PHILADELPHIA (AP) — From the moment Vince Young uttered the words “Dream Team,” the Philadelphia Eagles had to live up to that regrettable label.
They were way overhyped.
The Eagles struggled early and never recovered. A four-game winning streak at the end came too late and they finished 8-8, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and just the fourth time in coach Andy Reid’s 13 seasons.
“It’s going to motivate us to work harder,” quarterback Michael Vick said Monday. “It’s very disappointing.”
After an offseason spending spree brought several accomplished players to Philadelphia and added to a roster that already featured Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles were the talk of the NFL. They were defending NFC East champions and seemingly on the rise.
So when Young compared his new teammates to the Miami Heat, some people scoffed but most expected the Eagles to make a serious run at the first championship since 1960. Even team president Joe Banner declared the Eagles “all-in” and called this a Super Bowl-or-bust year.
But the team quickly imploded.
“There were definitely red flags,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who won the Super Bowl with Green Bay last season. “A lot of people see Super Bowl, or I think they let the fact that the Super Bowl is there, and so many people talk about it right away. You can hear people nowadays, they come out of the draft talking about Super Bowl and I think it kind of gets thrown around too loosely now.
“It’s obviously the ultimate goal in where you want to get to, but you have to understand that you have to work hard. It’s something that is a process and you have to take it each step at a time to get to it and I think a lot of time people just want to jump from preseason to the Super Bowl without doing what it takes in between.”
Various factors contributed to a four-game losing streak that dropped the Eagles to 1-4 and doomed them from the beginning. Vick couldn’t finish two games in September because of injuries, the offense made critical turnovers and the defense struggled mightily as new players tried to adjust to new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo’s system.
Finishing games was a problem, too. The Eagles lost five games in which they led in the fourth quarter. One play could’ve made the difference in a season where the division was mediocre. The Eagles weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until right before their next-to-last game kicked off and they ended up second behind the New York Giants (9-7).
“It will be tough to sit at home and watch the playoffs, but we have to maintain a positive outlook about what we could be and go into the offseason knowing that we can play with the best teams in the league,” wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “Philly is not used to not being in the playoffs. I think guys will be hungry. This offseason will be very critical for us and I think it will be good.”
It’s uncertain whether the team will make major changes. Reid was criticized heavily this season and many fans want him gone. They chanted “Fire Andy!” during a loss to New England. Reid refused to discuss his future after Sunday’s game and wasn’t available to reporters on Monday. He’s expected to return, but his coaching staff may look different.
Castillo seemed completely overmatched in his first season coaching defense after 13 years teaching the offensive linemen. Reid’s decision to promote Castillo defied logic and was intensely scrutinized throughout the year. Castillo’s defense played well during the final four games, but it came against lesser competition. The quarterbacks the Eagles beat were Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez, Stephen McGee and Rex Grossman.
“I think he did a nice job,” Reid said. “The defense played strong, and I thought he was proud of his coaches and players. They all played well and coached well.”
That’s hardly an endorsement.
Rumors already are swirling that the Eagles will hire Steve Spagnuolo to replace Castillo. Spagnuolo was fired Monday after going 10-38 as the head coach in St. Louis. He was an assistant under longtime Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson and was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants when they beat Tom Brady and the previously undefeated New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.
For now, it’s just speculation. Reid isn’t talking and neither is management.
As for personnel changes, the Eagles may not be too far off. They were the only team in the league whose offense (fourth) and defense (eighth) ranked in the Top 10.
Jackson and cornerback Asante Samuel are the biggest names that may not return. Jackson heads into free agency after a tumultuous year. He held out for a new contract in training camp, was deactivated for a game for disciplinary reasons and had his production slipped.
“I think I have learned a lot about how this is a business and professionally how to come to work and not let things affect me,” Jackson said. “I can admit to certain things affecting me during the season. I just want to apologize. I could have handled things a little differently. Now, sitting here after the season is over, I can sit here and say I was able to put things behind me and fight for my teammates and this organization. I know that something good will come out of this situation. I was able to get to that and move forward. We will see how it plays out.”
Samuel was the odd man out after the Eagles acquired Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The trio didn’t mesh together. Samuel criticized management in October and likely will be gone.
Unless Reid or Castillo join him on the way out, fans won’t be happy.
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