Eagles have more fixes to make before they can truly contend

PHILADELPHIA

— Now that they've prevailed in two games that they easily could have and probably should have lost, the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles have proved they have the talent, fire and toughness to be winners again coming off a disastrous 8-8 season.

What they haven't displayed is a demonstrated ability to win their first NFL championship since 1960.

Super Bowl champions don't function the way the Eagles have in their first two games. They don't turn the ball over nine times in eight quarters. They manage games more sensibly. They don't do other things to beat themselves, such as committing personal fouls when there's no more margin for error. They don't get burned on kick/punt returns so consistently and don't miss as many field goals as Alex Henery has or as many punts as Chas Henry has.

As good and as lucky as the Eagles have been to keep from stumbling to an 0-2 start, they've been too flawed for this run to last much longer. Unless they correct their shortcomings in time for the playoffs, they might not even qualify, much less advance.

It is true, as Bill Parcells famously said, that you are what your record says you are. But it is also true that only one team can win the final game of the NFL season. This is something the Eagles essentially are no closer to achieving now than they were at any point last year, which ended with owner Jeffrey Lurie thinking long and hard about bringing back head coach Andy Reid for a 14th straight season without a title in a league when most other coaches would be gone after five or less.

Give Reid credit for not being too stubborn to make major alterations in his approach. He realized after the 2010 season ended that he had to change the way both lines played. Enter offensive line coach Howard Mudd and defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

He understood the risk involved in making Juan Castillo his defensive coordinator over literally hundreds of more qualified and equally available coaches around the league.

But even though his decisions were instantly justified by Mudd and Washburn and more recently by Castillo, who now commands a truly elite unit, the Eagles have three less takeaways than giveaway. And Sunday's game showed that Reid still is lacking as a gameday decision-maker who can be burned in clock-management situations that often decide ballgames at this level.

Sunday, rookie Damaris Johnson inexplicably was allowed to field a punt at the 3-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the first half and the Eagles trailing by seven points. The Ravens, with two timeouts remaining, held him to a 3-yard return and were able to force a horribly poor punt out of the end zone with 18 seconds remaining, which set them up for a field goal that made it 17-7 at intermission.

With the score tied and the Ravens driving in the fourth quarter, Reid decided to accept a holding penalty that, if declined, would have made it fourth-and-18 from the Eagles 21-yard line. By accepting it, he only pushed the Ravens back 10 yards — still well within field-goal range of rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who had already hit from 56 yards to end the first half.

On the next play, the Ravens had their choice of 15-yard penalties, one each on Nnamdi Asomugha (illegal contact) and Jason Babin (personal foul), to accept, and suddenly had a first down at the 16. That the Eagles wound up holding the Ravens to a field goal on that drive anyway doesn't change the decision that gave their opponent an extra chance at seven points instead of three.

Those flashpoints were not as frightening as what happened in the game's opening series, however, when quarterback Michael Vick masterfully led the Eagles to the Baltimore 12 on just eight plays, only to end it with a foolish interception in which the left-hander tried to throw a pass to his left while rolling right.

The Eagles, thanks to a defense that was solid throughout and a scheduling advantage in which they caught the Ravens on the road after a Monday night game, were able to overcome their shortcomings, just as they did the week before by being fortunate enough to go against a wide-eyed rookie quarterback who clearly wasn't ready to play his first game.

Reid on Monday reiterated his belief that Vick, who has six interceptions in two games, will come around and stop making so many mistakes.

"You can't have turnovers," Reid said. "You've got to do certain things there. I think he'd be the first to tell you [to] just get up and get out of bounds and now you're at the 7-yard line right in there. You live to play the next play."

Problem is, Vick's actions for well over a season's worth of games now have not matched his words, and there's no reason to believe, at age 32, that they ever will.

Still, there's always a chance the light goes on for the quarterback and the coach at some point. If it does, it should make for one exciting January (and possibly February) of football.

If it doesn't, a regime change will follow.

Either way, should be very interesting and exciting to watch it all unfold.

Hold on.

 

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