I was handling the Eagles' Super Bowl loss much better last night, in the immediate aftermath of the game, than I am this morning. Perhaps the ten beers I drained over the course of the evening had something to do with that.
Though I think this loss would sting less if the other Philadelphia teams didn't suck so badly--if not the Eagles, who will ever break the 22 year (and counting) title drought?--the game itself presented plenty of teeth-gnashing fodder. A handful of plays that could have turned the outcome. A huge one was the 3rd and 10 in the second quarter, right after Brady's fumble and with the Eagles up 7-0, when Donovan just missed an open Freddie Mitchell. A first down there would have given the Eagles tremendous momentum. Instead, Dirk Johnson shanked a punt, New England got it back inside the 40, and went on to a quick game-tying score.
The defensive inability to stop New England on a number of third-and-longs in the second half was clearly a killer. And most of our best defenders--Jevon Kearse and Brian Dawkins in particular--were quiet all game. Nobody on the defensive side of the football stepped up and made a play, and again and again we saw the Patriots pick up Eagle blitzes to give their damnably pretty quarterback just enough time to get the ball away. There's no particular shame in surrendering 24 points to an offense that balanced and talented, but no glory in it either.
But in another sense, it's kind of amazing how close the Eagles came. Think about all the direct comparisons:
- QB: Brady outplayed McNabb
- RB: Dillon outplayed Westbrook
- WR: Branch outplayed TO--though barely, and if this game proved nothing else, it did prove that TO need never pay for a drink in Philadelphia again)
- S: Harrison outplayed Dawkins
- LB: Bruschi outplayed Trotter
The Eagles turned it over four times, three times on New England's side of the field! McNabb reverted, at least in the first and fourth quarters, to the mistake-prone thrower of the NFC title game losses (though he also threw some rockets, the TD passe to Westbrook and Greg Lewis in particular). And yet the outcome was in doubt into the last minute of play.
I haven't yet read the Philly papers, and I'm not sure I want to, but I don't think sackcloth and ashes are called for. Hard as it is to stay among the elite teams year after year, to muster the focus and good fortune to play for a championship, this shouldn't be the end for this collection of Eagles. I hope Reid goes out and gets another running back through the draft in the Lamont Jordan/T.J. Duckett mode, and more size in the defensive interior would help, and prospective free agents Derrick Burgess and Jeremiah Trotter should be retained. But this is a great team, clearly the best Eagles team of my lifetime, and they should have a few more years yet to get this done with the current nucleus.