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An Eagles History Lesson: The Great Collapse of 2012 That Ended the Andy Reid Era Began Against the Steelers

Fifty years from now when someone not yet born does the current equivalent of typing “2012 Philadelphia Eagles” into Google, one will likely reach the immediate conclusion, “Wow, that team was really awful.”

They would be correct, except there is a bit of a catch. The Eagles finished the season 4-12, their worst record since 1998 when they were 3-13 in Ray Rhodes’ final year running the show before Andy Reid was hired.

The 2012 team scored the fourth lowest number of points in the league and surrendered the third highest. They were terrible, but there was a time early on when they weren’t.

The Eagles play the Steelers tonight in a preseason game, and while it doesn’t count, it is the first time the two teams have met since October 7, 2012. I find that if you watch sports long enough, you begin to internalize what other teams mean to you and automatically link that to said team.

For example, regardless of what they do in the coming years, the New York Mets will always be synonymous with their September 2007 choke job for me.

The Steelers, to me, are the team that helped begin an eight-game losing streak that would end the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia.

The 2012 Eagles were poorly coached, poorly constructed, and not particularly likable, but by way of some talent and a spunky Michael Vick playing quarterback early on, they somehow won their first two games, each by one point. The only other time the birds had started a season 2-0 under Reid was back in 2004 when they went to the Super Bowl.

An ugly loss in Week 3 followed, but Week 4 was more of the same. Two weeks after beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles knocked off the defending champion Giants by two points with another fourth quarter comeback.

They easily could have been 0-4 but instead were 3-1 and sitting in first place in the NFC East.

A win at Heinz Field the following Sunday would have made the birds 4-1 for only the third time in the Reid era, yet no one was particularly excited. They figured it was too good to be true and were about to be proven correct.

The Steelers carried a 10-0 lead into halftime as a fumble by Vick on the Pittsburgh 1-yard line prevented the Eagles from getting on the board. They came alive though with an early touchdown in the third quarter and took a 14-13 lead with less than seven minutes remaining as Vick found Brent Celek for a touchdown from two yards out.

It looked like the Eagles might pull off another Houdini act, but this time, their defense couldn’t hold one more time.  The Steelers converted a key third and long deep in their own territory and another third down on the Eagles side of the field. They controlled the ball for six and a half minutes, setting up a chip shot field goal for Shaun Suisham as time expired.

Right down the middle.

16-14 Steelers.

Back home the following week, the Eagles blew a 10-point lead with five minutes remaining and lost in overtime to the 1-3 Detroit Lions.

Honestly, they deserved to be 0-6 but were one or two plays from somehow being 5-1. The reality was that they were 3-3, which wasn’t good enough for a desperate Reid who Andy Reid’d nearly as hard as he Andy Reid’d 21 months early when he gave Juan Castillo the job. This time, he threw his defensive coordinator overboard in a last-ditch effort to stop the bleeding.

The decision only made the cut deeper though. For the first time in 14 years, Reid lost a regular season game following a bye week. The Eagles would proceed to lose eight consecutive contests before beating Tampa Bay 23-21 on a last-second touchdown.

Four wins by a combined total of six points. The bottom had fallen out. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had no choice but to fire Reid, a guy many previously believed would be his ‘coach for life.’

As a result of driving back to State College after covering Penn State road games, I missed more games during the 2012 season than I have in most other seasons combined (I did watch this one). Conventional wisdom suggests that is a good thing given how south the season went, but not seeing them every Sunday still made me sad.

That team easily could have gone 0-16, but could the dumpster fire have been prevented had they just beat Pittsburgh?

I do not normally spend a ton of time thinking about the 2012 season, but when it comes to mind, I get hung up on it because in my opinion, it is an interesting case study in organizational behavior.

More inside information would be needed to really explore it, but it is not every day you see an absolute control freak in Reid lose complete control of a situation.

If the Eagles had came up with a stop against Pittsburgh on that final drive, would the meltdown against Detroit seven days later have still happened? Furthermore, could the entire losing streak have been avoided?

The great and also infuriating thing about sports is that we will never know and can only infer.

Conventional wisdom says no — an ugly stretch was coming either way. The Eagles were a bad team getting a few lucky breaks early on, and then things caught up with them. The collapse probably would have happened anyway. Still, in a 16-game season, 4-1 is a lot different from 3-2 and dare I say it, 5-1 leaves way more margin for error than 3-3.

To completely fail to acknowledge other factors would be ignorant. A series of poor personnel decisions in the years leading up to the 2012 season put the keys in the ignition on the road to Reid’s firing, but the loss to Pittsburgh and embarrassing defeat to Detroit revved the engine.

What if?

What if the Eagles had escaped the steel city with a victory? Would Chip Kelly be on the sidelines tonight when the squads play an exhibition game 22 and a half months later. Would Reid still be here instead of Kansas City?

I do not know the answer to that, but I do know that what may seem like a harmless game a half century from now was a damn important one in Eagles history.

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