PHOTO: New England Patriots' Tedy Bruschi sacks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in the first quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005. Officials initially ruled that McNabb fumbled the ball, but the call was reversed after a challenge by Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The Art of Hindsight
By Chris Goodhue, Site Contributor
It wasnt just the infamous last 5:40 of the 4th quarter that killed the Philadelphia Eagles. There were certainly other points in the game in which the Eagles could have taken advantage. A closer look at these instances, one can see the differences between New England and Philly, and why the Patriots have been so successful close games like this one. The Patriots know their strengths and weaknesses, but probably know their opponents strengths and weaknesses better. Taking these factors into account, the game wasn't as close as the final score might indicate.
The Eagles could have done any number of things differently to change the outcome of the game. Any one or two of the following list may have allowed the Eagles to win. Had they done all of them, they undoubtedly would have been celebrating with the Lombardi trophy.
Top 5 things the Eagles should have done to beat the Patriots
1. Ran with McNabb: It was obvious early in the game that the Eagles were not going to be successful running up the middle with Brian Westbrook. In fact even Westbrooks rush total of 44 yards on 15 carries is deceiving. Half of those yards (22), came on the last play of the first half when the Patriots were playing prevent defense expecting the deep ball. In effect, it was more like 22 yards on 14 carries, or 4 ½ feet per carry.
The national media was unrelenting in their assessment of how the Patriots could be caught off guard having played pocket passers during the season, never having faced a team with Donovan McNabbs athleticism. That threat never materialized. McNabb ran once for no gain during the 4th quarter. A far cry from what many experts predicted.
2. Used T.O. in the Red Zone: Hes huge! At 63 T.O. towers over the defensive backs on the Patriots roster. He had no receptions inside the 20-yard line. McNabb couldnt have at least once thrown him a jump ball in the corner of the end zone to take advantage of that mismatch? Lucky for the Patriots, the Steelers tried it with Plaxico Burress in the AFC Championship and missed. Terrell Owens in the same position would make that play, pins in his ankle or not. He played like a man possessed, and it's unlikely any Patriots defensive back could have stopped him one-on-one in the red zone..
3. Covered Mike Vrabel: Didn't Jim Johnson, Andy Reid or the Eagles defense spend the last two weeks watching game film? Anyone else who watched the Patriots this season knew that when they saw #50 line up as a tight end, the ball was probably going his direction. Even if they turned back to last year at this time, when they were out of the playoffs watching from home. They must have turned on Super Bowl XXXVIII to see Vrabel catch a pass from Tom Brady for a touchdown.
Instead of having someone to help cover Vrabel off the line, Jevon Kearse had to try to hold him to stop a clean release into the open. In spite of Kearse's hold, Vrabel did his best Lynn Swann impression making an acrobatic catch for the score. Even if it wasn't a completion, the holding penalty would have given New England a first down and four more shots at paydirt. Terrible preparation and execution on a play they should have expected.
4. Picked on Dexter Reid more: Other than the late fourth quarter touchdown pass from McNabb to Greg Lewis, the Eagles never really attacked the deep middle where rookie Dexter Reid was playing for injured safety Eugene Wilson. Most of the year, when a third safety was needed, linebacker Don Davis got the call. Reid played so sparingly during the season that his inexperience had to be a well known fact. It was an open invitation for them to make that their main focus point to attack. Even a 13-year old playing Madden NFL on the Playstation, knows that when a starter goes down in the secondary, you attack it like Kirstie Alley attacks a buffet table.
5. Protected the QB better: The Patriots sacked McNabb four times and forced him to make bad throws repeatedly. Even his touchdown pass to Brian Westbrook was thrown off his back foot. It didnt appear that fullback Josh Parry saw much action other than running plays, and tight end L.J. Smith was running routes much more often than acting as a third tackle. The Eagles kept trying to attack the Patriots defense while leaving McNabb to try to escape the rush with his feet. Then again, that was probably a necessity since Freddie Mitchells hands didnt show up.
6. Not wasted so much time: Philly fans must have been gone insane at the clock management, or lack thereof, by the Eagles coaching staff. With 5:40 left in the game, down by two scores, there was no sense of urgency to be found. McNabb didn't rush players up to the line, and the rest of the offense looked like they were in no hurry to speed things up either.
During that period the initial plays that they were making werent substantial gains.
The first 4 plays: 4 yard pass, 4 yard pass, 5 yard pass, 2 yard pass. Four plays, 15 yards. Down by two scores the Eagles needed to be more aggressive.
The next 7 plays: Incompletion, 10 yard pass, incompletion, McNabb run for no gain, Freddies hands make a guest appearance for 11, incompletion, 13 yards to Westbrook at the 2 minute warning. Two plays later, Lewis burned Dexter Reid for the touchdown.
It took 14 plays for the Eagles to go 79 yards and by the time they found the end zone, almost 4 whole minutes were wasted.
The Eagles had opportunity, but like any neophyte, they made mistakes. Unfortunately those mistakes came back to haunt them.
Chris Goodhue has been a leading fantasy football and baseball expert since 1999. He can usually be found at a local Boston area sports bar settling arguments of sports history, but in case you can't find him out there, send your questions and feedback to cgoodhue in the Insider Forums
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