, but he’s had a couple losing seasons during his 13-year reign in South Philly. His last one was in 2005 when the Eagles finished 6-10 and in last place in NFC East. But that was just one year after they made it to the Super Bowl and quarterback Donovan McNabb was lost for the season with an injury and his replacement was a stiff named Mike McMahon and, don’t forget, that was the season of the T.O. implosion.
That was a losing season. The last ugly season for the Eagles was in 1998, which was Ray Rhodes’ last season as coach. Rhodes had started out with a bang, taking the Eagles to the playoffs in his first two seasons. But then Rhodes’ team started to get old and he never did have a franchise quarterback – he had to get by with Ty Detmer and Rodney Peete and Bobby Hoying – and things started to go downhill, slowly at first, but then picking up speed.
The Eagles went 6-9-1 in Rhodes’ third year, but the wheels fell off in his fourth. The season opened with a 38-0 loss to Seattle and included a 41-16 loss to Denver, a 34-0 loss to Dallas – Dallas! – a 28-3 loss to Washington and a 20-0 loss to the New York Giants.
Anarchy reigned. Everybody knew Rhodes was a lame duck and all discipline disappeared. There was plenty of talent – his final lineup included Pro Bowl players like receiver Irving Fryar, tackle Tra Thomas, guard Jermane Mayberry, defensive end Hugh Douglas and defensive backs Troy Vincent and Brian Dawkins – but no direction.
It was ugly.
And that’s what’s at stake for the Eagles in the final stretch of the season. They’re going to end up as a losing team regardless, but it’s up to them whether or not things spin out of control. And certainly a loss to a bad Seattle team on Thursday night would be a pretty good indication that they are.
But the guess here is that they won’t, simply because Reid has a firmer hand on the controls than Rhodes did. Even if the Eagles continue to lose, Reid has been on the job long enough and been successful enough to prevent the kind of meltdown that hit Rhodes’ team in his last season.
After Thursday night’s game against the Seahawks the Eagles hit the road to play another bad team, the Miami Dolphins. Then they close with the New York Jets, Dallas and Washington. But it’s the games against the teams with losing records that will decide whether the Eagles are a decent team that’s played poorly at times (OK, most of the time) or just a bad team, period.
How they finish will also have a lot to say about whether Reid returns for a 14th season. Anyone who heard the “Fire Andy!” chants during the embarrassing loss to the Patriots knows that this is a crucial time for Reid. If his team plays well down the stretch and appears to be in good shape for next season, then he’ll probably be back. But if they Eagles just flush the rest of the season way, then the most successful coach in Eagles history will be just that – history.