You can come out of Sunday night's game and do what most people are doing, and continue to fellate the Patriots while slapping the Birds on the back for their moral victory, losing by only three to the Greatest Team In NFL History, Ever, quarterbacked by Tom He Just Plays Like a Champion (that's his Indian name). It's easy to do that, if it's the only Eagles game you've watched this year. It's easy to buy the idea that this is a good franchise that can sneak up on anybody, even the mighty, peerless Patriots.
Well, that's bullshit. I'll tell you what I take from the game: the Pats are not that good.
Let's get it out of the way now: how good is that good, exactly? They're the best team in the NFL this season. That's it. I'm sick of hearing all this other hype. I'm not convinced this year's Pats are the best team I've seen in the last three years, or in the salary cap era, or even that they're better than the '04 Pats. I've only followed the NFL for about 15 years, only really followed it for about ten, and they're not even close to the best team I've seen, much less the best ever. Who is? More on that later.
For now, let's discuss what happened last night. Not that you heard any of this from the announcers or studio analysts, but here's what happened. The Patriots went to the wire with a team that:
1. Was .500 going into the game, both this season and over the last three seasons combined. For those of you who remember the 2004 Eagles, know that this is not that team. This is not a good football team. This is a team that got embarrassed by the Cowboys and Giants this year. This is a last-place team.
2. Was playing on the road, in late November, in one of the hardest places to play in football.
3. Started A.J. Feeley at QB. Yeah, he played well, spectacularly except for a few bad throws -- even if those throws did cost them the game. But he's had enough NFL starts -- 20-ish -- to show exactly who he is and who he isn't. He isn't an NFL-caliber starting QB. Ask the Dolphins. And he spotted them 7 points right off the bat on a horrendous throw. A guy who's been starting all season doesn't come out and throw that ball on the third play. Now, I'm not saying Donovan McNabb would have won this game -- he wouldn't have, and there's no doubt in my mind, but that's a whole different post. Only that a pretty mediocre quarterback started in his place.
4. Started one third-string safety who was out of the NFL a few weeks ago (and got hurt during the game), and another who's 34 and banged up, against the best passing attack in the league. Both starting safeties dropped crucial interceptions that should have been caught pretty easily.
5. Was coached about as poorly as could be, offensively. The defensive game plan was great, and although I'm sick of Jim Johnson and his constant blitzing, the three-man front was brilliant. The no-huddle four-wide would have shredded a lot of defenses. But Reid and Morninwheg pulled all their usual bullshit, burning timeouts they'd need later, and -- in a move that would have given me a coronary if I weren't already expecting it, because I've seen the same thing so many times -- they called a deep pass pattern on the final drive, when the only reasonable gameplan in the world would have been to run the ball or throw short passes for two minutes and go for the tying field goal. Feeley made a bad throw -- LJ was open short -- but he never should have been put in that position.
6. Did not force a turnover, unless you count the turnover on downs when the Mastermind decided to go for it and the Second Coming threw a duck. Usually when a team loses to a lesser team, turnovers are the reason: a few freak fumbles, Eli Manning's three pick-sixes against Minnesota. The Pats dominated the turnover battle, including a pick-six two minutes in, and still barely won.
7. Got a grand total of 92 yards from its best player. That's 60 less than Westbrook has averaged on the year. It would be much more understandable if the Eagles were close because Westbrook blew up, but he was not much of a factor.
All that, and the Best Team Ever still needed a few breaks to win by three? Get the fuck out of here. A couple of things go the other way -- that inexplicable fourth-down offsides by the Eagles, which led to the Maroney TD; if one more safety was healthy, the Birds wouldn't have had linebackers on Welker all night; if they catch even one of those picks; if Feeley throws only one baffling interception to Samuel instead of two -- and the Eagles win.
(So right about now is when some of our faithful commenters accuse me of making excuses for the Eagles. But that's not what I'm doing here -- if I was going to do that, I'd mention how Brady false-started all game, stepping back and ducking his shoulders in an oft-successful attempt to draw offsides, but never got flagged for it, or how that Gaffney TD would have been reviewed if any other team in football scored it, or how, if you watch that fourth-down offsides again, it looks like a false start. But I'm not going to do that.)
What I'm saying is that there's a reason the spread was the biggest ever. The Eagles are a mediocre, banged-up team, and the Pats had looked like a great one all year. It was in Foxboro. The Pats had nobody injured going in. A historically great, healthy team at home against AJ Feeley? It should have been a massacre.
Except it wasn't, because the Pats aren't that great. Brady got rattled under pressure -- not that much pressure, either -- and started airmailing receivers or throwing what should have been interceptions. They dropped a ton of passes. Moss got jammed at the line and frustrated into irrelevance. Stallworth was invisible. They have no running game. Their linebackers can't cover for shit, so the middle was wide open all day. Their D-line couldn't get to Feeley. Their kicker missed an easy field goal.
So what? The Pats still won, right? Yeah, they did. And maybe winning -- even if it's close, even if it takes a little luck -- is the mark of a champion (barf). But I just don't want to hear it anymore about the fucking 2007 Patriots being the best team ever. The team I saw tonight wasn't even close to the early '90s Cowboys, as much as it pains me to use that hated franchise as a reference point. Or the Steve Young Niners. Those teams didn't need to play their best game -- no turnovers, a defensive TD, no key penalties -- to beat shitty teams at home.
The Pats' flaws were exposed today, and they are few but significant. They have no real running game. They have a bunch of geriatric linebackers who can play a mean fullback and tight end but can't cover anybody. Brady is human if you can ever get pressure on him (which rarely happens, because they have a great O-line, not that you'd ever hear it in all the Tom Brady fluffing). Outside of Asante Samuel, their secondary is pedestrian. Their D-line doesn't get much push. And if Brady sees pressure like he did tonight, you could be looking at Matt Cassell under center. He's been lucky so far, but look around the NFL and see how many starting QBs are hurt. One play could end all this history talk real quick. (Are you listening, Ray Lewis?)
If the Pats run the table this year, that says more about the sorry state of the NFL than it does about their greatness. I don't see it happening. If the Steelers or Giants don't get them, they'll still have to face a Colts team that ought to be healthier by then.
Either way, they're not the best team ever. Last night's game made that pretty clear.