(Philadelphia, Pa) — Everywhere that I have gone since the Eagles 31-28 three point loss to the mighty Patriots — another one to match their Super Bowl 39 deficit — is that they have a “moral victory” to lean on. Well people I am here to tell you that in the NFL there are no “moral victories” as only wins in the official standings count when the season is over. Every NFL team can point to “shoulda woulda coulda” games that were almost victories, but the best teams find ways to win tough close games. Sure I was happy to see the Birds go all out in a game no one including yours truly gave them any chance to win (NFL record tying 24 point underdogs). But in the end the pretty girl talked to them and they went home without her number. What I did notice was that the Eagles had a flow and spark that has not been seen since their week three 56-21 rout of the Lions. We saw an onside kick recovery, a flea-flicker, an almost pass by a receiver, no sacks allowed by the O-Line, a sack by an Eagles linebacker (Chris Gcong), inspired play from our quarterback, a Greg Lewis sighting (two touchdown catches), physical defensive back play, only three penalties and a “no fear” attitude throughout the entire team from embattled head coach Andy Reid to all forty-seven players that suited up for the Birds. Were these spark filled changes due to AJ Feeley (27-42, 345, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) being under center instead of franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb… hmmm maybe so (more on that later), but either way the game was a loss.
I don’t know if the Patriots are starting to become complacent, but they had a team in front of them for four quarters for a change – See other NFL teams, they are human after all. The Eagles’ 21 first-half points were the most scored against the Patriots in the first half this season. The Birds never backed down until Patriots CB Asante Samuel intercepted a long A.J. Feely pass intended for WR Kevin Curtis in the end zone with 3:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. The drive like many in the Eagles history tortured their fans as their team went on a long seven-play 71-yard drive that ripped their hearts out again with a game-ending turnover. The turnover bug once again was the Eagles undoing as they had zero takeaways, but three costly giveaways including Feeley being picked off three times including Samuel returning forty yards for the games initial score. In order to make the transition to a playoff team from now 5-6 the Eagles must improve on their NFC low 11 takeaways.
The Birds took away the Patriots running game (15 rushing plays), but they were unable to contain the Patriots passing game — season high 54 pass plays for 380 of the team’s 410 total yards — especially slot receiver Wes Welker, who recorded season highs in receptions (13) and yards (149). The Patriots went with a four-wide receiver formation the entire first half and Eagles just couldn’t cover everyone as star receiver Randy Moss was limited to five catches for 43 yards receiving, but former Eagles receiver Jabar Gaffney and Welker were often times wide open. The defensive backs physical play often times caused a hiccup in the Patriots rhythm and potential MVP Tom Brady (34-54, 380, 1 TD, 0 INT) was limited to just one touchdown pass as the “Golden Boy” didn’t reach at least three touchdowns for the first time this season. The Patriots also had an uncharacteristic seven penalties and at least two almost interceptions that I counted, but the Eagles just couldn’t grasp the few straws America’s Team was leaving them.
Forget the “moral victory” talk as Andy Reid said after the game “Obviously, there are some good things we can take out of this game and there are also a ton of things we need to work on”. Reid added, ” When you’re playing a good football team turnovers can affect the game”. The lose could possibly show the Eagles the right direction to finding their five straight win 2006 season ending mojo, but not taking advantage of the Patriots vulnerability and not winning have to be sticking points. I do not think that the season is lost, but it maybe time to start thinking of the unthinkable and giving the reigns to AJ Feeley if McNabb is not healthy. I don’t know if it is the impending doom around McNabb (I believe he will be gone at the end of the year), Feeley’s timing in running a system he loves, or the team responding to a new challenge, whatever the reason we saw an Eagles team that was focused, spark filled, cohesive, and ready to play in a season where their middle name has been “inconsistency”.
Everyone will have to live with “almost” for Game: Mission Impossible and welcome to a full fledged “quarterback controversy” Philly. The whole situation eerily reminds of the 1992 version of the Eagles where former often injured superstar quarterback Randall Cunningham came back from a knee injury only to face questions of was fiery backup Jim McMahon better for the team. That season ended with a wild card loss to the Redskins, but we will have to see where the 2007 version leads us with McNabb and Feeley stepping into the roles. One thing is for sure is that the airwaves, water coolers, and lines at your favorite hoagie shop will be buzzing with “Who should start at quarterback for the Birds in their must win game against the Seahawks??” Whomever the quarterback is under center for the Eagles this week, everyone including the team needs to put the “moral victory” in their rearview mirror and concentrate on making their playoff push as the Eagles are tied at 5-6 with the Redskins, Saints, Cardinals, Vikings, and Bears vying for the NFC’s last wild card spot.