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Eagles looking like an endangered species in the NFL

Philadelphia's Dream Team, having a nightmare season, will need a miracle to make the playoffs after blowing five fourth-quarter leads.

November 19, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • Whether injured Michael Vick (7) starts at quarterback or reserve Vince Young (9) does, the Eagles are a longshot to make the playoffs with a 3-6 record.
Whether injured Michael Vick (7) starts at quarterback or reserve Vince… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

Reporting from Philadelphia -- The Philadelphia Eagles have put together the truest of fantasy teams.

Getting to the playoffs is looking like pure make-believe.

Michael Vick says, "Lord willing, maybe we can wind up 10-6," but he knows it would be easier for Vince Young — a career 57.9% passer — to thread a deep ball through the eye of a needle. At 3-6, the Eagles would have to win their remaining seven games, starting with Sunday night's against the New York Giants. By all indications, Young will start in place of Vick, who has two broken ribs.

Exactly where this season went wrong for Philadelphia is up for debate — and debated it is, around the clock in this sports-obsessed city. The one place where it's hardly discussed (at least at media-access time) is in the Eagles' locker room, where only a handful of players are around to field questions. Most of them find a reason to stay away when reporters are around.

After all, what players would be eager to talk about how the star-studded Eagles have blown five fourth-quarter leads this season?

"That's the biggest frustration of it," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "We know we're not a bad team. We've put ourselves in position every game that we've played this year. We're just not coming up with the plays at the key times. For whatever reason, mentally or whatever it is, it's on the players. Coaches can only do so much."

At least from the outside, Philadelphia's coaching is under heavy scrutiny. Andy Reid is under fire, as he is whenever the team struggles, but so is new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, promoted from offensive line coach. That was a move that left a lot of people scratching their heads, and so far it's not looking like an inspired decision.

Castillo said this week that the answer is to keep working hard, a vague solution that isn't likely to satisfy his critics.

"The fans don't like it, and the organization doesn't like where we're at," he said. "But more than anything, we don't like where we're at."

It isn't all the fault of the defense. After all, the offense is averaging only three points in the fourth quarter, so it hasn't done much to expand on leads late in games. But the defense often seems lost down the stretch, with its bargain-basement linebackers — a fourth-round rookie and two seventh-rounders — and its talented but mismatched corners, Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whose different styles don't complement each other. So much for the more than $200 million in contracts the Eagles negotiated in this compressed off-season to reshape the team.

Meanwhile, the offense has turned over the ball an NFL-high seven times in the red zone, and now it's dealing with the headache of a disgruntled DeSean Jackson, who's unhappy with his contract and last Sunday was deactivated for missing a team meeting.

Three weeks ago, the Eagles beat Dallas, 34-7, and were in the thick of the NFC East race. The next week they frittered away a late lead to lose at home to Chicago, 30-24, and last Sunday lost their seventh home game in eight tries, as Arizona backup John Skelton threw for three touchdowns in the Cardinals' 21-17 comeback victory.

Now, they face the Giants on the road, with Eli Manning playing the best football of his career and New York leading the league with 30 sacks.

It's not as if everything is backfiring for the Eagles. They have the league's top running game by far — almost 30 yards per game more than Minnesota, the NFC's No. 2 team in that department — and that's only partly because of Vick. LeSean McCoy is averaging 100.7 yards rushing per game, second to the 101.9 of Buffalo's Fred Jackson. Philadelphia's offensive line is doing a good job, and, for the most part, the team hasn't suffered because of its decision to go with rookies at kicker and punter.

But the clock is ticking, on the season for sure, and maybe on the era of Andy Reid and his coaching staff.

"You still have to have hope," Jenkins said. "You can't give in and say it's not looking good right now. It's still possible to pull this out.

"But there's no more time, there's no more leeway. We have to get it started now."

With seven games to play, the fourth quarter of the season is just around the corner. And so far fourth quarters have not been kind.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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