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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Is The Sky Falling In Philadelphia?

Eulogies have been written. Devout Eagles fans are wearing their black jerseys, not their green ones. The song "Fly Eagles Fly" is being sung more to fugue-like tones than to the boisterious anthem it had become. Todd Pinkston is getting compared to Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, Todd Marinovich, Tony Mandarich, Brian Bosworth and other disappointments. Rumors are that life insurance companies will yank their coverage from Donovan McNabb, that the Eagles' chances for getting to the Super Bowl are through, that in South Philadelphia people are actually prone to saying, "Stick a fork in 'em, they're done." The radio talk shows are full of the doubters and the naysayers, the same people who wanted Donovan McNabb benched for A.J. Feeley and Andy Reid fired after the beloved Birds dropped their first two games last season.

Don't believe any of it. The Eagles have home field advantage, and they've beaten back a lot of adversity even this year. They lost 2 free agent cornerbacks, both all-Pros at one time, in the off-season, as well as a formidable RB with a lot of gas left in the tank. First-round pick Shawn Andrews went down in the first game with a season-ending injury. Starting DE N.D. Kalu got hurt in pre-season, as did RB Correll Buckhalter. FB Jon Ritchie went down about a third of the way into the season. Other players are banged up, including starting G Jermaine Mayberry, starting DE Derrick Burgess, rejuvenated DT Hollis Thomas and DE Jerome McDougle.

Yet they still have only one loss. They adapt, they improvise, they create new schemes, and they have talent not only on the field but in the front office, and they have coaches who can mold good players into a great team. They have young WRs in Greg Lewis and Billy McMullen who just need an opportunity, and Lewis is not only the fleetest WR on the team but also one of the most sure-handed. FredEx, Freddie Mitchell, might not have caught a ton of balls this season, but he catches tough ones and comes up big when it counts. All will get their chances to fill the void left by Terrell Owens and his injured leg.

Sure, they will miss T.O. Take marquis players off any team, and the team has issues. But this team has gotten it done week in and week out, and until someone knocks them off, they're still the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Did Atlanta's chances to overtake the Eagles get any easier? Absolutely. But this Eagles team has been disrespected all year. After they lost to Pittsburgh, they were called a paper tiger, a team that was much better on paper than on the field. They then tinkered with their defense a bit, putting Jeremiah Trotter in as middle linebacker and moving Mark Simoneau outside. The result -- a much tougher run defense. When they played Green Bay, everyone said that the Packers were a more physical team, that they would come into Philadelphia and beat the Eagles, that they were the second-best NFC team looking to be the first. And what happened? They got the stuffing kicked out of them, 47-17. An awful whipping for the whole country to see.

And still the Eagles don't get a ton of credit. You see, their other receivers aren't that good, their offensive line is banged up, their starting RB is brittle, their kick returners are hurting, their defense is suspect at linebacker, and their D-line can be moved around.

All of which may be true, but this team has shown up mightily in a year that began with everyone talking about how much they choked last year. Allowing for the doubting, they have gone at their schedule with a sense of purpose and have knocked off opponents week-in and week-out.

That's impressive, no matter how you look at the situation.

Are they more vulnerable?

Most definitely.




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