BALTIMORE --Trying to save an offense stuck in neutral and making a statement on a day of statements, Andy Reid made the call to go with Kevin Kolb at quarterback in the second half of a dreadful 36-7 loss to the Ravens on Sunday. The results were certainly not positive, and nor was the end result, but there is a sense of desperation here, a sense of knowing that the Eagles are a team in transition.
I have no complaints with removing Donovan McNabb from the starting lineup. He played poorly again in the first half, completing 8 of 18 passes, throwing two interceptions, losing a fumble on a blindside blitz that really wasn't his fault. But McNabb, who started the game OK with 6 completions in 7 attempts, then turned the ball over three times in the second quarter, went 1 for 10 and, well, that was it.
Head coach Andy Reid said after the game that he was looking for a "spark" for the football team and that did not happen. Hey, not much of anything right happened for the Eagles, other than a 100-yard Quintin Demps kickoff return for a touchdown and a defense that played very hard and battled at the line of scrimmage until the game went south in the fourth quarter.
There are a lot of problems with the Eagles, and Reid knows it. He vowed to turn the team around and "get it right," and we all hope that happens. The big story on Sunday was the decision to remove McNabb, insert Kolb, and fan a flame calling for major changes to be made.
Whether that was the final start of McNabb's career in Philadelphia remains to be seen. This is not the time for epitahs, or to be mushy in our memories of an outstanding quarterback. This is about this struggling football team that, at 5-5-1 has a lot of issues. And quarterback is at the top of that list, although we'll talk about the decisions to bench tight end L.J. Smith in favor of Brent Celek, and to sit WILL linebacker Omar Gaither and instead play Akeem Jordan.
Quarterback is the main focus here, of course. And we are back at the stage where we have to watch a young quarterback mature and develop and take his lumps and learn from them. You know, for a couple of minutes midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, Kolb looked like he was getting into a rhythm. He moved the ball with three completions to DeSean Jackson, got in and out of the huddle quickly, and the tempo of the offense just seemed to be improved.
And then on a second-and-goal play from the 1-yard line with the score 22-7, Kolb faked a handoff to Brian Westbrook -- a great fake, by the way -- and sat back in the pocket and looked for Reggie Brown. The throw was behind Brown and safety Ed Reed was there for an interception and a 108-yard jaunt along the right sideline.
"Welcome to the NFL, Kolb," someone in the press box smirked.
It won't be the last time Kolb makes a mistake. I liked the way Kolb carried himself in the game, despite a 10-of-23 performance with two interceptions. He handled the huddle well and moved around the pocket nicely and kept his chin up in very difficult circumstances. And I liked the grittiness in Kolb's demeanor and his voice when he met the media afterward.
"It obviously didn't go good, and I'm not going to pretend that it did," said Kolb. "I just want to get back out there and get better."
McNabb also met the media and was much more somber and, yes, disappointed that he was yanked from the game. We will know on Monday who Reid decides should be the quarterback on Thursday night against the Cardinals, and I won't share who I think should be the guy. That won't help anything. All anyone here can do is support the decision and hope for the best.
There are a lot of things to worry about with the Eagles. They have had nothing going offensively the last couple of weeks. The same old problems continue to haunt the team -- specifically short-yardage plays and third-down conversions. The Eagles were awful at both on Sunday, converting just 3 of 13 of the latter and making 2 of 4 of the fomer. The Eagles called 6 running plays against 8 passing plays in the first quarter, but once Correll Buckhalter (2 carries, 8 yards) left with a knee injury, the running game went down the tubes. Brian Westbrook carried 14 times for 39 yards and with Buckhalter down and Lorenzo Booker inactive, the Eagles had no other alternatives.
There were two deflating moments for the offense in an otherwise defensive struggle. One came early in the second quarter after the Eagles drove from their 20-yard line to the Baltimore 24, where they had a first and 10. McNabb dropped back to pass, looking right side. But defensive end Jarret Johnson beat left tackle Tra Thomas and knocked the ball out of McNabb's hand. Johnson caught the ball in the air and advanced it 22 yards into Eagles territory. The Eagles defense held, but you could hear the pfffftttt coming out of the offense's confidence.
On their next possession, the Eagles went deep on a third-and-1 play. Instead of handing off and showing confidence in the running game -- the coaching staff clearly has little confidence there -- McNabb threw deep on the right side for Jackson, who had a step on cornerback Fabian Washington. The ball was underthrown and Washington made a nice interception.
Two things there: The decision to go with the low-percentage play has every right to be questioned. Why not hand off? Why not try a quarterback sneak? The coaches obviously didn't think the Eagles had enough push up front to make that call work. Second, Jackson was open and McNabb underthrew him, a problem he has had the last couple of seasons. Other than the touchdown pass to Jackson in Dallas, when is the last time McNabb hit a deep ball to a receiver in stride?
Anyway, the offense was shot after that. After a couple of three-and-out series following his first interception, McNabb threw behind Jackson on a crossing route and Reed picked off the pass and returned it 43 yards to the Philadelphia 6-yard line and the Ravens punched the ball into the end zone a few plays later.
Demps provided a lone highlight with his sensational kickoff return, and then it was halftime. And as the players came on to the field, Kolb was taking snaps from center Jamaal Jackson and McNabb had a heavy jacket on and, well, now we wonder.
There is one school of thought that believes that once McNabb was taken out, he won't ever be able to return as The Guy here. Maybe that's true. I don't know. I know that if he plays on Thursday night, the fans are going to be all over every mistake and every incomplete pass. If Kolb starts, everyone will understand that it would be his first start and that a new era is, really beginning.
But, look, I'm not blind. I see so many troubles here, most of them on the offensive side. The Eagles don't respond to adversity well at all on that side of the ball, and they haven't for a few years now. Close games in the fourth quarter just haven't gone the Eagles' way very often these last four seasons since the Super Bowl run of 2004. The Eagles don't have any kind of reliable running game, nor do they exhibit the inclination to stick to it and see how it works with a repeated commitment. Late in the first quarter on Sunday, the Eagles actually handed off three straight times and Buckhalter gained 8 yards, another 8 yards and then Westbrook gained a yard.
Then Buckhalter went out and, ugh.
This is a testing, demanding, ugly, trying time for the Eagles. They are 5-5-1. They have serious problems from top to bottom. They have a bunch of players who haven't exactly laid it out on the line on every play. Reid has the largest crisis of confidence to manage in his 10-year tenure.
And Thursday is right around the corner. I'm glad for that. I want to get right back into it and see if the Eagles can make something good out of the final five games of the season. The playoffs are still a mathematical possibility, and until that light is officially out, well, Reid has to coach to win.
But you sure do have a lot of questions here. This is humiliating, embarrassing, dreadful. The quarterback story is the one that deserves to dominate the headlines, but there is a lot more to think about. A butt-whipping in Baltimore will do that to a team. How will the Eagles respond?