PHILADELPHIA (AP) — For all their success together, all those division titles and playoff appearances over the past decade, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb are measured by this in Philadelphia: No Super Bowl trophy.
Strong favorites to make a championship run just eight days ago, the Eagles were quickly eliminated from the playoffs with a 34-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC wild-card game Saturday night.
Now begins an offseason filled with uncertainty. The biggest question is whether McNabb will return. Reid isn’t going anywhere. The winningest coach in franchise history recently signed a three-year contract extension through 2013.
But McNabb has just one year left on his deal, and it’s no longer unimaginable to think the Eagles could be ready to move on without the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
“I want to be here and don’t want to be anywhere else,” McNabb said after the team’s second loss to the Cowboys in six days sent them home early.
He may not get his wish.
McNabb had one of the best seasons in his 11-year career, helping Philadelphia go 11-5 and reach the playoffs for the eighth time since 2000. But he struggled badly in two crucial games, ending the season on a terrible note.
The Eagles had won six straight games and were a popular pick to reach the Super Bowl before they lost 24-0 to the Cowboys last Sunday. That loss cost Philadelphia the NFC East title and a first-round bye. Instead, the Eagles dropped to the sixth seed and had to return to Dallas.
McNabb led an offense that scored a franchise-record 429 points this season. But they couldn’t generate anything against the Cowboys two weeks in a row.
When Michael Vick threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin to tie it at 7-7 in the second quarter on Saturday night, McNabb hadn’t even completed a pass to that point.
Fans at a local sports bar began chanting “We want Vick” when McNabb started the next series with the Eagles trailing 14-7. It probably would’ve sounded the same — except much louder and mixed in with thunderous boos — if the game was played at Lincoln Financial Field.
McNabb didn’t help his case by making poor decisions and misfiring on several throws. But an injury-depleted offensive line didn’t give him much time to throw and his receivers, including Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson, couldn’t get open.
“Donovan is a great quarterback; he has enjoyed his years here,” running back Brian Westbrook said. “Whether people think he should be the guy here or not, he has done a great job. Donavon is the reason that we have had so much success. He is definitely one of the best quarterbacks that I have had to deal with, one of the best in the league.”
The Eagles have a talented core of young players on offense. Jackson, Maclin, running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek have bright futures. If McNabb stays, the offense could be even more potent next season, especially if the blocking improves.
Or, management could decide to part with McNabb. He’s only 33 and certainly has trade value. Kevin Kolb filled in nicely when McNabb missed two games with broken ribs. The third-year pro showed his potential by becoming the first QB to throw for 300 yards in his first two career starts.
There’s also a chance — very slight — that the Eagles keep Vick around if McNabb goes. The team holds a $5.2 million option on Vick for next season. He didn’t show much during the season, but his TD pass to Maclin was a perfect throw in a clutch spot.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Vick said. “I’ll be in football shape. I’ll be in tiptop condition. I’m confident in my skills. I’m confident in myself.”
Another interesting story line during the offseason will be Westbrook’s future. A former All-Pro, Westbrook has slowed down significantly. He missed six games because of two concussions and another due to an ankle injury. Perhaps the only chance Westbrook will be back is if he restructures his contract and takes a heavy pay cut.
The biggest changes the Eagles must make have to be on defense. The Cowboys exposed all of Philadelphia’s weaknesses on the defensive side in the last two games. The Eagles need a strong rusher to complement Pro Bowl end Trent Cole. The linebacking group could use a total overhaul, though the return of Stewart Bradley in the middle should help. The free safety position has to be improved. Brian Dawkins’ presence was sorely missed in the secondary.
“It’s going to be a hard offseason because we expected more for ourselves in the postseason,” veteran middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “To get where we want to get to, this (was) a division game, they are a division rival, we have to get better and get past those guys.
“We all learn from this situation, not just the young guys. We look at the grand scheme of things. We have a lot of youth. Guys are learning from it. All we can do is go back, get better this offseason, work hard and try to set ourselves up in great position next year.”