The Eagles' inexperience cost them dearly in a loss to the Redskins
Just after 4:15 a.m. on the first Wednesday in October, as the street sweepers crawled down Broad Street, Eagles coach Andy Reid went to work in his windowless office on the basement level of old Veterans Stadium. Even though he typically gets only three hours' sleep, Reid loves the routine that affords him three hours without interruption before the daily rush begins. On this morning he turns on the video machine on his desk and studies how the Redskins' defense that his Eagles will face in four days has performed in goal line situations. After watching six plays, he says, "This is not a team you want to run laterally on."
So begins a day in which Reid gets a pessimistic report on running back Duce Staley's sprained right foot, finalizes the 92 pass plays that will be in Sunday's game plan, follows a 75-second team meeting with a two-hour practice, meets separately with coaches, p.r. people and reporters, tapes his TV show and studies more film. At one point he turns to reflect on the inspirational words of Charles Lindbergh, tacked on a wall behind his desk: The important thing is to start, to lay a plan and then follow it step-by-step no matter how small or large each step by itself may seem.
"If you look at this game," Reid says, "our offense versus Washington's defense, you'd give it to them. Especially without Duce. But well be O.K. We can do things against their defense. We have to take the fight to them with our receivers, and I'm confident our guys will be physical. Insecurity comes when you haven't prepared, but we're preparing this week like we do for every game."
The Eagles, the Giants and the Redskins all entered Sunday's play atop the NFC East at 3-2, so winning these head-to-head meetings is important But in that brief meeting with his team at 9 a.m., Reid chose his words carefully. "Pretty big game this week, men," he said in an even tone. "I want no distractions. Forget your family and the media telling you how good you are. I want all your focus right here, right now."
Reid takes a measured approach for a reason. Philadelphia is 8-13 since he took over last season, and no matter what happens on Sunday, the Eagles still have a long way to go to be among the NFL's elite. If they lose, Reid hopes the game will at least be a valuable experience for a team on the rise. "Every game, when you're trying to climb the ladder, is big," he'd said earlier. "We're in the midst of a process to get to be a good team. We all have to trust the process."
In doing so there will be good days, such as the season-opening 41-14 rout of the Cowboys. There will be horrible days, like the 33-18 loss to the Giants the next week. There will also be days like Sunday's 17-14 loss to Washington—at times exhilarating; in the end, frustrating.
Against the Skins, Reid thought he could divvy up Staley's job among four backs, but they picked up only a collective 36 yards on 13 carries. The tight ends and wideouts, on the other hand, mixed things up with the Skins' secondary, as Reid had hoped, catching 13 balls for 191 yards and two scores. That should have been good enough to win, but it wasn't good enough to survive a late, costly mistake by second-year quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Reid is quick to acknowledge that the Eagles' progress depends as much on the maturation of McNabb as it does on his own coaching. On Sunday, McNabb showed progress—he made the right reads about 75% of the time—but the loss will be hard for him to forget, and rightfully so. McNabb is the kind of passer that Brett Favre was early in his career. He'll make a great throw, then a horrible one, followed by a couple of good ones and then a dumb one that will haunt the team. Cases in point:
?With the Eagles down 7-0 in the second quarter and the offense having done nothing, McNabb drove his team 50 yards to the Washington 27. Chased from the pocket on the next play, he rolled right and, with no one open, should have thrown the ball away. Instead, he lofted a prayer over the middle that safety Sam Shade intercepted.