This season, unless the Eagles reach the fourth quarter with a huge lead, they gasp and struggle and stagger to the finish line. They have, remarkably, lost four fourth-quarter leads in the first half of this 2011 campaign without knowing for sure how they can fix the problem and get back into the playoff race.
Winning teams have that "it" factor, that sense of belief in the player next to him on the field, the willingness to lay it on the line for their mates, for their coaches, for their team. Eagles teams in years gone by seized on a fortunate bounce and turned the game into theirs to win. Those teams made defensive stops when needed, won the battle of field position and put together offensive drives to seal games.
This team hasn't yet discovered the magic of winning a back-and-forth game. This team has won three games by playing with a lead and holding on. Only once, against Dallas, did the Eagles play 60 minutes the way they want to play. The rest of the season has been a frustrating, maddening experience watching a collection of players, not a team, labor to a 3-5 record.
What do the Eagles do in the final eight games? I feel like I've written that question every week of the season and I'm still no closer to an answer. The Eagles are going to fight, take it one day at a time, and hope to improve incrementally. Perhaps they will find the "it" that delivers confidence and team chemistry and the sense of Eagles-first mentality that all winning teams have.
If they do, great. The season can be saved, although the margin of error is exceptionally slim. The Eagles -- and I know I don't need to explain this -- are three games behind New York in the NFC East. With four losses in the conference, the Eagles are in woeful shape to earn a wild-card playoff spot so the only realistic hope is to capture the NFC East, and even then the Eagles need help doing so.
But, hey, why in the world spend time looking eight weeks down the road? This is a week-to-week business and the Eagles pretty much stunk it up on Monday night against Chicago. This is not to take anything about from Chicago, a team that plays a good, physical, intelligent game. The Eagles could learn a thing or two about the Bears and how they approach the game. There is no braggadocio in the Bears; they just line up and smash you in the mouth and that's how the win football games.
How would you define the Eagles at this point? Underachieving, yes. Disappointing, of course. A tease, absolutely so far this season.
This team hasn't yet cultivated a personality. The leaders of the team haven't been clearly defined. You see some players who lay it out there -- if every player gave it all on every snap like, say, Colt Anderson, the Eagles would be in great shape in the standings -- and you see some who are productive here, and not so productive there. I'm not sure I see players pushing themselves to the limits on every play.
I know I saw the Eagles were outplayed by the Bears on Monday night and that Chicago was clearly the more physical team. The Bears tackled expertly and the Eagles missed dozens of tackles.
Do the players believe in themselves? Do they believe in each other? Do they believe in their assignments and in their chances of coming back from a deficit and holding a lead?
At 3-5, and losers of four games when they've lead in the fourth quarter, they do not.
It is painful to write this and to be 3-5 at the midway point of the year. Just when you think the Eagles have turned a corner to the good, they slip up and fail to put away a game they should win. The setting at Lincoln Financial Field was perfect on Monday night: The fans were into the game from the very start and the in-stadium show was total entertainment.
Once the Eagles took a 24-17 lead, well, it was time to stand up and show what this team was really about. Perhaps, in the end, the Eagles did that. They allowed three Bears scoring drives -- two field goals and a touchdown -- while the offense failed to sustain drives. Maybe that's what the Eagles really are, just "another" team that doesn't have the intangibles to win consistently in a league where no team should take winning for granted.
I'm holding out hope that the Eagles can find the magical spark. I'm hoping they beat Arizona on Sunday and then turn it on for the stretch drive. For that to happen, a lot has to transpire behind the scenes for this football team.
Right now, the Eagles are what they are, and that's a 3-5 team mired at the bottom of the NFC East and out of the playoff picture. They don't strike fear in any team out there. You watch the Eagles and see a collection of players who haven't yet come together as the team we all thought they would be by now. What is the answer? How does the season turn around?
Can the Eagles make something of a year that began with so promise, or are they destined to become one of the all-time disappointments in team history?
It is a heavy responsibility to bear. It is a hard reality to accept, for all of us.