With a rookie quarterback and a running back making his first start since high school, the Philadelphia Eagles will try for their first win in two months.
No wonder even the Carolina Panthers (2-8) are favored on the road.
The struggling Eagles (3-7) have lost six straight games entering Monday night’s matchup against Cam Newton and the Panthers. They won’t have Michael Vick or LeSean McCoy because of concussions, increasing the chances they can go O for October and November for the first time in coach Andy Reid’s 14-year tenure.
Oddsmakers have listed the Panthers as 3-point favorites, a rare occurrence for a team with the worst record in the conference. Perhaps the underdog role will get the Eagles going. Nothing else has worked in a season that began with Super Bowl expectations.
“Obviously nobody wants to play the way we’ve been playing, nobody wants to coach the way we’ve been coaching,” Reid said. “We don’t want that. We owe it to each other, we owe it to this city to play better. As long as guys own up to that, coaches and players, that’s the way you get better and then you work on the things that you’re not doing well. Get yourself right.”
Nick Foles will be under center, making his second start in a row for Vick. Bryce Brown, a seventh-round pick who had just 104 carries in college, takes over for McCoy.
“I expect the other guys to step up and play,” Reid said. “It’s a great opportunity for them. That’s the way you approach it and you cut it loose and you play.”
Foles, a third-round pick, has a chance to show whether he can be Philadelphia’s quarterback of the future. Vick could be part of a massive offseason overhaul and fans have been calling for Foles to start since his impressive preseason.
Foles has been so-so in the past two games, compiling a passer rating of just 58.9. Like Vick, he’s had the misfortune of playing behind a banged-up offensive line that’s missing four of its five starters.
“I have to play within myself and understand what’s coming at me, and make the best decision,” Foles said. “This is my second start and the third game I’ve played in. Hopefully as things go on, it starts slowing down. I’ve felt more comfortable this week at practice, so it’s just trusting myself in the game and getting into a rhythm.”
The Panthers prepared all week for Vick and Foles. They learned that Vick would be out after their final practice but before their Sunday walkthrough.
“I think Nick Foles is athletic enough to give you some problems,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “He has a good arm, makes quick decisions.”
While the Eagles are banged-up, the Panthers are close to full strength. They have no significant injuries, but are switching things up on the offensive line. Gary Williams, signed on Nov. 14, will start at right guard over Jeff Byers.
Carolina also has a new kicker, Graham Gano. He replaces Justin Medlock, who missed a 40-yard field goal in the first half of last Sunday’s overtime loss to Tampa Bay.
If this game comes down to a kick at the end, Gano thrives in those situations. He tied an NFL record with three overtime field goals for the Washington Redskins in 2010.
“That’s what every kicker dreams of. If you don’t want that pressure, something is wrong with you,” Gano said. “I love those situations. I hope every game comes down to that.”
This will be a coaching reunion of sorts for Reid, Rivera and Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Rivera was Philadelphia’s linebackers coach under Reid from 1999-2003. McDermott spent 10 seasons with the Eagles, including his final two as the defensive coordinator in 2009-10.
“Smart. Good person. Good people skills. Good football coach,” Reid said of Rivera. “At that time, he knew the linebacker position well and did a good job for us here.”
McDermott had big shoes to fill in Philadelphia. He replaced Jim Johnson, a defensive guru who passed away in July 2009. The transition didn’t go too smoothly and McDermott was fired after two seasons.
“It was great for him to get another opportunity, and he’s doing a nice job,” Reid said. “They’ve got a defense that’s creating turnovers and flying around, playing hard.”