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From 3-1 To Now, Eagles Wonder

Posted Dec 26, 2012

There was energy and exhilaration in the air as the Eagles walked into the locker room on September 30 after beating the Giants, and anything was possible for the remainder of 2012 ...

"We want to be the identity of this team," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said after the 19-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champions. "We want teams to know that when they come in here they’re facing some tough people. We want them to know that. Regardless of if they get a little bit here or there, we’re going to keep fighting. We’re not backing down from anything."

The Eagles haven't backed down during the course of a season in which they've lost 10 of the 11 games since that beautiful September night, but they've obviously had their troubles. The spate of turnovers that plagued the Eagles in 2011 spilled into 2012 and the offense couldn't recover. And those blown fourth-quarter leads in 2011 that happened again in successive games at Pittsburgh and against Detroit ultimately caused a traumatic change for the defense.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly how 3-1 turned into 4-11, and honestly, the players aren't thinking that much about it. They have a job to do on Sunday as the season ends at MetLife Stadium against the Giants.

"I reflect on the season here and there," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. "What happened? Where do we go wrong? We started out so positive.

"It's hard to have answers. It's very hard to have answers. It's difficult to reflect on, too, especially because we came into this thinking that this was going to be such a different year. That's been the toughest thing, thinking about how it's played itself out."

That win over the Giants was followed by a heartbreaking loss in Pittsburgh as the Eagles rallied to take a lead in the fourth quarter only to have the Steelers convert a third-and-12 play to keep a drive going, one that led to the game-winning field goal on the final snap of the contest.

The next Sunday, the Eagles played a terrific three quarters and then had a 10-point lead on Detroit with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter ... and it all fell apart. The Lions got hot on offense. The Eagles couldn't stop quarterback Matthew Stafford, and didn't get any help from Michael Vick and the offense and the game went into overtime and, ugh, you know the rest of the story.

A snowball was forming, and it quickly rolled into an avalanche. Head coach Andy Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo a couple of days after that loss to the Lions and moved defensive backs coach Todd Bowles into the position, hoping the bye week ahead would give him time to implement his tweaks to the scheme.

By the time the Falcons marched into and then out of Lincoln Financial Field with a dominating win and then the Eagles lost badly in New Orleans the following week, it was obvious that this football team was in for a long, long season. Four consecutive losses followed, three of them in the NFC East, and by the time rookie quarterback Nick Foles led the comeback victory in Tampa Bay, a season was long gone.

"It just kind of kept going in the wrong direction," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans, "and we couldn't get that one win to kind of turn the momentum around in our favor."

Said safety Kurt Coleman: "We had a few losses, injuries. It’s been a roller coaster season. It’s been a struggle for us just to maintain our consistency as far as staying positive in situations. The season has not gone the way any of us wanted it to go but we’ve been fighting every week. It’s just been little things that (have come) back to bite us, whether it be turnovers or a missed play on defense that goes for a big play. It’s just been a frustrating season with the expectations we put on ourselves. We have to finish this season strong."

Momentum is a powerful thing, and the Eagles were on the wrong side of it in 2012. They squeezed out three wins with fourth-quarter rallies to take the lead in the NFC East after that heart-thumping night against the Giants. Since then, the Eagles have had almost nothing go their way -- no bounces of the ball, no injury breaks, no crazy calls from the officials. Only the lack of a dominating team in the NFC East kept the faint division hopes alive.

The Eagles play the Giants on Sunday and they'll try to officially end New York's playoff hopes with a victory. The role of spoiler is not a comfortable one for a team that for years and years was a Super Bowl contender. In those seasons, the Eagles got hot and created their own good fortune and lucky bounces.

It hasn't happened that way this season, leaving the players to wonder how it happened.

"We have to go out and play football and not think about that stuff," said Vick, again the starter with Foles sidelined. "Just go out and win and let's enjoy the game. That's what Sunday is all about for us."

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