Posted: Friday December 23, 2011 12:01PM ; Updated: Friday December 23, 2011 12:01PM
Peter King
Peter King>GAME PLAN

Asomugha, Eagles hit stride just in time to possibly save lost season

Story Highlights

Despite once falling to 4-8, Eagles still have chance to win the NFC East

Texans' loss to Colts has raised doubts QB T.J. Yates can win in the playoffs

New Jaguars owner wants to keep team in Jacksonville if fans go to games

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After a 4-8 start, Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles have moved back into the playoff picture with wins over the Dolphins and Jets.
After a 4-8 start, Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles have moved back into the playoff picture with wins over the Dolphins and Jets.
Eric Hartline -- US PRESSWIRE

In five months, the Eagles have gone from Dream Team euphoria to a disappointing start to a midseason revival to Fire Andy-mania to hopelessness in Seattle to one of the strangest and most unlikely playoff runs in recent years.

A Giants loss to the Jets Saturday, plus a quite conceivable Philadelphia win at Dallas later in the day (Oct. 30: Philadelphia 34, Dallas 7), and the Eagles will enter Week 17 as the favorite to win the NFC East ... and to win the NFC's fourth playoff seed, meaning they'd play a home game on Wild Card weekend.

The 2011 Eagles: five seasons in five months.

"You look back now and say, 'What? How'd that happen?'" Nnamdi Asomugha told me Thursday. "Especially these last few weeks. We enter the New England game [with a 4-6 record] and the talk is, 'If we win out, we're in.' We lose there. Next week, at Seattle, it's 'We win out, we've still got a decent shot.' We lose there. We thought it was over. Now, we've all got to be Jets fans, I guess."

Asomugha has taken this wild ride, and he's taken it all in. He's still carrying the stigma of the Victor Cruz juke-for-a-touchdown and the Cruz touchdown at the goal line in the Week 3 loss to the Giants. And he's still getting used to playing multiple secondary positions instead of the outside corner spot he played 90 percent of his last three years with the Raiders. But here he is, and here the Eagles are, with a legitimate shot when all seemed lost just two weeks ago.

With Michael Vick back playing like Michael Vick, we're assuming the Eagles can put up 24 or so on the Cowboys. Also, we're assuming the Eagles D can clamp down a good offense. In the last two weeks, Philadelphia has held Miami and the Jets to 204 and 241 yards, respectively, while holding them to a Niners-like six-of-28 on third-down conversions.

The cries for Andy Reid's job, and rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's, have been silenced. For a few minutes, anyway.

"I think it's the maturation of Juan, and the maturation of guys growing into this defense," said Asomugha. "Were so much smarter as a unit now than we were in the first half of the season. Juan's learned during games what works and what doesn't, the same way we've learned during games. This is something he'd never done before."

Having so many new pieces didn't help. Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were new to the secondary, starting defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins were new up front, and Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle are still green at linebacker. This is a defense, and a coordinator, that needed an offseason program and never had one, and they've all been playing catch-up since late July.

That's an excuse, certainly. Lots of teams had to adjust to new schemes and new coaches, and if the Eagles don't make the playoffs, it will be the inability of the defense to get up to speed fast enough that will rightfully be blamed. Asomugha will have to take his share of the blame, too. Even though he's played outside corner, nickel corner on the slot, some safety and some dime coverage, he's gotten beat this year more than he did in Oakland.

On the edge of the playoffs?
Source: SI
SI.com's Damon Hack takes the temperature of some of the NFL's teams on the brink of playoff elimination.

Asomugha said he has no regrets signing with the Eagles and playing for the first time away from the Bay Area. He played three years at Cal, then eight with the Raiders, before entering the furnace of Philadelphia.

"Here," he said, "you're only as good as your last play. But I've learned to embrace it. And I tell you -- I enjoy it. We started 1-3, and it felt like 0-8. The fans were so down. You felt it all over the city. It's like we ruined their lives. Andy helped me a lot with that. We talk all the time. When I got here, he told me, 'Be careful not to mix up expectations with reality. Stay levelheaded.'"

"What's the biggest difference between Oakland and the NFC East?" I asked.

"My goodness," he said. "The East Coast is pretty intense. In our locker room every day, it's full of reporters. We might have 30 cameras in there. In Oakland, there'd be four reporters. It's just different. I've seen what's happened the last two weeks, when you give the city something to be excited about. There's a beauty to it. It makes you long to win and work so hard to win. You don't really think it'd be this way, but the fans here get so down when we lose that you want to win, just to try to make them happy."

Beat the Cowboys Saturday, Nnamdi, and stay in the race ... and it'll be a holly, jolly Christmas in Center City and beyond.

From the Podcast

Interesting conversation with new Jacksonville owner Shahid "Shad'' Khan -- and I mean that; it was a 49-minute conversation as much as an interview -- and longtime NFL beat man Bob McGinn on the "NFL Podcast with Peter King'' this week. The podcast is on iTunes and SI.com.

A few highlights ...

Khan on:

The Jacksonville market: "I have great feelings toward it (Jacksonville), and I'm going in there to try to make it work. And absolutely I'm committed to making it work. Even though there might be skepticism, it's like anything else, there's very little I could do about it other than going in and making this work in Jacksonville."

Pledging he will not move the team: "I'm going do everything, Peter, to make it work in Jacksonville. I'm going do whatever it takes. ... They have not had a blackout in Jacksonville ... in the last couple of years, and we're going to sustain that. Win-loss record, we want to commit to improving that. But it takes two to tango. We have to get the fans coming in, we have to get the fans engaged, and that's the key thing."

His role in the head-coaching search: "I want to sit in on the interviews. In all seriousness, this is the No. 1 decision that will drive the franchise over the next couple of years and I just absolutely want to make sure we have confidence in the person we're hiring."

International football, and the Jags playing abroad: "You want to develop more fans. And the NFL has an initiative to develop an international awareness ... If we can avail ourselves of that opportunity, definitely we want to take that to build the Jaguars' awareness, to build the brand and really participate in those efforts ... I think there will be a market [for international expansion] ... I think England likely is a good spot because their [Premiership] fan base is a jumping-off point and they have a huge fan base in the Middle East and some of the Asian countries. But you've got a counterpoint that NFL Europe wasn't exactly a success. So what are the lessons learned from that and how can they apply here?"

The local fans' love of his mustache: "I'm discovering it's got super powers ... And wouldn't that be a perfect world -- everybody's got their own mustache."

What he calls "Move-aphobia,'' the preoccupation with the prospect of the Jags moving, though they have a stadium lease for the next 15 years: "Why has movaphobia so afflicted Jacksonville? There are other areas with a similar won-loss record and you don't hear about that. You don't hear about Cleveland moving do you?"

About Last Night

Indianapolis 19, Texans 16. Strange game. Touchdown in the first minute, touchdown in the last minute, and nothing but seven field goals in between. Oh, and a whole lot of worry for the postseason fate of the Texans. In the span of five days, they got walloped at home by the 5-9 Panthers and had Dan Orlovsky go 78 yards for the winning touchdown in 97 seconds last night in Indianapolis. All of a sudden, after not being worried about T.J. Yates for the first three weeks of his reign, Houston has to fret about whether Yates without Andre Johnson can run a competent offense (Johnson missed his ninth game of the season with nagging hamstring issues Thursday night, and who knows whether he'll be healthy enough in January to contribute) ... and about the suddenly suspect defense. On Sunday, the D saw Carolina sprint out to a 21-0 lead, and last night, Houston allowed Orlovsky to lead scoring drives of 51, 67 and 78 yards in the final 20 minutes. The Texans had better hope Johnson's hammy is healthy for the playoffs, or they'll be prime candidates for a one-and-done playoff run.

Ten Things I'll Be Looking For This Weekend

1. Fear and loathing in Dallas. When Jerry Jones said he was afraid of the Eagles, little did he figure it would turn into a four-alarm fire around his team. But it did, and Thursday he had to issue a "I've always used fear as a motivator" explanation. I'd probably be afraid too ... if I'd seen the Eagles score 34 on me in Game 1, and with the Eagles being considerably better on defense today than they were in October.

2. Draft panic in Indianapolis. A loss in Jacksonville next week wraps up the No. 1 pick for the Colts. But I can hear it everywhere in and around central Indiana: "So now you've decided to play every game like it's your last, and now you've decided to put the most valuable No. 1 pick in years, maybe decades, in jeopardy." Strange, isn't it, how an entire fan base is going to be rooting so hard for the Colts to lose next Sunday at the similarly woebegone Jaguars?

3. Sweet, blessed relief in the Jets-Giants meaningless quotes war. Seems like you're not really a true American in greater New York this week unless you've weighed in on the battle of New York. The only quote that I liked, advancing a game with two disappointing teams trying to salvage their playoff hopes, came from Tom Coughlin: "Talk is cheap. Play the game." Thank you.

4. The Ravens adjusting to life without Anquan Boldin, out for at least a couple of weeks with a bum knee. They shouldn't need him to win against Cleveland Saturday, but at Cincinnati next week (Baltimore's 3-4 on the road) and in the playoffs ... that's a huge hole to fill. Joe Flacco will search for a new security blanket, or stretch defenses with Torrey Smith, in the next couple of weeks.

5. Peyton, Peyton, Peyton. Indy owner Jim Irsay said last night on NFL Network that if Peyton Manning's healthy, he'll be a Colt in 2012. No surprise there. It'll be interesting to see what constitutes good health, and what the Pregame Show Rumor Mill will say all weekend about the story. I've said all along that the Colts will pay Manning the $28-million option bonus if he can throw and move around well by March 1, and that they'll also draft Andrew Luck with the first pick (if they have it) even if they pay and keep Manning.

6. Tebowing in Orchard Park. Incredible to consider that the Broncos, 1-4 entering Week 7, can clinch the AFC West with a victory at the Bills and an Oakland loss at Kansas City. With a week left in the regular season. It's the on-field story of the year in the NFL.

7. The last gasp of the Chicago Bears. You've all got to feel really comfy, Bears Nation, with Josh McCown needing to beat Aaron Rodger to keep your very slim playoff hopes alive Sunday night at Lambeau.

8. Aaron Rodgers' safety. Green Bay is down three tackles. Rodgers is The Franchise. The Bears will send Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije and the rest of the house Sunday night. Wear a flak jacket, Mister Rodgers.

9. The game of the weekend that not enough people are talking about. Philip Rivers, completing 75 percent of his throws this month, versus Matthew Stafford, at 23, completing one of the best seasons a kid QB has ever had. What a great football game.

10. Playing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which I'm not a fan of. No one asked me, but why couldn't the NFL keep the Thursday game intact, have Friday the 23rd -- today -- be the 14-game normal late-season gameday, with the Bears and Packers tonight on NBC, then the Saints and Falcons playing as normal on Monday the 26th? There are too few family days and nights on all of our calendars, and crashing the NFL schedule on the 24th and 25th is, to me, crass.

 
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