In coaching 101 you aren't taught how to salvage a season when all appears lost after the opening game, when your two starting cornerbacks and center and best pass rusher are out with injuries, when your offense can't buy a first down. Yet after a 38-0 loss to the Seahawks on Sept. 6, which followed a horrendous 0-4 preseason, Eagles coach Ray Rhodes had to quickly get his team on track heading into a game against the Falcons in Atlanta.
After the Seattle game Rhodes decided before his head hit the pillow that he wouldn't be his usual ranting self when he addressed his players the next day. "Can't be," he said. "If you'd seen their faces, you'd know why. I could have destroyed them all, and then where would we be?" As he drove to the office at 3 a.m. on Monday, Rhodes knew he had to talk to the players sternly but not angrily.
One by one he invited a dozen or so of the team leaders into his office at Veterans Stadium and closed the door. Nothing that was said would leave the room, but Rhodes needed some answers. What's wrong around here? What can we do better? What am I doing wrong?
Before Thursday's practice he told his players, "On Sunday we've got to find out who our fighters are. You guys have got to play so hard your guts will be dragging on the ground. Pride! You've got to have pride in what you do!"
Strategically Rhodes decided he had to dial back the Eagles' new West Coast attack and relieve the pressure on young quarterback Bobby Hoying, who had completed 9 of 23 passes for 60 yards against the Seahawks. Hoying responded on the opening possession against Atlanta by taking the Eagles on a 13-play, 79-yard drive for a touchdown, completing all six of his passes for 68 yards. Philadelphia led 9-0 at the half, but the Falcons rallied for a 17-12 win.
Afterward Rhodes, looking like a spent fighter, found no consolation in playing Atlanta close on the road. "All losses are the same, man," he said, staring ahead blankly. "They hurt."