By Joseph Santoliquito
East Rutherford, NJ (CBS)—For a brief flicker, it jettisoned us back to better times, to an onside kick 12 years ago that started a season on a sweltering September Dallas afternoon and began one of the greatest runs in Eagles’ history.
Reality returned quickly.
To the end of a season, to a frigid New York afternoon, closing one of the most dismal seasons in Eagles’ history.
On just the Eagles’ fourth play against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Michael Vick bobbled the ball and almost fumbled it away. On the ensuing snap, Vick overthrew Brent Celek and into the waiting hands of Stevie Brown for an interception, the Eagles’ 37th turnover this season, and the onslaught was on.
The first quarter wasn’t yet finished when the game was over. The Giants scored touchdowns on their first four possessions—and on five of their first six drives—en route to a 42-7 demolition of an Eagles’ team that’s about to get blown up. The Eagles ended 4-12, the worst season in Andy Reid’s 14-year tenure as head coach and the Eagles’ second-worst finish in 30 years (3-13 in 1998 and 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season).
The loss probably marked Reid’s last game as head coach. It was an ignoble way for the winningest coach in franchise history to leave. (Read related story…)
The Eagles lost the way they’ve typically fell in 2012, under a deluge of turnovers, weak tackling, a porous secondary and a team that seemed generally disinterested, a dog effort, save for a handful of players like LeSean McCoy and Brandon Graham.
Still, Reid stuck with his players.
“Obviously, not a good enough performance today,” Reid said. “The guys I thought played hard and they gave it their best shot, but too many things happened early and we were never able to recover from it. I’ve loved the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s how I feel. I’ve loved every minute I’ve had a chance to coach them. By record, it’s obviously the toughest [season], we weren’t very good. I take complete blame for the year, that’s what I get paid to do. We weren’t good enough. Each game had its own identity and we weren’t good enough. These guys gave what they had and there is nothing to say there.”
Vick, however, did question his teammate’s effort.
“I don’t know how that happens; you watch us play and we don’t exhibit the things we do in practice, I don’t know where that comes from,” Vick said. “It’s frustrating and it’s difficult. Me, I leave it all out on the field and I give it everything I’ve got. Sometimes, I wish I can play other positions, and I can’t. You do the best you can. You’re not thinking about what can happen the day after the game. To me, it was dismal. It wasn’t what we thought. We didn’t perform to the best of our abilities by any means. I wish I could have done more. Hopefully, a lot of players in that locker room right now feel like they could have done more. Coach can’t go out and play the game.”
Sensing the end is nearing, with nothing really to lose, Reid reached back in pulling out everything from his bag of surprises, as he did to start the 2000 season when the Eagles beat Dallas 41-14 in the “Pickle Juice” game.
If only this went nearly as well. It didn’t. Against the Giants, the Eagles opened the game with an onside kick, recovered by Brandon Hughes.
The early jolt didn’t linger. On third-and-13 from the Giants’ 43, the early moment turned sullen when Vick threw an interception igniting the downward spiral. The turnover put the Eagles at an NFC-high minus-24 in giveaway/takeaways (15 fumbles and 22 lost fumbles), and the NFL-high 75 turnovers combined the last two years.
The 2012 Eagles scratched historical depths.
The minus-164 point difference the Eagles were outscored by is the second-largest since the 3-13 1998 season (minus-183 points), and before that, you’d have to go back to the Ed Khayat-coached 2-11-1 Eagles in 1972 that was outscored by 207 points, losing by 14.8 points a game.
It was a tough ending to a season for players like McCoy, who despite the score kept playing hard. “Shady” finished with 45 yards on 10 carries in a meaningless game.
By halftime, the Giants were up 35-7 and Eli Manning had a career half—throwing three touchdowns in the first quarter for the first time in his career. His four first-half touchdown passes was also a career first. In the first two quarters, Manning shredded the Eagles’ secondary averaging 12.3 yards a pass, completing 11 of 16 for 196 yards, more yards than he had completed in the Giants previous two games.
Colt Anderson was terribly exposed at safety, taking a wrong angle on Manning’s 24-yard touchdown strike to Victor Cruz, who ran right by Anderson and was alone for the last score of the half.
Anderson wasn’t alone.
Nnamdi Asomugha had his issues, giving too much cushion, a crease Manning exploited often. Early in the fourth quarter, Asomugha was benched after he was called for interfering with Domenik Hixon. It extended a drive that resulted in Manning’s career-best fifth TD toss, a one-yard score to Henry Hynoski.
Manning was brilliant. He completed 13 of 21 for 208 yards, and a 134.5 passer rating.
Vick ran for his life most of the afternoon since the Giants accomplished everything they wanted to do defensively.
If Vick was looking to enhance his stock to possible suitors this offseason, he didn’t help himself. He was rushed into throwing for 197 yards, completing 19 for 35, with a touchdown and interception and a passer rating of 68.4.
Vick gave way to Trent Edwards in the fourth quarter. By then, it didn’t matter. The brief glimmer of hope that began the game, which began this season, melted away and you got the impression Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie was going to fire Reid in the parking lot.
That may have to wait for a day.
“There’s a good explanation, we came, we went out there, we stunk up the place and we leave, that’s about the best explanation it gets,” Eagles’ defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. “It’s terrible, absolutely terrible. No heart. It was pretty bad today, pretty bad. We go there at least try to end the season with a bang, we left it with a bang all right.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.