Surprise: It's the Redskins in 1st, Eagles in last

October 16, 2011 7:08:18 AM PDT
Even by Andy Reid standards, it was an uncomfortable and short call when the Philadelphia Eagles coach spoke to Washington Redskins reporters this week. The height of absurdity was reached when he was asked if he recalled much about the last time the two teams met.

"No," Reid answered. "I have a short memory."

It should be a positive memory. It was 11 months ago that the Eagles rolled into Washington for a Monday night game and dominated like few teams before them, taking a 35-0 lead en route to a 59-28 drubbing. Michael Vick was nothing short of stunning - four touchdowns passing, two touchdowns rushing - and the Redskins were nothing short of stunned.

Washington coach Mike Shanahan remembers it all too well. Asked if he was going to review video from that game this week, he longed for Reid's selective recall.

"I'm trying to get that out of my mind," Shanahan said with a laugh. "No, I'm not going to watch it. It's a different type of defense, so I'll look at their games this year."

Maybe that's for the best - because that game now feels as if it belongs in another era.

This Sunday's game between the Eagles and Redskins shapes up to pretty much what everyone expected at the start of the season: one team in first place with a chance to pull away from the rest of the NFC East vs. a team bringing up the rear.

Except that the roles are reversed. Philadelphia (1-4) is in a four-game skid, its longest since 2005, and surely doesn't look like the dream team predicted after a post-lockout spending spree. Washington (3-1), which knows all too well about spending sprees that backfire, was a consensus pick to finish last in the division in the second year of Shanahan's rebuilding effort.

"I think everyone's surprised with the start of their season," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said.

The Redskins' own success is also quite a surprise, and it centers around a defense that ranked 31st a year ago and is up to No. 6 this season. Offenses convert only 26 percent of their third downs against Washington - a rate no other defense comes close to matching.

Stopping Vick is another matter. For one thing, no one has really stopped the Eagles this season. They just keep stopping themselves.

Philadelphia's offense ranks third in the league, but the Eagles have committed a league-high 15 turnovers. Vick already has more interceptions (7) than he had all last season (6), although most have been due to receiver mistakes and poor protection by the offensive line.

"People say they're a dream team," Redskins fullback Darrel Young said. "I know they probably don't want to be considered a dream team because of their record. No one wants to be considered that until it's all said and done.

"They can click at any point. They have all-stars. We just want to send them into the bye week at 1-5, that's how we feel. Once they get clicking, they're going to be good."

The Redskins are in sole possession of first place, somewhere they haven't been this late in the season since they last won the NFC East in 1999. This will be one of their biggest regular season games of the last 15 years, a chance to bury a ballyhooed rival that embarrassed them last year.

"Just looking at what they did to us last year? It's kind of payback time," Young said. "I've been waiting a whole year for this game."

As for the Eagles, it's hard to use the phrase "must-win" this early in the season, but consider this: Five teams since 1990 have won division titles after starting 1-4, but none has done so after starting 1-5. It's now or never to solve the turnovers on offense and the missed tackles a defense, a unit still adjusting to Juan Castillo's move from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.

"It would be big to win the game this week," Vick said.

"We've just got to focus and get our minds set to go out and do so. And there shouldn't be no other way, no other stray thought. You go out and play with confidence and play the game to win. Not to try to not turn the ball over, but go out and play the game to win."

Reid this week had to deny a report that he was looking to hire a defensive consultant, and his own job could be at stake if the Eagles don't improve. That certainly explains why he was more tightlipped than usual this week, even when asked about the blowout win a year ago.

Shanahan, meanwhile, make sure to remind his team about that loss, even if he didn't review the film. If the Eagles are motivated by 1-4, the Redskins are motivated by 59-28.

"I think the people that we had here last year understand we were embarrassed pretty good," Shanahan said. "And they took it to us: offensively, defensively, special teams and coaching. Yeah, I think we have a bad taste in our mouth, and I'm sure they've got a bad taste in their mouth."

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