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Eagles look to prove last year was aberration

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PHILADELPHIA (AP)

Were the Philadelphia Eagles underachievers or overhyped last year?

The Dream Team failed miserably to live up to enormous expectations, finishing 8-8 only because they won four straight to end the season. But winning nothing didn't stop Michael Vick from saying this summer that the Eagles have the potential to be a ''dynasty.''

''I know that we are very tough,'' Vick said. ''We are a very tough football team. I know we have guys on this team who care and who want to win. We'll go the extra mile to make sure that we have a great chance of having success.''

The first step to becoming a dynasty is winning one Super Bowl. That's something the Eagles have never done. Their last NFL title came in 1960.

''I think any team is ready to win the Super Bowl,'' Vick said. ''I think it's all about the mindset that is created among the players and among the coaches. I think, more so than anything, the players have to be able to come together and put it all together when we're out on the field. I've said it before that our coaches can't play for us. They can only coach us up on what to do. We have to go out there and execute it, and believe and trust in them. Usually when we do that, we have success.''

Simply making the playoffs isn't so easy in the tough NFC East.

The New York Giants are defending Super Bowl champions, the Dallas Cowboys have Tony Romo and new talent on defense, and the Washington Redskins won't be a pushover with Robert Griffin III at quarterback.

''You take one play at a time, one practice at a time, you bust your tail and you work hard, and then good things happen,'' coach Andy Reid said. ''And so that's what we are going to do and that's what I believe in.''

This was a particularly difficult training camp for Reid. His oldest son, Garrett, was found dead in his dorm room at Lehigh University on Aug. 6. Garrett Reid was volunteering as a strength coach with the Eagles and had a friendly relationship with many players. The team rallied around Reid, and several players dedicated the season to Garrett.

''Garrett was a brother and friend to us,'' All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy said. ''When Coach Reid and his family are down, we're down also. It's up to us as brothers of his and sons of his to back him up.''

It could be a make-or-break year for Reid, who enters his 14th season as coach. Reid has led the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, six division titles, five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl loss. But he could be running out of time unless he delivers that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Owner Jeffery Lurie admitted days after last season ended that he thought long and hard about making a change. It became even more clear that Reid could be on the hot seat when his agent Bob LaMonte stirred up controversy just a week after Garrett Reid's death.

LaMonte said Lurie told him ''that as long as he's the owner of the Eagles, Andy Reid would be his coach.''

That prompted a quick denial from Lurie.

''As much respect as all of us have for Andy Reid, it is the nature of the profession that all coaches, executives and players are evaluated each year,'' Lurie said. ''That's the way we have always operated. But our focus right now, and I know Andy feels the same way, is solely on the 2012 season.''

So, this just could be a win-or-else season for Reid.

With Vick, McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles have a dynamic offense. But they'll need Vick to stay healthy, even though rookie Nick Foles was impressive in the preseason.

Vick hurt his thumb in the first game and his ribs in the second one, ending his August with only 12 snaps. He's missed three games each of the last two seasons because of injured ribs.

''He knows that he needs to stay healthy,'' Reid said. ''He still needs to play competitive football though, and aggressive football. There is just a time and a place for everything in life and on the football field and he understands that.''

The key to Philadelphia's success will be a revamped defense under second-year coordinator Juan Castillo, who struggled after making the switch from coaching the offensive line.

The Eagles focused on defense throughout the offseason. They acquired two-time Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans to fill a major need. They also drafted three defensive players in the first two rounds, taking tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round and linebacker Mychal Kendricks and end Vinny Curry in the second.

''It's exciting because we have some really good young players,'' Castillo said. ''Some of those young guys have a chance to help this year.''

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Eagles, Redskins, Michael Vick

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