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WILNER ON FOOTBALL: No living up to the hype for Eagles, Jets, Cowboys, Falcons
When Eagles players, the Jets coach and the Cowboys owner ramped up the expectations for their teams, it seemed reasonable. All had the talent to challenge for a championship.
Turns out, through the first month of the NFL season, all that bluster was just that ' all hype. None of those teams has shown much substance through the first four games.
Throw in the Falcons, a fashionable pick to represent the NFC in next February's Super Bowl, and defending AFC champ Pittsburgh, and the opening quarter of the schedule has been full of surprises ' and disappointments ' for some ballyhooed teams.
No one has been more disappointing than the heavily hyped Eagles, who quickly have driven their fans to concentrating on the Phillies in the playoffs. The squad backup quarterback Vince Young dubbed a "Dream Team" after all its offseason acquisitions is keeping folks in Philadelphia up all night trying to figure out what has gone wrong.
The Eagles have lost three straight and are at the bottom of the NFC East. Their latest flop was the worst, as they blew a 23-3 second-half lead and fell to San Francisco ' despite a sensational performance by Michael Vick.
But Vick doesn't play in the secondary, which despite some hefty price tags for Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel, has been a sieve. And Vick isn't a linebacker ' in fact, some in Philly wonder if anyone on the roster actually is one.
He doesn't placekick, although Vick might have made one of the two field goals from inside 40 yards that rookie Alex Henery missed in the fourth quarter fold Sunday.
What's going on in Philadelphia is anything but dreamy, and the problems are drawing an even brighter spotlight because of preseason proclamations that the Eagles were going to be something special.
"We've got the people to do it, but we're just not doing it," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, one of several high-priced additions through free agency or trades. "Maybe having this label of having so many good people is hurting us, because maybe people are standing around waiting for someone else to do it. Or expecting that someone else is going to come in and make the play instead of people going out and manning up and making it themselves."
Sounds a lot like the Jets, whose recent success ' trips to the AFC title game the last two years ' has faded under the ugliness of being brutalized by the Raiders and Ravens. With All-Pro center Nick Mangold sidelined by a high right ankle sprain, the Jets (2-2) as a whole forgot how to block. Their defense played decently in the loss to the Ravens, but it has been mediocre in a lucky win over Dallas in the opener, and was miserable in the defeat at Oakland.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez was supposed to take the next big step in his development in his third pro season. Instead, he's regressed as the offensive line has collapsed.
All of which has made Rex Ryan's boastful declarations nothing more than ... hype.
"We've had some ups and downs before," Ryan said. "We've had one worse than this one, believe it or not. We're just the men for the job, we'll get this thing fixed."
Better do so soon, Rex ' next up is a visit to New England.
Dallas fell apart in similar fashion to its NFC East rival Eagles on Sunday. While Philadelphia couldn't hold a 20-point second-half lead, the Cowboys (2-2) were up 27-3 over the Lions. Then they reverted to recent woes, getting sloppy in pass coverage and sloppier with the ball.
Tony Romo has rightly been praised for his courage in playing hurt, and for his leadership skills. He also needs to be lambasted for his penchant to turn over the ball, with both Dallas losses directly attributable to his interceptions or fumbles.
And maybe, just maybe, the Cowboys have been overrated, in great part thanks to their front-and-center owner's willingness to cast them as something more than they really are.
Not that Jerry Jones should be downgrading the roster he has put together. But asking this group, which would have trouble covering Jones himself on a pass route, to be exceptional might be nothing more than, well, hype.
Regardless, Jones isn't abandoning his quarterback and longtime pet project.
"I view the success we have, I view what he does well and I put the mistakes right in with what he does well and don't in any way get discouraged about our future with Tony," Jones said. "There's no issue about faith in Romo, any place in this organization, period. ... If you're going to try to make plays, then you've got a chance to have some bad plays. But however we go, we'll go with Tony. As Tony goes, we'll go."
There's no such angst over the quarterback in Atlanta, where Matt Ryan is a lot steadier than Romo. What has been the problem in the ATL is too much average football, and in a division with the Saints and Buccaneers, that's treading dangerous waters.
With the monster trade to move up for playmaking receiver Julio Jones on draft day, the Falcons dived headfirst into the hype machine. Jones would be the missing link in the NFL's most competitive division, and would keep the Falcons at the top of the conference, a Super Bowl favorite.
Jones had a breakout game at Seattle with 11 catches for 127 yards in Atlanta's 30-28. But the Falcons (2-2) had to sweat out a last-minute 61-yard field goal try to win against an inferior opponent.
Finally, there are the struggling Steelers (2-2), who don't look anything like the club that lost to Green Bay in last February's Super Bowl. All that talk about veteran outfits with well-established regimens surviving the lockout best has, in Pittsburgh's case, been a bunch of hype, compounded by injuries. Considering the Steelers' blue collar history, that's strange.
Of course, it's already been a strange season.