Philadelphia, PA – Even Sandy was more popular than Andy in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Hours before Hurricane Sandy was scheduled to slam the region, Andy Reid's Eagles took their own swipe, punching their fans in the gut with a listless performance during a 30-17 rout at the hands of the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.
Technically the Falcons were the only unblemished team entering Week 8 of the NFL season but there was still a battle of unbeatens of sorts at the Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles may have come into the contest with a disappointing 3-3 record but the team was trying to extend its amazing streak of success under Reid after the bye week.
Before Sunday, Reid coached teams were a mind-boggling 13-0 after the bye and there was always something about that week off which consistently charged the veteran coach's battery. Since Reid has been in Philly, the Eagles were 84-38-1 following the bye as opposed to 45-45 before it.
Bring in all the sabermetricians you want and you could never explain those numbers.
That last layer of invincibility, one which a number of national observers continually cited to support their unrequited love of a deeply flawed Eagles team, was blown up by Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
"Our goal was to come out and play fast in all three phases of the game and I thought we got that job done," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.
Atlanta, which was also coming off its bye, reached the end zone on its first three possessions and scored on its first six as new Philadelphia defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who replaced the much-maligned Juan Castillo during the break, piloted a group which was more aggressive as advertised but just as confused.
"We didn't do it. We didn't show up," Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins understated. "We didn't play assignment sound. Whatever we could have done wrong, we pretty much did it."
Atlanta's Matt Bosher never took the field as a punter until 5:35 was left in the game when Bowles' defense finally recorded a stop.
Good guy or not, you have to believe Castillo, the scapegoat of the Eagles' mediocre start, was throwing a few "I told you sos" around on whatever island he was deposed too.
"That (changing coordinators) had nothing to do with it," Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It all comes down to the players making plays."
The players making all the plays on Sunday happened to be wearing red and black.
It's fair to call Ryan, a Philly-area native, great these days but his first half numbers were out of this world. He completed 17-of-20 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns before the break as the Eagles failed to make him uncomfortable in the least. Ryan finished the day with 262 yards on 22-of-29 efficiency for the Falcons (7-0), who are off to their best start in franchise history.
"For the most part I was clean," Ryan said referring to his pass protection. "Our offensive line played really, really well against a very good front seven, so credit to those guys up front."
Ryan was probably being a little generous to the Eagles' front seven. Philadelphia's defensive line, which hasn't had the production to match is reputation, finally broke a 15-quarter sack-less streak in the third quarter but even that was Ryan's internal clock going off before it really should have.
"They did some things differently in terms of coverages," Smith said when talking about Bowles' defense. "At times they crowded the line of scrimmage and their safeties were very active. We felt like there were going to be opportunities for us to get one-on-one matchups. We knew that when we had them, we had to try to take advantage to them."
Nnamdi Asomugha, once considered a shutdown corner in Oakland, continued his alarming descent as a player, getting torched by Julio Jones for a 63-yard TD and fueling more than one in the press box to compare the former All-Pro to the aptly nicknamed "Toast," former Eagle Izel Jenkins.
"He just created separation and got it," Asomugha said of Jones. "It was nothing special or anything particular that happened. He just got it."
That's the thing about this Eagles group -- there is never any accountability, save for Reid's tired and cliched "I've got to do a better job" routine.
"Oh it was definitely embarrassing," said defensive end Jason Babin. "We did it to ourselves. They didn't make us make mistakes. We knew what they were going to do and we practiced it. We just didn't execute."
Sure Jason, you didn't execute -- it couldn't have been that the Falcons were the better team.
That "embarrassment" tag was echoed throughout Philadelphia's locker room and Reid used it at his post-game press conference, but few Eagles owned their tepid performance with the exception of LeSean McCoy, perhaps the team's best player.
"It's embarrassing," McCoy stated. "For a team to put up that many points and for our offense not to respond, that's embarrassing. We had no answer for them. I am embarrassed today. They played a lot better than us."
More Eagles players need to take the temperature of their own team.
A number of observers think Michael Vick, who completed 21-of-35 passes for 191 yards and a TD for the Eagles on Sunday, would already be benched in Philadelphia if Reid wasn't on the hot seat.
And if he didn't know that, Vick has been alerted to the situation after Reid admitted he will step back and evaluate the quarterback situation after Sunday's loss, a significant admission for the usually tight-lipped Reid.
"Obviously he's thinking about making a change," a frustrated Vick said. "The thing I do know is I'll go watch the film and I'll evaluate myself. I'm trying my hardest. Some things don't go right when I want them to, some things do."
Nick Foles, a rookie third round pick out of Arizona, is the flavor of the month in the City of Brotherly Love, largely because the fans haven't seen him play except for a stellar preseason against a number of guys who are getting ready to deliver packages for UPS during the holidays.
Reid, unlike the fans however, isn't going to get caught up in fool's gold and has been crossing his fingers, hoping against hope that a 32-year-old quarterback with nearly 100 NFL starts under his belt was finally going to "get it."
As unlikely as it was that some magic gnome was going to sit on Vick's shoulders and help him recognize the blitz pre-snap, it was just as unlikely that Vick was going to halt his propensity to play "hero football" and curb his natural instinct to extend every play.
The failures in Philly are certainly not all Vick's fault. We have already covered the defensive deficiencies and remember the Eagles lost perhaps the game's best left tackle, Jason Peters, to a torn Achilles before the season started. Philadelphia then suffered another significant setback when center Jason Kelce, a player who is probably a little overrated at the NovaCare Complex but a more than competent pivot nonetheless, went down with a knee injury.
Their replacements, King Dunlap and Demetress Bell at left tackle, and Dallas Reynolds at center have been overmatched more often than not.
Now right guard Danny Watkins, a former first round pick who has been a disappointment, is out with what is being called a "chronic" ankle problem and rookie Dennis Kelly, a 6-foot-8 fifth round selection out of Purdue, has been tabbed as a replacement.
Sadly more than one insider with the Eagles has whispered that the team feels Kelly is a better option than Watkins at this point and he looked like it on Sunday. But that "better option" is still a lesser option that 80 or 90 percent of the right guards in football.
To be blunt, the Eagles' offensive line is a mess right now and Vick is not the type of signal-caller who is going to get rid of the football when his back foot hits the ground on the final step of his drop. This team almost needs a quarterback with a quick release.
If Reid can sell owner Jeffrey Lurie on another year under the cover of developing Foles, Vick's time in Philly as the starting quarterback wouldn't outlast Sandy.
"Whatever decision coach makes, I support it," Vick said. "The thing is I know that I'm giving it everything I got out there when I step on the field. Deep down, as long as I know I'm doing that and I'm giving it everything, that's all I can ask of myself. No more, no less."
RATING THE YOUNG QUARTERBACKS
Never before has there been such an influx of young quarterbacks in the NFL. This season, over 31 percent of NFL teams have turned their fates over to rookie or second-year signal-callers.
Hall of Famer Dan Marino, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in the position, rated the young guns on CBS' "The NFL Today."
Marino went with Washington's Robert Griffin III over the Colts' Andrew Luck as 1-2, flip-flopping their 2012 draft positions.
It's a little early to put Griffin over Luck, who is the far more well-rounded signal-caller, however.
RG3 is certainly more dynamic and teams have been struggling to try to stop the read-option but that's a gimmick at this level and as soon as opposing defenses catch up, you can except significant struggles from Griffin unless he is able to counter with his own adjustments.
In a 27-12 setback in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Griffin couldn't find his rhythm all day, as the Baylor product completed just 16-of-34 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown, while managing just eight rushing yards on six carries. Granted Dick LeBeau isn't your average defensive coordinator but the fact he was able to stop the aforementioned read-option doesn't bode well for RG3.
Luck, meanwhile, has quietly performed better, albeit less spectacularly. He has the Colts at 4-3 after passing for 297 yards and a touchdown and leading a game-winning drive in overtime as Indy topped Tennessee 19-13 on Sunday.
Luck's game is built better for long term success in the NFL.
The rest of s list, which rated Carolina's Cam Newton third followed by Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, the Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, Seattle's Russell Wilson, the Vikings' Christian Ponder, Tennessee's Jake Locker and the Jags' Blain Gabbert is pretty solid, although Marino isn't giving Tannehill, who left Miami's 30-9 win over the Jets on Sunday in the first quarter with an injured left quadriceps, enough credit for keeping a Dolphins team with shaky talent above water.
Meanwhile, Wilson's upside is stunted by his size and you have to believe both Locker and Gabbert would be doing more with the weapons Ponder has at his disposal.
Here's The Sports Network's "young gun" ratings at the midway point of the 2012 season:
1. - Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
2. - Robert Griffin III, Washington
3. - Cam Newton, Carolina
4. - Ryan Tannehill, Miami
5. - Andy Dalton, Cincinnati
6. - Brandon Weeden, Cleveland
7. - Jake Locker, Tennessee
8. - Russell Wilson, Seattle
9. - Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
10. - Christian Ponder, Minnesota
-Today's win in Philadelphia was Ryan's 50th as a starter. He did it in just 69 games, matching Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger for the second-fewest starts to reach the milestone among active players. New England's Tom Brady reached 50 regular season wins in 65 starts.
-Speaking of Brady and the Patriots, they ran up 473 yards of offense in London during their 45-7 International Series win over St. Louis. The Patriots have posted at least 350 yards in 17 consecutive games, surpassing the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams group (1999-2000) for the longest such streak in NFL history.
-Brady, who passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns against the Rams, joined Brett Favre (72), Peyton Manning (67) and Marino (62) as the fourth player in NFL history with 50 career games with at least three touchdown passes. He also registered the 50th 300-yard passing game of his career, surpassing Warren Moon (49) for the seventh-most all-time.
- Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, despite being without Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, threw two touchdown passes in the Packers' 24-15 win over Jacksonville. Through eight games this season, Rodgers has 21 touchdown passes. He has 24 TD passes through eight games in 2011, and is the first quarterback ever to have 20-plus touchdown passes through his team's first eight games in consecutive seasons.
-Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings had a 25-yard interception-return touchdown in the Bears' 23-22 comeback win over Carolina. The Bears, who have six interception-return touchdowns this season, are the first team in NFL history to return six interceptions for touchdowns through the first seven games of a season.