King Dunlap walks off the field after committing a penalty that negated a pivotal Eagles first down against the Cowboys, instead of staying on the field for the ensuing field goal which cost the team a timeout in Philadelphia’s 38-23 loss to Dallas in week 10.
It was an oppressively hot and Sunny September Saturday afternoon in 1999, Andy Reid’s first season, when the Head Coach sent the type of disciplinary message that became legendary in the Eagles locker room that season and sent a message to the veterans yet to wear midnight green.
Offensive lineman George Hegamin, on his first day back with the team after abruptly leaving following news he had lost his starting job was asked by the Head Coach to stay after practice, where Reid made him push a blocking sled up and down the practice field, all the while admonishing him for letting down his teammates.
Later that day Hegamin was among the Eagles final cuts.
The message was clear: No individual or emotion is more important than the betterment of the team. There have been other incidents along the way such as John Welbourn being released following his comments criticizing the play calling, the near physical confrontation between Reid and Jeremiah Trotter when it was learned the ax man was going to be collared with the franchise tag and the highly publicized divorce from Terrell Owens when the Head Coach lost control of his diva star player.
All of those times, Reid made it loud and clear who was in charge of the locker room and along with that discipline commanded the respect of the veterans on the Eagles roster. Along the way Reid led his teams to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl.
Fast forward to today and viewing what occurred with King Dunlap on Sunday afternoon in two crucial series of events through the scope of how this head coach and this football team used to operate, it isn’t surprising that the Eagles have stumbled to an 11-14 record while staggering through a general malaise for the last two seasons.
It was a third quarter series on Sunday when Nick Foles hit Damaris Johnson to convert a third and five and move the Eagles into first and goal with a 14-10 lead on the two yard-line against the Cowboys with the possibility of seizing momentum for good when Dunlap unraveled First came an illegal hands to the face penalty that negated the Birds first down conversion pushed the offense back to third and 15 from the 24 yard line and a field goal.
Only thing is, Dunlap, who is on the field goal team, stormed off the field in rage because of the penalty forcing the Eagles to burn a timeout that could have saved them in the game’s final minutes.
That was bad enough.
Then came a fourth quarter interception by Brandon Carr that saw the Eagles left tackle give an uninspired effort in pursuit of the Cowboys cornerback along the sidelines.
All told, Dunlap was called for three penalties for 25 yards against the Cowboys on Sunday.
“I think he’ll tell you he was wrong,” head coach Andy Reid said Monday, a day after Dunlap’s gaffes helped the Cowboys beat the Eagles, 38-23, at the Linc, the Eagles’ fifth straight loss.
“He let his emotions from the penalty carry over and wasn’t paying attention. That was a mistake on his part.”
“I think he’ll tell you he was wrong?” Is Reid’s response to a tepid meltdown from Dunlap that cost his team a division game that was played with the desperation of a team playing out the string, rather than one that literally was immersed in a playoff game in week ten?
Say what you will about Hegamin’s brief defection 14 years ago, but it did not cost the Eagles a game. Dunlap’s penalties and mental blunders directly impacted the Eagles chances to win and dashed any false hope of turning around the season.
Hegamin was made to push a blocking sled around an empty practice field and was cut, while Dunlap will start against the Redskins this week.
Where’s the consequence there? Where’s the teachable moment to a roster that’s just about folded up their tent for another season, while just two games behind the first place New York Giants with seven games to play?
Look, I understand the Eagles are paper thin and Demetress Bell has proven to be an abject disaster at left tackle since signing here in the offseason to replace Jason Peters, lost for the year with a torn Achilles tendon. But to start Bell this week after his failures a week ago sends a terrible message to this football team. And, it shows that the Head Coach has lost the gumption to properly hold his players accountable for their actions on the field.
It isn’t like Reid is completely out of options.
Danny Watkins is returning this week and the inconsistent second-year right guard will be back in the lineup and the plan is to slide Dennis Kelly to right tackle and stick with Dunlap at left tackle, instead of Bell.
At this point though, the drop off seems inconsequential from Dunlap to Bell, but the message of benching the veteran after last week’s undoings would prove more valuable than whatever negligible impact Dunlap would have over Bell against the Redskins. Reid could even choose, if the decision was to bench Dunlap,to swing Watkins to tackle (he played there in college), and insert newly acquired veteran Jake Scott at right guard.
But Dunlap won’t be benched.
This team has yet to accomplish anywhere near the kind of success that Reid’s teams in the first half his 14-year tenure in Philadelphia were able to accomplish, yet if you talk to the players on this team you would think that a Reid wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is being constructed to house an expected influx of champion Philadelphia Eagles into the hallowed halls in the very near future.
There used to be a time when the Head Coach took control of this locker room and mistakes such as Dunlap’s weren’t tolerated. Those days appear to be gone.
Just like George Hegamin.