BY MIKE WOLVERTON SPORTS GUY Overmatched. Outschemed. Outmuscled. Outcoached. Outplayed. Outclassed. It seemed like the Eagles never had a chance. They did have a chance, early on, if they could have moved the ball. But apparently this offense, which set a team record for points scored, was only built to run up big numbers against crappy teams. Against the Cowboys, Donovan had no time. He was frequently able to buy time, but when he did, he would invariably let loose with an off-balance bullet that failed to hit the target. The Cowboys were carving up the Eagles’ defense, but sacks and penalties conspired to keep them off the scoreboard in the first quarter. At the end of one it was a three-way tie: Philly 0, Dallas 0, McNabb Completions 0.
This was the time for the Eagles to turn the game in their favor, but they couldn’t get anything going against Dallas’ tough defense. It was inevitable that the Cowboys would score, because the Eagles were having a difficult time slowing them down. The ‘Boys run game was just as effective as the passing output, as the Igs defensive weaknesses were painful to see. (During the player introductions, instead of “Virginia Tech”, Macho Harris said he was from “Beamer Ball, Hokie Nation.” Except I’m pretty sure Beamer Ball doesn’t teach tackling without using your arms.) It was clear that Dallas was going to put up points, and the Eagles would have to be just as productive. And they got a lifeline when Michael Vick’s first play resulted in a 76-yard tying touchdown to Jeremy Maclin. But this big play just served to accentuate the ineffectiveness of the Eagles’ regular offense. When Vick completed his pass in the 2nd quarter, Donovan still hadn’t connected on a single throw.
The turning point of this game (if you accept the premise that a Dallas victory wasn’t preordained) came when Sean Jones’ interception was overturned on a replay challenge. Had the pick stood, the Eagles would have had the ball in Dallas territory, tied 7-7, and holding all the momentum. A score at that point and maybe things would have been different. But the call was correctly overturned, Dallas marched down the field for a touchdown, and the Eagles were never in the game again. The bright spot for me was that I fell asleep during parts of the second half (it was 1:00 AM as I had to do the “TiVo tape-and-watch”, but the fact that I couldn’t stay awake during an Eagles playoff game tells you all you need to know. It was that hopeless.) There’s no point in rehashing the rest of this nightmare…Dallas was better, the Eagles deserved to lose, end of.
So what’s next? There was so much speculation this week about McNabb playing for his future with the organization. His contract has just one more year and Kevin Kolb is waiting. If there is any truth to the conjecture about McNabb needing to play well to be in the plans for 2010, then you’d have to say he failed the test. And if this is the end, it will be a sad, sad way for Donovan to go out, with two losses to “them.” But something tells me that even though it might make sense to turn to Kolb, we’ll see #5 under center for the Birds in 2010. And what of Vick? He provided the lone spark on the night, but also drove the nail in the Eagles coffin when his second play resulted in a fumble that Dallas recovered, leading to a score. It seems unlikely that Vick will be back if Donovan returns, but I could envision Vick as a backup if the Eagles turn to Kolb. Vick may be looking for a starting gig, but his role in Philly didn’t allow him to show other teams that he was ready to start.
It became clear to me that had the Eagles’ offense not failed them Saturday night, their defense would have let them down eventually. It just isn’t a Super Bowl unit, and clearly injuries were a big factor. The Eagles have justifiably tried to address the offensive line but have shot a couple blanks (please, no more Andrews brothers). Solidification of the line is needed, and aside from that all focus should be on the defense, primarily safety. I’ll give Mucho Harris (as in “Mucho yardage to be gained by attacking Harris”) a bit of a pass as he is a rookie — the front office will have to make their own judgment of his progress — but this was a glaring defensive weakness. And the linebacker situation must be addressed. It is strange to be writing a postmortem on a flawed team just two weeks after the Eagles looked like a possible favorite in the NFC. But they were found out by a better team. There are some genuine young star players to work with, and I’m sure the Birds will be in contention again next year. But it will be a fascinating off-season in Philly, one that may see the ouster of the best quarterback in franchise history. Stay tuned….