Philadelphia Eagles News

Eagles Must Clear Mental Hurdle In Short Week

Andy Reid does everything for a reason. He is a calculated head coach who understands when to kiss and when to kick, when to push and when to pull back. After losing to Chicago, players said in the locker room following Reid's address to the team, the head coach went off. He was furious. He went hard after his team. He explained to them that they had just booted away a chance to win a very important game.

Now, why Reid did that, only he knows. Clearly, the head coach was unhappy with his team's performance against the Chicago Bears, who got to the loose balls, who hustled for the extra edge on every play, who beat the Eagles 31-26 in a game made close by a flurry of late points by the visiting team.

Reid knows, though, that his post-game address to the team wasn't about just one game. He is trying to create a mentality with his young, talented team. He wants the Eagles to take no plays off, to accept nothing as a given, to have maximum focus and purpose every minute of the football day.

The Eagles didn't have that focus on Sunday in Chicago. They played hard, they tried their best, but they were off. They didn't have that winning edge. The offense missed opportunities to put points on the board. The defense allowed big play after big play to an offense ranked 30th in the league entering the game. The special teams gave up too much in kickoff coverage. The coaching staff, by Reid's admission, had a tough day.

Add it up and it is a loss, and a costly one, to an NFC team headed for the post-season. But there is a lot of season to be played. The Eagles have five games remaining, Thursday night is almost here.

How the Eagles play against the Texans is all about their mental approach. Everyone is going to be banged up, Houston included. The physical part is just what it is. The mental game is the huge test. And nobody on this football team is going to be more scrutinized this week, for the first time in his career, than wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Jackson was clearly distraught after Sunday's loss. He sat in his locker stall at Soldier Field, half dressed in his uniform, as the media came and went and conducted interviews around him. What he was thinking, what he was worried about, is a mystery. Jackson did not talk to the media.

There are reports that say Reid included Jackson in the post-game lambasting of the team, but that is not how I understand it. Reid, in fact, did not single out players. He included them as a team, and as a team the Eagles were tongue lashed by the head coach.

As for Jackson, he faces the first adversity of his young career. Jackson's season has been uneven, as the numbers explain. A season after tying an NFL record with eight touchdowns of 50-plus yards, Jackson has two touchdowns of 50-or-more yards. He has six touchdowns combined after scoring 12 in 2009.

On Sunday, the Bears took away Jackson and the deep ball and he caught just 2 passes for 26 yards. Jackson missed on a couple of other shots -- he dropped a pass when he was wide open near the goal line and then couldn't bring in a Michael Vick pass in the end zone. It would have been a tough catch in traffic, but Jackson usually makes those catches. He didn't this time, and the critics bared their teeth. For the first time in his NFL years, Jackson has critics coming after him.

How will he handle it? The Eagles certainly need Jackson to be Jackson. They need his home-run abilities and they need defenses to adjust to him. To do so, of course, Jackson needs to be in the right frame of mind. He is going through something he has never experienced in the NFL -- intense coverage on the field only a few weeks after the vicious hit he took in the win over Atlanta, all of the drama that is about to encircle his life.

Believe me, the media smell blood here. I've already had one national producer ask me about "Andy Reid getting on Jackson's case after the game," and I told the producer the truth: That isn't the way it went down. Jackson wasn't called out. The entire team was called out.

But Jackson's reaction in the locker room after the game attracted all kinds of attention. I've seen it before, and I've seen players handle it in different ways. Perhaps in this case, Jackson was simply upset that the Eagles lost a close game. He takes these things very, very personally. Maybe he was just hurting because of the loss.

The questions he will be asked, however, are going to be probing. Is Jackson, in the back of his mind, backing away from contact in tight quarters after suffering his second concussion in two seasons? Is Jackson thinking about his contract, a story that he has handled with so much class and professionalism to date? Is there something else? Does Jackson just want the ball more?

This is an important time in Jackson's career. He lasted until the second round of the draft a few years ago in part because teams wondered about his maturity level. Jackson has been great in his two-plus seasons here. He shows up every day and works hard. He loves the game. He has an infectious smile and high-energy personality that rubs off on everyone.

Now, hey, Jackson was frustrated. About what, I do not know. But I do know that there are going to be dozens of reporters and cameras waiting for him until he addresses the issue of his post-game reaction on Sunday, and until Jackson does that, the story will linger. And fester. And maybe take on a tone that is not exactly accurate.

It was a testy loss in Chicago and it is over. Done. On to the Texans. The Eagles met on Monday at the NovaCare Complex and then had practice. They are setting their sights on an important game, one that they need to be mentally committed to playing their best football in to capture a victory. Anything less than the right mental discipline will be very, very costly to a team in the thick of the NFC playoff picture.

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