Strong finish leaves Eagles optimistic about future Print
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Monday, 31 December 2007 11:09
NFL Headline News

 PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Making the playoffs became so routine for the Eagles that anything less than a Super Bowl victory was considered a failure in Philadelphia.
Consider this season a disaster.
For much of the year, the Eagles (8-8) looked like a team whose window of opportunity to win the big game had closed after a seven-year run that included six playoff appearances, five division titles, four straight trips to the NFC championship game and one Super Bowl loss.
Their coach endured a family crisis that had some calling for his resignation. Their franchise quarterback struggled to the point critics wanted him benched for a rookie. A few star players on defense showed definite signs of decline.
Break 'em up and start fresh? Not so fast.
A season-ending three-game winning streak, including impressive victories on the road against conference-leading Dallas and New Orleans, left hope for the future.
Finally healthy, Donovan McNabb regained his Pro Bowl form and the rest of the offense came together. Some younger players on defense stepped up their play, giving the coaching staff more options going into the offseason.
The Eagles might have even reached the playoffs this season if they could've come up with just one more play in any one of their five losses by four points or less. Philadelphia lost three straight games decided in the final minutes to drop to 5-8.
So, the critical question heading into the offseason for the Eagles is this: Do they need to retool or rebuild?
Given the parity in the NFC and how strong the Eagles were when they played their best games - a 56-21 win over Detroit, a 31-28 loss at New England and a 10-6 win in Dallas - they might not be that far away if they make key additions at certain spots.
``I'm definitely not satisfied with the way the season went,'' coach Andy Reid said. ``We will cover everything from A to Z.''
The offense needs a playmaking receiver and a tight end. The defense needs another pass rusher and help in the secondary.
One position the Eagles don't have to upgrade is quarterback. Though it appeared to some during the season that McNabb's days in Philly were numbered, management made it clear the five-time Pro Bowl pick will return for his 10th year. That means the Kevin Kolb Era wouldn't begin until 2009 at the earliest.
McNabb started slowly after returning ahead of schedule following major knee surgery. He showed flashes of his old self before ankle and thumb injuries forced him to miss two games. When he returned, McNabb was back to making big plays with his arm and even his legs.
McNabb threw for 3,324 yards, 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His passer rating of 89.9 was the third-highest in his nine-year career and his completion percentage of 61.5 was his second-highest.
``It's easy to say that we are close, but you'll never know,'' McNabb said. ``I think this is going to be an important offseason for us. No matter how you look at it, it's got to be an important offseason. We have to focus on a lot of different things, obviously bring pieces in to help us out for next year and the years to come. And for the guys that are here, to elevate our games to be ready to go.''
While McNabb worked his way back, Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook carried the offensive load. Westbrook set team records for total yards from scrimmage (2,104) and receptions (90). He finished with 1,333 yards rushing and 12 TDs total.
On the other side, defensive end Trent Cole had a breakout year. The third-year pro finished tied for sixth in the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks.
The linebackers also played well. But the secondary took a step backward. Perennial Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins clearly is on the downside of his career and cornerback Lito Sheppard didn't play to his Pro Bowl level.
Most of the starters are signed through next season, so free agency shouldn't hurt the Eagles. Tight end L.J. Smith may not be re-signed after an injury-plagued season and defensive end Jevon Kearse almost certainly will be released.
Reid isn't going anywhere. Reid came under scrutiny because his two oldest sons were sentenced to prison on gun and drug charges, and a judge likened his home to a ``drug emporium.'' But ownership supports Reid and he never considered stepping down from his job.
``We all could have done a better job. I'm responsible for the 8-8,'' Reid said.
 

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