PHILADELPHIA _ Jeffrey Lurie put Andy Reid on the clock with a preseason decree that mediocrity was no longer acceptable.
With each grim defeat, the harsh reality becomes clear. If Lurie, the Eagles owner, remains true to his word, Reid will out of a job if Philadelphia continues to trudge through this season without a winning record or much hope for the future.
After an 8-8 season in 2011, Lurie called the results from this star-studded team unacceptable and said, "we need substantial improvement."
So, needless to say, this is not what he expected.
The Eagles (3-5) again were sloppy, battered, and inefficient inside the red zone in a 28-13 loss to New Orleans on Monday night, their fourth consecutive loss. And the struggles are on both sides of the ball.
Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo last month and the unit has only gotten worse. While Reid reaffirmed his commitment to Michael Vick on Tuesday, the former dynamic quarterback is no longer the scrambling standout he once was behind a depleted offensive line.
Either way, Lurie's edict hangs over the organization with each depressing loss. Reid said he can't worry about Lurie's win-or-else ultimatum, only about winning the next game, Sunday against Dallas (3-5).
"There is no time to think about those things," Reid said. "The guys are worrying about getting themselves better to win football games. That's number one. That's where I sit."
Reid, in his 14th season, sits on hot seat that is blazing into an inferno. Fans want him out. Players are grumbling louder than ever. The respect and command Big Red once held over his team, the franchise and city's fan base with a grip larger than his waistline, has crashed. The questions come at him faster than the blitz on a confused Vick: Has he lost the respect of the team? Have the Eagles quit? Does he like the character of his team?
Read the transcript, and it indeed looks as if he's focused on the cause, no matter what. In fact, it appears — on paper, at least — as if Reid is as optimistic as he's ever been.
"I saw guys playing hard."
"I do like the character of this team."
"I would expect them to continue to battle through and good things will happen."
But standing at the podium inside the Eagles practice facility, Reid sounded defeated. Never a bombastic personality, a glum Reid mumbled his way through his answers, and repeated many of the same refrains he's used since the skid started, namely blaming himself, and the need to put his team in better position to win. He said the Eagles were "just off a little bit," and an Eagles' turnaround hinged on "getting a few things tightened up."
The Eagles need more than a tuneup. They might need another coach to go under the hood and totally rebuild what had been one of the proudest, and most successful, franchises in the NFL for most of the last 15 years. The enigmatic Eagles won the final four games of last season to finish off a disappointing year at 8-8, and gave Lurie a reason to grant Reid another season. At this rate of losing, though, Reid may not return for Year 15.
The Eagles play five of their final eight games against NFC East teams, and the fact they play well against their divisional opponents is one glimmer of optimism that they can get salvage a postseason berth. They won their final five games of last season against NFC East teams, including a late-November win over the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants. And, they've already defeated the Giants once this season.
Counting on another streaky run out of these Eagles is a long shot, though. For starters, the offensive line has been decimated this season, the latest casualty on Monday night when right tackle Todd Herremans suffered foot and ankle injuries. He had an MRI on Tuesday and was on crutches. Herremans, Vick's blindside protector, and left guard Evan Mathis were about the only two reliable lineman left standing of late. Left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins have all missed significant chunks of the season, one reason Vick was sacked seven times by the Saints.
"You can't function at this level," Reid said, "with seven sacks."
That's not the only number that costs teams in the NFL. The Eagles failed to score a touchdown (with two turnovers) on five trips inside the red zone and failed to score more than 20 points after hitting at least 400 yards of total offense for the third time this season. The Eagles had first-and-goal four times against the Saints and scored only six points. In fact, they were outscored in those situations, since Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson picked off a tipped pass and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown.
Things got so bad that someone believed to be Vick's brother, Marcus, went on a Twitter rant (on the unverified handle known as (at)MVFive) suggesting Philadelphia should trade Michael if it's not going to protect him better. Michael, who is keeping his job over unproven rookie Nick Foles, said he would speak to his brother about his actions.
On Tuesday, there was an apology posted on the same handle: "I love my brother and it's hard to watch him taking all those shots, but I'm sorry if I offended anyone."
Marcus Vick, who played just one game in the NFL, might get his wish, though, in the long term. After all, Michael, Reid and other high-priced struggling veterans like cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha could all be swept out of Philadelphia at the end of the season as a new regime takes control.
There will be a time for the franchise consider all of that soon enough. For now, Reid insisted there's still time to piece together an improved game plan and make a playoff run this season.
"Somewhere here, it's going to come together," Reid said. "In this league, you get a win and you hit on a couple of these things and you go from there. Now, it's going the opposite way. And we need to make sure we stop that, keep practicing our fundamentals, and doing the things that we know are right."
Time, however, is running out.
On a season, and, possibly, an era.