Eagles sputter; fans marooned on playoff road

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHILADELPHIA - You have to ask yourself: Doesn't this qualify as consumer fraud?

Even with their self-imposed limitations, even with their prudent safety-first approach, even with their determination to get no one of importance hurt, was this really the best product the Eagles could offer? Frankly, they should be ashamed and embarrassed.

Their loyalists, a hardy and staggeringly faithful lot, ought to ask for a refund.

In the first game of the new year, the Eagles played like the Eagles of old. Remember 3-13? Remember all those hideous, hopeless seasons? Well, they were all in ghastly, grisly reprise Sunday.

If this had been boxing, the cry would have been immediate: "Fix ... fix ... fix ... "

The Eagles didn't actually tank it against Cincinnati on Sunday, but they sure did give a pretty good imitation of it in a lopsided, one-sided, blindsided, 38-10 flogging.

So the most successful season in the history of the franchise now crawls to a disheartening halt, steam hissing from the radiator, three tires flat, a spreading oil puddle on the pavement, and the carburetor shot.

It isn't so much that the Eagles lost their last two as it was their sinful lack of effort, their slovenly, inexcusable, mistake-riddled bungling, especially Sunday. Remember, these were the Bengals, not the Patriots or the Steelers or anyone actually good. These were the Bengals - 14 seasons in a row without a winning record.

"It was their first team against our second and third teams," Andy Reid said, dismissively.

"So I'm not going to make any more of it than that."

That's true, and yet at the same time it had the hollow ring of alibi and excuse.

As promised, Reid withheld his most vital weapons. Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brian Dawkins and Jevon Kearse, among others, spent the glum and gray day on the sideline. Their replacements, and the other understudies who were called upon to perform, succeeded only in demonstrating emphatically why they are subs, not starters.

"I'd have liked to have seen them play better," Reid said, in a gargantuan bit of understatement. "I expect them to play like they practice. They executed fine in practice. This gives me an idea about them."

What the Eagles did with their wretched offering Sunday was allow doubt to creep in.

Had they lost but played competently, or even competitively, there would have been uneasiness, but not the pervasive gloom that settles in now. What Sunday's pitiful and disturbing effort did was ratchet up the pressure on the Eagles.

Can they really, to use Reid's words, "tune up" when the playoffs start?

Maybe. But there's nothing in their history to prove that.

Bill Lyon is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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