PHILADELPHIA -- Andy Reid's spirited defense of DeSean Jackson on Friday makes a lot more sense when you realize it wasn't really a defense of the childish wide receiver at all. It was really Reid's defending Reid against the growing perception that he has lost control of his football team. In the span of four days, the Eagles lost two ugly games amid some strange sideline goings-on. During Sunday's beat down by the Patriots, two assistant coaches embarrassed themselves, their boss, and their players by getting into a spat. Thursday night, while there was plenty more evidence his team just doesn't care very much, the NFL Network focused on Jackson's apparent misbehavior.
PHILADELPHIA -- Andy Reid's spirited defense of DeSean Jackson on Friday makes a lot more sense when you realize it wasn't really a defense of the childish wide receiver at all. It was really Reid's defending Reid against the growing perception that he has lost control of his football team.
In the span of four days, the Eagles lost two ugly games amid some strange sideline goings-on. During Sunday's beat down by the Patriots, two assistant coaches embarrassed themselves, their boss, and their players by getting into a spat. Thursday night, while there was plenty more evidence his team just doesn't care very much, the NFL Network focused on Jackson's apparent misbehavior.
The bicoastal debacle came just three weeks after Reid himself suspended Jackson for a must-win game that turned into a loss against Arizona. And a few weeks before that, veteran cornerback Asante Samuel publicly mocked the front office for playing "fantasy football" with owner Jeff Lurie's money.
So Reid very much needs to put an orderly face on the chaos of this 4-8 team. Losing games is bad for a coach. Losing his grip is fatal.
This is really Reid's second full-on disaster of a season. The first was in 2005, perhaps the last time expectations were as high for the franchise. In February of that year, the team had reached the Super Bowl, and there was every reason to expect it to contend for a return trip.
Two things happened: Terrell Owens went bats and Donovan McNabb got hurt. Kind of eerie, when you think of it, that a petulant wideout and an injured QB are part of the story again this year.
But there are important differences. Owens was unhappy about his contract, but he was also dead wrong. He was in just the second year of a seven-year deal. NFL teams just don't tear up long-term deals every year and hand out big raises. It isn't done, and Owens knew that as well as his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
And then there was the guerrilla theater Owens staged to make his displeasure known -- attacking McNabb at every opportunity, refusing to speak to offensive coordinator Brad Childress, the driveway news conference and workout session.
Reid exiled Owens, McNabb's nagging sports hernia tore completely, and that was that. Mike McMahon, inexplicably the No. 2 QB that year, presided over what was, until this year, the worst football produced on Reid's watch.
Through all of that, Reid appeared to be in control. Now? It's hard to say that.
The main reason is that he and the Eagles are on the wrong side of the contract issue this time. If Owens was ridiculously premature in wanting a new deal, Jackson was ridiculously overdue for one. If the labor debacle of 2011 hadn't been hanging over their heads, the Eagles probably would have extended Jackson last season.
Let's be clear. Jackson has not acquitted himself well. It is possible for both parties to be wrong in a situation as highly charged as this.
But the real question is this: How did Jackson get from there -- electrifying hero of last year's biggest victories -- to here -- his Eagles career practically unsalvageable?
If a coach's primary job is to get the most out of the players he has, then Reid has managed the opposite in this case. Early on, he tried coddling Jackson, chuckling when the kid dropped the ball before reaching the goal line or landed in a split while nursing a groin injury to celebrate a touchdown.
This year, with Jackson playing on perhaps the least fair contract in the league, Reid decided to go the other way. While the team was making it rain money on Michael Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin and Steve Smith, Jackson was told to play thirsty. And oh, he was going to be returning punts, too, a high-risk responsibility Reid removed from Brian Westbrook and Lito Sheppard when they attained star status.
It wasn't clear what was going on with Jackson on Thursday night. It was his birthday. He and LeSean McCoy were chatting up former teammate Chris Clemons during a TV timeout -- on the field, while both teams were huddled up. He and Marshawn Lynch were seen chuckling while Asomugha lay in a heap at their feet.
NFL Network, the league's own TV product, reported that Jackson was sulking on the sideline, refusing to talk to teammates, and jogging some of his routes at half speed. Pretty damning stuff, if true -- of both the player and the coaches who let things get this bad.
Reid said he was "very disappointed in the way they portrayed that. I'm going to tell you now that DeSean was all-in in that game."
Maybe he was. Maybe they all were. It sure didn't look like it, though.