To take the edge of the Eagles’ season, and to make myself happy- I am re-posting some the “reviews” that preceded this Blog. Watching the slop put up now by five of the six NFC East teams in the play-offs, we all would do well to remember what a play-off team really looks like.
Anyone who doubts Donovan McNabb as a big game player must, to be fair, weigh this game, the 2003 Divisional Play-off Game versus the Green Bay Packers. Still the best game I’ve ever attended in my years and years of season tickets. The building was utterly wild. The tension absolutely never-ended. It was a display, distilled, of what makes the Our Precious League great:(Philadelphia, PA)
Sunday, in a grand and breathtaking display of raw will and stamina, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers 20-17, in overtime. The game was a credit to both franchises and to our League.
It is hard to imagine, to recreate for you, the utter gut wrenching evening at the Linc. Literally from the depths of despair- to an overwhelming civic joy and pride. If the Packers had made one more play- say, oh, seven or so times- they would have routed the Eagles right out of our Linc. Conversely, the Eagles had only one chance to go for the kill shot- but they made it. And therein lay all the difference.
There was a palatable air of excitement arriving at the first play-off game at the Linc. Pausing only to “ooh and ahh” the city’s brightly lit trophies- the heads of Steve Spurrier and Jim Fassel- the faithful arrived for church. Coming in to the fixture, the Eagles were a 5 1/2-point favorite- but in hindsight, charitably, that spread was misguided. Watching the game, it was pretty obvious the Packers were better, often substantially, than the Eagles at every position other than the secondary- and maybe quarterback. Plus, the Packers were almost injury-free- with only two low-grade starters (Antuan Edwards and Joe Johnson) missing, whereas the Eagles were without six (six!) key starters: Mayberry, Westbrook, Emmons, Vincent- and the entire defense line except Simon.
This disparity in ready talent was swiftly apparent as Favre went to work with brutal efficiency and enthusiasm. The Eagles, from the start, could not stop anyone running the football. The Pack finished with 210 yards rushing. This, coupled with an early Eagles’ turnover in their end, plus Favre hitting on two long play-action passes over the Eagles’ rookie CB, put the Packers up big early: 14-0. Then, the first quarter was ending- and the Pack was in control. Total control.
The Eagles took the kick-off, down that same fourteen, and quickly punted for what seemed like the umpteenth time.
So, during the next television time out (one of about a thousand Sunday), in the dark and bitter, bitter cold, the Eagles and their fans faced a gut check of tremendous proportion.
The defense loped hesitatingly onto the field. It started where it always does- upstairs- among the poor people. The people that pour just about two-days’ wages into each playoff ticket. This gathering roar clearly was certainly not joyful or hopeful, and it was not just noise for noise sake. As the PDN wrote, it was if the Agony of Defeat said “We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore.” Personally, I took the not insignificant amount of “restorative” I had laid aside for warmth in the second half and slammed it right then. The Eagles needed me, all of us, right now. The Devil take the second half. Many smuggled flasks were emptied right then. We needed energy to impart courage to the boys in green
You could see the green helmets look up!
You could feel the visible change of will.
You could see them dig in.
From that point on, the Eagles defense and the fans fused together- and decided collectively that we were not going quietly into the night. Sure, Green Bay was, and frankly still is, a better football team than us. So simply, the defense stopped playing football against the Pack. They stopped playing “foot technique”, trying to “shed” blocks, and pursuing “angles”. Instead, they began to flat-out smack people- to fight- and turned the game into something other than a civil affair featuring football plays. From that point on, it was a bitter, sometimes cruel, and always fervent, struggle. They conceded Green Bay’s offensive superiority- and instead turned it into a contest on just who was meaner, tougher, more determined. Green Bay ran for 210 yards, sure. Simon made many tackles eight yards downfield, as that is how far he was blown off the ball each play, struggling to play on one good leg. But he got up each time. Kalu was not brought in here to play running downs- yet there he was- plowing into professional blockers fifty pounds heavier than him- again and again and again and again.
210 yards looks gaudy in the box score. But on 4th and Goal from the one; they didn’t get a damned inch. Another 4th down- 4th and 1 with 2:30 to go; they didn’t dare try it. Did not dare. As Favre was reduced to drawing them off-side, and Philly refused to budge, the indignant, furious howl that went up from the masses was magic. Tears, unabashed tear were rolling down our cheeks upstairs- freezing there as badges of honor. Favre could have barked at them for a week, and they wouldn’t have moved. Sherman knew they weren’t getting that yard- no matter what. 210 rushing yards and he punted- punted!- rather than try to get one more. He was right to do so. They weren’t getting it. Green Bay. Fourteen points in fourteen minutes. And just three (three!) the rest of the way.
Meanwhile Reid coolly surveyed the wreckage of his offense. Stymied and broken, they could not run or pass. I could almost hear Airman in the booth. “They need to establish the running game” and other such nonsense. This was an emergency all right. Forget rational behavior. He did the one thing, the one thing that could save this day. He looked square at Donovan McNabb and said, “You are handling the ball every single play”. Apparently, he meant it literally.
For example, here is the Eagles second TD drive. Do you kind of get the theme, the topic sentence, the gist?:
TODD PINKSTON 12 YD PASS FROM DONOVAN MCNABB (DAVID AKERS KICK) 0:12
Drive Info: 4:59, 89 yds
- McNabb 13-yard run to Philadelphia 24
- McNabb 23-yard pass to Smith to Philadelphia 37
- McNabb 10-yard pass to Pinkston to Philadelphia 47
- McNabb 15-yard pass to Staley to Green Bay 38
- McNabb 12-yard pass to Lewis to Green Bay 36
- McNabb 24-yard run to Green Bay 12
- McNabb 12-yard pass to Pinkston (Touchdown)
Other than two huge Staley runs on the last drive in regulation, McNabb absolutely killed the Packers from the second quarter on. Can we please stop pretending he is not the most valuable player in professional football? He set a record for rushing the football. He directed one touchdown drive where he accounted for 109 yards of offense (the field is only 100 yards long- he had to recapture 19 yards the other players lost!). He threw for two touchdowns- and we’ll be watching the second pass for only about one hundreds years. He broke like four tackles, spun completely around, ran for his life and has the presence of mind to throw a gorgeous ball to Todd Pinkston. The Eagles had 363 yards of offense- and Donovan had 306 of it. He handled the ball fifty-eight times in horrible weather- and did not throw an interception (of course) and lost one fumble early. After Green Bay realized the Eagles had literally ceased rushing the football, McNabb was sacked eight times. Yet Donovan kept chucking! As Andy Reid said, he was "firing with conviction".
Ultimately though, it did not matter. With 52 seconds to go, down a field goal, on their own 25, the Eagles faced….
The Fourth Down. Fourth and 26.
The play that will haunt the Packers forever was McNabb's 28-yard pass to Freddie “FredEx” Mitchell. FredEx always delivers! Okay, McNabb had been Houdini in cleats all night long, but this pass to Mitchell, this perfect pass that kept alive the Eagles' final desperate drive in regulation is probably one that gets him in to Canton on the first ballot. I love how it appears in the box score:
- McNabb 28-yard pass to Mitchell on 4th-and-26 to Green Bay 46
Akers then made the resultant kick, and that meant overtime.Musings on Overtime:
You are Brian Dawkins- the best remaining player on the Eagles’ defense- and you are invisible. That’s good of course, if you are, in fact, a strong safety for the day. As the last line of defense, if the strong safety is visible, it means someone just went seventy yards with you in hapless pursuit. Literally thousands of miles from your ancestral home, you are so cold. You have played more downs today than anyone else on the field and you are completely beaten up and physically exhausted- vomiting helplessly twice at the end of regulation. As the strong safety, your whole day has been miserable, totally devoid of glory. Due to Philadelphia’s totally inability to stuff the run up front, you have been wrestling with offensive linemen all day and tackling running backs running free in the clear. You made eight or so touchdown saving tackles by yourself. You cannot roam, blitz or freelance- as all hands are needed on deck, at the point of the attack. Again, you have been invisible- the strong safety- doing the dirty work of the NFL
Overtime in the NFL is the complete, most total crucible in sports. One instant- and a season’s worth of effort is over. Today, Favre has not made a bad mistake. Frankly, he is having a good day. Accordingly, on his first snap of overtime, he has that greedy look in his eye. As he drifts back to throw- he sees the blitz coming from the right side of his formation. With the linebackers coming hard, he knows Sheldon Brown is in coverage to the right with no underneath help. "I've beat that little guy deep twice already," Favre thinks. And Favre doesn’t hesitate- he puts it up.
But, you see, Brian Dawkins is invisible. And so Favre does not see that Dawkins has made the exact same read. Since Favre is knocked down as he throws, and his only clue to the terrible blunder he has just made is the unholy roar that greets the result. This roar is different than the urgent, desperate noise from earlier. This roar is raw, unadulterated joy. This roar is victory.
I will never forget the tableau as Dawk left the field: the swirling defenders, McNabb grasping for his helmet, Reid barking urgently into his headset, and perhaps most sweet of all, David Akers striding confidently to the kicking net- with Koy Detmer alongside. We can argue about Donovan’s merits, but you have to agree he is a ruthless quarterback when given the chance to get a kill shot. He moves the chains once, than twice. As he seemingly never turns it over- Reid keeps the ball in his hands. Akers makes the chip shot and Carolina has a date at the Linc next Sunday at 7PM.