While the 11-0 Patriots remain undefeated and in line to potentially register the NFL's first perfect season in 35 years following Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Eagles, perfection would be just about the last word one could come up with to accurately describe the play of New England's secondary.
"You are going to have bad days. You ever wake up and have a bad day? That's just what it was," said veteran safety Rodney Harrison after the team's disappointing effort against Philadelphia.
Fill-in Philly quarterback A.J. Feeley torched the Patriots pass defense for 345 yards and three touchdowns as the 24-point underdogs gave their unbeaten hosts a major scare in the march toward a potential historic 16-0 campaign.
Things didn't start well for Feeley, as Donovan McNabb's backup hit Pats cornerback Asante Samuel in stride for a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown on his second pass attempt of the night. And things didn't end any better for the passer or his team as Feeley also threw picks on his final two attempts of the night, including a dismal double-move pass from the Patriots 29-yard line late in the fourth quarter with the upstart visitors trailing by just three that also ended up in Samuel's waiting arms.
But seemingly every throw Feeley (27 of 42 overall) made in between found a home in the hands of an open Philadelphia receiver. Brian Westbrook had a team-high seven catches for 40 yards, but the usual focal point of Andy Reid's West Coast attack was not the driving force of the attack this night. Feeley spread the ball to eight different receivers, all catching at least one ball for 12 yards or more.
"You have to give them a lot of credit. They came out and they made plays," Harrison said. "They had a great game plan. Feeley played well. We didn't play particularly well. But you can't take anything away from them. They made plays."
The big numbers from Feeley and Co. left at least one member of the New England secondary a bit surprised.
"I was," said cornerback Ellis Hobbs. "Any time we go into a game, we understand that you can't cover everything. You are going to give up certain things. But the things that we want to cover we have to cover. We didn't do a good job of that tonight.
"We put a lot of emphasis on Westbrook, keeping him contained, understanding that a lot of their offense is surrounded by him. He wasn't the one who hurt us today, really. But that's how it goes. The great thing about it is, what makes us a great team is that we're able to adjust on the fly and in the end make plays."
Samuel once again showed his value in the secondary and made the plays in the end that were the difference. But that doesn't totally cover up the inadequacies in the Patriots defensive backfield that showed up against Feeley and the Eagles.
Sunday night's performance was clearly the low point to date for the New England secondary. Maybe, as Harrison said, it was simply a bad day. But the unit has let receivers run free at other times this season, especially in the early portions of blowout victories that were still actually competitive.
If a backup like Feeley -- a guy who surprised the Patriots once before in leading his Dolphins to a December upset in 2004 -- can find such frequent openings, other passers will be looking to do the same in an effort to match points with New England coming down the regular-season stretch and into the postseason. Harrison and Co. know it.
"He showed tremendous composure. The guy really looked like a Pro Bowler back there," Harrison said of Feeley. "But you know, we had opportunities to knock the ball down and we didn't. We're going to have to look at the film and we have to get better. We can't go into next week and the week thereafter playing like this. Our secondary, we struggled a little bit. But the good thing is we'll learn from it and move forward."