At the halfway point of the 2011 season, very little has gone according to plan for the locally-connected athletes and coaches on the NFL landscape. That's not to say all has gone wrong for head coaches Andy Reid and Hue Jackson and players Ramses Barden and Eben Britton, but more so it speaks to the volatile nature of the week-to-week gauntlet that is professional football and how best laid plans can quickly be scattered in the wind by injuries, unforeseen circumstances and the overall parity of a league in which a game can go either way on any given Sunday.
There's plenty of football left to look ahead to and plenty of first-half highlights to pore over. The following midseason update will offer a look at both.
REID WAKING FROM
With each prominent player the Philadelphia Eagles added to an already talent-studded roster via free agency and trade in the offseason, the Dream Team drumbeat grew stronger, through media hype and fan expectations alike.
Once the Eagles actually started playing games, however, it became ever more apparent that a stacked roster on paper doesn't automatically translate to success on the field.
Losers of four in a row after opening with a win over the hapless St. Louis Rams on Sept. 11, the grand experiment threatened to blow up in the face of Reid, who is also the team's executive vice president of football operations. Mired in a mess of turnovers, penalties and bad breaks, the Eagles suffered frustrating losses to the Atlanta Falcons (Sept. 18), New York Giants (Sept. 25), San Francisco 49ers (Oct. 2) and Buffalo Bills (Oct. 9).
Now, having won their last two against divisional foes, a 20-13 win over the Washington Redskins on Oct. 16 and a 34-7 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Eagles (3-4) are in a three-way tie for second place in the NFC East and the expectations and pressure seem to have ratcheted down to a level where the Eagles might actually have a chance to begin to mesh as a team and salvage the season.
"It's important you have the right attitude to correct mistakes," Reid, a former offensive lineman at Glendale Community College, told the Associated Press after the win over Dallas, which saw the Eagles improve to 13-0 following a bye week under Reid. "We'll continue to do that. We've got plenty of room to improve."
The second half begins with a Monday Night Football matchup against the visiting Chicago Bears that figures to be a battle between the Bears' hard-nosed defense and the Eagles' high-powered offense led by quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy.
"We look forward to the challenge of playing the Chicago Bears," Reid said in comments at a press conference posted on philadelphiaeagles.com. "They're playing good football and they're a good football team.
"We've had an opportunity to play them quite a few times, so they know us and we know them. It should be an exciting, good football game."
The former Glendale Community College quarterback's first season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders hasn't been without some unexpected twists and turns, but Jackson has kept the Raiders on course, and in a current three-way tie for first place in the AFC West, through it all.
The Raiders started out an up-and-down 2-2 after alternating wins over the Denver Broncos (Sept. 12) and New York Jets (Sept. 25) with losses to the Bills (Sept. 18) and the New England Patriots (Oct. 2).
Then the franchise was rocked to its core by the death of architect and patriarch, owner Al Davis, at age 82 on Oct. 8. The Raiders responded with a gritty 25-20 road win over the Houston Texans the very next day.
"[Oct. 8] was a tough day, but I could see the gleam in their eyes," Jackson told the Associated Press of his team on Oct. 9. "They weren't going to stop fighting. We truly, honestly believed that coach [Davis] was here with us today. I believe that wholeheartedly. I know he's looking down on this team and he's with us every step of the way.
"Trust me when I tell you this is coach Davis' football team. I'm just getting the opportunity to run it and lead it. Everything I do is with every thought (with him). That's going to be my guiding light as I go through this season."
Oakland followed up its emotional win over Houston with a 24-17 win over the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 16, but lost its starting quarterback Jason Campbell indefinitely to a broken collarbone in that game. Two days later, the Raiders completed a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals that sent a first-round draft pick and conditional second-round pick that could become a first-round pick to Cincinnati for holdout quarterback Carson Palmer.
"This guy can play and he knows how to play the game and he knows how to elevate the players around him," Jackson told the Associated Press of Palmer. "There's no question you go on offense as good as your quarterback is. I think he's one of the best and that's why he's on this football team now. I didn't bring him here because he was just a guy sitting out there. I brought him here because I think he can help this team win a championship."
Although he didn't start Oct. 23 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Palmer was forced into action when starter Kyle Boller faltered. Palmer threw three interceptions in the 28-0 loss, but will get a chance to redeem himself, and validate the trade, when he leads Oakland against the Broncos at home today coming of a bye week.
SET FOR DEBUT
After spending the offseason recovering from a broken ankle that ended his 2010 season on Nov. 14, Barden, a receiver with the Giants, was hoping to get back on the field sooner rather than later in 2011.
The Flintridge Prep graduate has yet to play a down this season, though, and its only been roughly two weeks since he was cleared to resume football activities. But today's game at New England will likely see Barden's season debut, as he was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Saturday.
With key offensive players Hakeem Nicks (receiver) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw already declared out, Barden, who has six catches for 80 yards in nine games through his first two seasons, could get significant usage in the passing game.
The Giants (5-2) have built a nice lead over the rest of the NFC East, which doesn't include another team with a record over .500. New York's schedule gets tougher beginning today, however, as four of its next five opponents, the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints are currently leading their respective divisions.
BY BACK TROUBLE
The Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman has missed some games this season because of a back injury he sustained just before the start of the season.
Britton, 24, who graduated from Burroughs High in 2005, has played in four of Jacksonville's eight games, starting three. He had worked his way back after being injured during the 2010 season when he suffered a herniated disk while lifting weights in August. The injury required minor surgery.
He missed the season-opener against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 11, but returned to action the next week against the New York Jets. On Sept. 25 against the Carolina Panthers, Britton made his first career start at left guard and helped pave the way for 122 rushing yards by running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
He did not play Oct. 2 against the New Orleans Saints, but returned to the lineup the next week, starting at left guard against the Cincinnati Bengals. During that game, however, he was moved to right tackle after Eugene Monroe left with an injury. He has not played since, missing games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Oct. 16), the Baltimore Ravens (Oct. 24) and last week against the Houston Texans.
Jeff Tully contributed to this story