Eagles go from grounded to soaring

Updated: December 10, 2003, 1:34 PM ET
ESPN.com

The Patriots, Eagles and Rams are arguably the three hottest teams in the NFL. Starting in Week 4, the three have combined for an amazing 28-3 record.

But things weren't always so positive. With injuries to key starters, questions about starting quarterbacks and much more, all three teams stumbled to start the season and seemed headed towards disaster.

With that in mind, here's a look at what people were saying about the Eagles early in the season and what they're saying now. Also, check out what people were saying about the Rams and Patriots.

Then and now -- Philadelphia Eagles
Then

  • Sept. 16 -- Two days after the Eagles lost to the Patriots 31-10 to drop to 0-2.
    -- "Theories. Everyone has one, a pet theory about Donovan McNabb, that is, a theory about how such a splendid athlete could disintegrate before our mystified eyes. How does the Eagles quarterback go from Pro Bowl to worst-rating-in-the-league, from NFL MVP candidate to hesitant, scattershot rag-arm, and all in less time than it takes to say, 'Somebody go deep.'

    It's the money. It's the injury. It's the marriage. It's the hair.

    Those are the fan favorites, the theories the angry and frustrated e-mailers are nominating most frequently: ...

    Donovan McNabb is having Pat Burrell's year, the difference being that the quarterback still has four months to scuffle his way out of it. Ah, but what if he doesn't? What if he continues to flounder? Well then, we all know what comes next, don't we?

    The first nibble at that ugly scenario was taken yesterday when Andy Reid was asked if he had ever entertained the notion during the 31-10 loss to the New England Patriots of -- big inhale here -- changing quarterbacks. ...

    McNabb was booed with such venom Sunday that you wondered if Jose Mesa was taking the snaps. A water bottle was flung at McNabb. A chant for A.J. Feeley rose, and was repeated. A growing chorus of e-mailers wants Koy Detmer.

    For now, at least, that's not going to happen. Nor, for now, should it. ...

    So he will start, in two weeks, in Buffalo. And so he should. Changing the quarterback is the lowering of the last lifeboat.

    But, then, the water is beginning to lap at their cleats now."
    -- Bill Lyon, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Sept. 17 -- ESPN.com Fact or Fiction -- The Eagles will NOT make the playoffs.
    FACT: "It's a bummer for me to say that because I picked the Eagles to go to the playoffs. They're going into a bye week, which means the first two losses are only going to fester. There's nothing on this Eagles team that tells me I should be excited for them to play Buffalo in two weeks. And if the Eagles start out 0-3, it will be a difficult road for them to climb. Even in losing, I try to look for something positive, and Donovan McNabb is still a positive. But no one fears their offense right now. It's tough to say after just two weeks, but the Eagles window of opportunity is almost slammed shut."
    -- Sean Salisbury

    FACT: "Unless Donovan McNabb starts playing like he should, this team isn't making the playoffs. It's a shock to me because I picked this team to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. But they're playing poor football. The receiving corps has been average, and defensively they're worn out. The offense's inability to sustain a drive leaves the defense on the field for a long time. Even if they fix what ails them, it's going to take a while to get on track. The NFC East has turned into a good division. And the Eagles' schedule only gets tougher after this week's bye. This team may have dug itself too deep a hole to get out of."
    -- Mark Schlereth

  • Oct. 20 -- The day after the Eagles beat the Giants 14-10. Despite the win, Donovan McNabb struggled mightily, completing just 9 of 23 passes for 64 yards, throwing one INT and losing one fumble.
    -- "It's broken.

    Even the coach born to conceal will acknowledge that much now.

    'I think we need to improve offensively, which is very obvious,' Eagles coach Andy Reid said today before he was even asked a question about the worst-ranked offense in the NFL. 'I'm not happy with the way we're playing offensively.'

    It's hard to be happy when you're calling the plays for a West Coast offense that is ranked 32d in total yards, 32nd in passing yards, and 30th in scoring.

    'It's not a place that we want to be,' Reid said.

    It's apparently also hard to explain.

    Reid had no good answers to the flood of questions sent his way after the Eagles overcame their flaccid offensive performance Sunday and returned home with a stunning 14-10 victory over the New York Giants. ... We know, of course, what would constitute a major move. Reid would have to say he is going to replace struggling quarterback Donovan McNabb with Koy Detmer or A.J. Feeley. That's not happening this week.

    At the most, Reid said he might consider letting McNabb rest his bruised right thumb during practice as the Eagles prepare for Sunday's game with the New York Jets at Lincoln Financial Field. He also said McNabb's thumb was getting better even if his passer rating -- a league-low 51.1 -- keeps getting worse. ...

    The best guess is that Reid will change nothing this week.

    'I've seen the same guys who drop balls make catches in the past,' Reid said. 'It's important that we get ourselves back in rhythm and get ourselves going. That will be the challenge for myself, the coaches and the players.'

    What a mighty challenge it is."
    -- Bob Brookover, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • ... And Now

  • Dec. 8 -- One day after the Eagles beat the Cowboys 36-10 to clinch a playoff spot and improve to 10-3. It's their eighth straight win.
    "The time is theirs.

    Eight wins in a row. First team into the playoff pool. Double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive season. If 0-2 seems like a long time ago, then 3-13 must have been sometime in the Cretaceous period. Surely the Eagles were playing teams of velociraptors back then.

    But no, it was only five years ago. It was 1998 when the question each week was how the Eagles would lose, not how they would win.

    'That feels like forever ago,' Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said after yesterday's 36-10 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys. 'We practice in a different place, we play in a different place. That feels like a different generation.' ...

    Reid was very happy after this win, more so than usual. It would be almost impossible for the casual observer to tell. There are shades of bland, and this was an almost ebullient one.

    Twelve weeks ago, you would have had to look almost as closely to see how unhappy Reid was after his team fell to 0-2 with a loss to New England. But even those who know him best didn't see him look worried, or doubtful that this season could be salvaged. ...

    They did. For the 10th time in 11 games, and the eighth time in a row, the Eagles left the field winners. They have a margin for error now and can afford to lose a game before the end of the season. But why should they?

    'People say we're better off losing now than in the playoffs,' Reese said. 'I don't get that. Every streak has to end, but I think this one could end sometime next year. There's no reason we can't just keep going out and winning. We're shooting for 14 in a row.'

    That would, of course, complete a sweep of the regular season, two playoff wins, and the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 1.

    Is it possible? With this team, with this coach?

    As a matter of fact, it is."
    -- Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Dec. 9 -- Two days after win over the Cowboys.
    -- "In explaining how his team could begin so ineptly and evolve into perhaps the most pouncing team in the National Football League, Andy Reid reiterated yesterday what he said after Sunday's game, what he has said often during the latter stages of this eight-game win streak.

    'When you talk about those first few weeks, you had a lot of new faces in there,' the Eagles coach said. 'And you were not sure that certain people were going to react in certain situations. I'm talking free-agent players coming in, you're talking about rookies playing...

    'The unknown was how was that group going to jell.' ...

    There is no question who is this team's Most Valuable Player. Put aside his accuracy over the last 6 weeks or the return of his big-play talent for a moment. Donovan McNabb, his ankle ailing, his thumb badly bruised, personified this team's early struggles and fortitude. The panic that streamed through the Dallas locker room Sunday after a second straight defeat never has been present in the Eagles' locker room, not even when things were really bad two months ago. The quarterback and his coach were the biggest reasons.

    They were known quantities, though. (Brian) Westbrook was not. As a rookie, he had carried the ball 46 times and never more than eight times in a game. His longest gain had been 15 yards. He caught nine passes last season. He had not scored a touchdown before this season began.

    And he had not fielded a punt or kick as a pro. And now? He ranks third in the NFC in punt-return average. He is among the conference leaders in touchdowns with 10. Those 10, scored in so many different ways, personify this now-potent offense. ...

    'I've said this before and I firmly believe this,' he said. 'You're never as good as it looks and you're never as bad as it looks. These things snowball on you.' ...

    The Eagles, meanwhile, have converted their snowball's chance into an avalanche. As McNabb's health improved, so did his options, and his numbers. After gaining 25 yards on five carries, Westbrook suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Jets game, missed the Atlanta game and was barely used against the Packers. He tortured the Giants in a 28-10 victory. By then, the team's swagger clearly was back. It was also clear that Westbrook was among the most important swaggerers. ...

    Westbrook, the snowball who might have saved this team's Christmas back on Oct. 19, picked it up, ran a few yards, then wisely turtled, under an avalanche of Cowboys."
    -- Sam Donnellon, Philadelphia Inquirer

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