PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles usually get rolling at this time of the season.
Since coach Andy Reid arrived in 1999, the Eagles are 13-0 in games immediately following their regular-season open week. And they have a reputation for maintaining that momentum.
Once they return from their week off and resume their season, the Eagles are a combined 84-39-1 (.681) compared to 45-45 (.500) in games preceding their open week.
How they perform the rest of this season is especially crucial.
Today's game against Atlanta at Lincoln Financial Field marks the start of a 10-game stretch that will determine Reid's future, as well as quarterback Michael Vick's.
At 3-3, they need to close the regular season with a flourish and make the playoffs or else the Eagles may be looking for a new coach and starting quarterback.
"In this business, you're graded on performance, whether you're a player, a head coach, assistant, it doesn't matter," Reid said. "You're graded on performance. You could ask me any given day, that's how life is."
The NFL schedule-makers did the Eagles no favors this season. Because the Falcons are also returning from their regular-season week off, the Eagles don't have the usual advantage in terms of extra rest and preparation. This will also mark the third straight game in which the Eagles will be facing a team coming off a bye. Both Pittsburgh and Detroit beat the Eagles after enjoying an open week.
They also play at Washington on Nov. 18 after the Redskins' open week. They make a trip to Dallas on Dec. 2, 10 days after the Cowboys play their annual Thanksgiving Day game and just six days after the Eagles face Carolina on "Monday Night Football."
"I don't worry about all that stuff," Reid said. "You worry about the things you can control and you can't control (the schedule). You control what you control and that's making sure you're doing your job to the best of your ability. When everybody does that collectively, you win."
Reid stuck to the same open-week schedule he has used for the previous 13 years. Despite suffering back-to-back losses, the players were given the entire week off to rest, relax and recuperate from the physical and mental stress of the first six games.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, backup quarterback Nick Foles, place-kicker Alex Henery and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were among the players who left town for a few days to spend time with friends and family. Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, tackle King Dunlap and quarterback Michael Vick all stayed in the area.
Some players watched the New York Giants-Washington game last Sunday. Others opted to forget about football for a while.
"I briefly watched it," Vick said. "I was outside playing with my kids. They have scooters now, so you have to keep your eye on them.
"It was good to just get away from the game for a while, just to take a deep breath, relax and spend some time with your loves ones and the people who mean the most to you. Sometimes just having that (support system) can really help you out through tough times."
Times have been particularly tough for Vick this season.
He is the 27th-ranked quarterback in the NFL with a 77.7 efficiency rating. His 58.9 completion percentage (136 completions in 231 attempts) is 25th. But the turnovers have been the major problem. He has thrown eight interceptions and lost five fumbles. Vick's 13 total turnovers are second-most in the league behind Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel, who has 14.
As a team, the Eagles have committed 17 total turnovers, tying Tennessee for second-most in the NFL behind Kansas City (21). Those mistakes are the biggest reason the Eagles' offense has had trouble scoring points. They have yet to score more than 24 in a game and have been outscored by a combined 63-31 in the first half.
"We've struggled because of turnover ratio," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "It's that simple. If you go back through our games, we've been on some pretty good drives. We're motoring pretty good in terms of yards, but it goes back to that turnover ratio. Turnovers have been big. A lot of stats that are thrown around mean very little in regards to winning and losing. However, ball security is the biggest statistic that correlates to winning and losing."
While the offensive coaching staff has been focused on trying to get out to better starts, the defense has been trying to find ways to finish.
One of the reasons Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo last week and replaced him with Todd Bowles was the defense's inability to protect fourth-quarter leads in the losses to the Steelers and Lions.
Among his many duties this week, Bowles has been trying to instill a sense of urgency for the players to deliver in clutch situations.
"Some are born with it and some have to practice it hard," Bowles said. "It's no different than coaching. We have to get it out of ourselves and then we've got to get it out of the players. You preach it and preach it, you coach it and coach it, you teach it and teach it, and you beat them with it until they're blue in the face and hopefully, on Sunday, the results will be different."
Despite their recent troubles, the Eagles are still in the thick of the NFC East and conference races. At 3-3, they are tied with Dallas for second place in the division behind the New York Giants (5-2), whom they've already beaten this season. The Falcons (6-0) and Giants are among eight NFC teams with better records.
With 10 games remaining, the Eagles know it's far too early to panic.
"It's a whole new season for us," Eagles safety Kurt Coleman said. "We've got 10 games to really prove ourselves and prove our worth to ourselves, to these fans, and to the whole NFL. I feel like we're not achieving to our full potential, so now we have 10 games to really prove ourselves and it starts with this week."
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