CLEVELAND — Vince Young dubbed them the “Dream Team” in 2011. He’s gone, and so is a nickname that proved to be foolish.
It never fit the Eagles.
“I really didn’t think much of that either,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said of a moniker that turned into a punch line.
One season after talk of a Super Bowl title proved to be presumptuous and preposterous, the Eagles, who needed a four-game winning streak just to reach .500 and in doing so may have saved Reid’s job, think they again have a championship-caliber team.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie thinks so. He recently said an 8-8 record this season would not be acceptable, and Reid likes how his boss is thinking.
“That’s not what we are shooting for, so I’m all in on that,” said Reid, who will begin his 14th season with Philadelphia today against the Browns. “Jeffrey and I have a good relationship and we keep everything out on the table and that’s why we have had this thing going for 14 seasons.”
For him to have a 15th, the Eagles need to be a redeem team.
They staggered out of the blocks in 2011, following a win against St. Louis in the opener with four consecutive losses. Despite an offense that produced a franchise record for yards with quarterback Michael Vick and an All-Star cast of playmakers busting off big gains by the boatload, Philadelphia finished second in the NFC East, missed the playoffs and entered the offseason determined not to repeat the same mistakes.
There’s pressure to win, maybe more than ever.
“We want to go out and represent as best as we can as players for this team,” Vick said. “We’re going to go out here and make it happen. We’re all playing for coach, for Mr. Lurie, and for one another.”
Vick appears to be fully recovered from an injured thumb and bruised ribs, which limited him to just 12 snaps during the exhibition season. He didn’t make the trip to Cleveland for Philadelphia’s 27-10 win against the Browns on Aug. 24, when backup quarterback Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes. Vick’s health is the key for Philadelphia, as always.
“I feel good going into this game,” Vick said earlier this week. “I feel like I’m 100 percent, and I don’t really have any nagging injuries. I think I’m fully recovered. The last two weeks have really helped me get there. I’m just ready to go.”
That’s not what the Browns wanted to hear.
They’ll be missing at least two defensive starters — linebackers Chris Gocong and tackle Phil Taylor. A third, linebacker Scott Fujita, will be a game-time decision, and will have their hands full trying to contain Vick, who can take a busted play and make it magical.
“He’s a superstar,” said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who begins his second season amid an ownership change. “He can have a bad play, and then all of a sudden it’s a touchdown. That’s what makes him extremely dangerous. He can do it with his feet from outside the pocket. He throws the ball extremely well. He can beat you with his arm in the pocket; that’s what makes him very, very dangerous.”
Danger looms everywhere for the Browns, who have gone 1-12 in season openers since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999.
With one of the league’s youngest rosters — 15 rookies, one first-year and 11 second-year players — and a daunting schedule, Cleveland could be in for another long year. But Shurmur, who went 4-12 in 2011, likes his team. He’s confident the Browns, despite gloomy predictions from experts, will improve as the season rolls along.
“We’re going to see,” said Shurmur, who spent 10 seasons on Reid’s staff in Philadelphia. “Everybody has their opinions of my team. I love my team and I cannot wait to see them compete. We’ll see where we’re better.”
Their running game should be much improved now that rookie Trent Richardson has recovered from knee surgery.
The No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, Richardson returned to practice this week for the first time since undergoing a second operation on his left knee in the past six months. Richardson is expected to start against the Eagles, but the Browns likely are to use him sparingly so as not to risk a setback for a player who could turn around their franchise.
He’ll line up in the backfield behind another rookie, quarterback Brandon Weeden, the 28-year-old former minor league pitcher who already has displayed a veteran’s poise.
Weeden doesn’t rattle, and that might come from getting knocked around on the mound.
“I’m not a giant baseball guy or fan or anything like that,” Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “I’ve got to imagine when you’re a pitcher and they knock the ball over the fence on you, it’s not the shortstop’s deal, it’s the pitcher’s deal. It’s not the left fielder, it’s the pitcher. From my standpoint, he has that kind of toughness, he’s kind of steeled himself to be able to withstand some of those tough times that you knew inevitability you’re going to have.”
For the Browns, today is another beginning, another chance to start right for a change.
They haven’t won an opener since 2004, and they’re not projected to win this one — or many other games this season.
“It’s been like that since I’ve been here,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “No one expects anything out of us, so it actually puts us in a better position. We don’t have anything to lose, so let’s go out and play fast. What do we have to lose?”