Monday, January 08, 2007

Fly, Eagles, Fly

As a coworker of mine noted, at no point during yesterday's NFC Wild Card game were there two actively engaged football teams on the field at the same time. One got the definite impression that the Eagles had decided early on that they'd already won the game, and simply did just enough to get the W without exerting themselves unduly. The Giants, on the other hand, made their run early and then rolled over, only to perk back up when the Eagles couldn't be bothered to put the last nail in the coffin. In the end, though, when confronted with a determined, focused opponent with an actual game plan - at least on that final drive - the Giants folded like origami.

It wasn't a surprise, really. All day, their game plan hand been more recess scramble than coherent attack, full of "look-at-me-I'm-open" waves and bad route running. One expected that Manning was drawing up plays in the Lincoln Field mud, telling Shockey to run down to the blue car and then turn left, while Tiki could stay back to block the guy shouting "One Mississippi, Two Mississippi" on each down. As flustered as Eli Manning was by the psychedelic freak show of Jim Johnson's blitzes, his receivers didn't do him any favors by not looking back, not cutting routes short to help him out, and generally throwing him under the bus of the Eagles' defensive pressure. Jeff Garcia's receivers, by comparison, stayed with the play, frequently looked back quickly, and curled back when Garcia scrambled. This, along with Brian Westbrook's speed to the outside, is what really fueled the Eagles' offense, allowing them to chew up yardage and clock like Sean Connery chewing scenery, albeit only on those occasions when they were interested.

This should be the end for Tom Coughlin, the martinet with the rich, chewy center. Resorting to talking about recovery from first-and-30 on one drive when you lost the game and were thoroughly outplayed is the press conference equivalent of "great personality," or perhaps "winning and I have decided that we just want to be friends". For all of his flaws, he did get the Giants to the playoffs for two consecutive years in what was always a hard-fought division, but in the end, it was clear that the team was playing in spite of him, not for him, with him, or even near him.

As for the Eagles, they now take on a Saints team that they should have beaten earlier in the year, albeit without cornerback Lito Sheppard. It's an eminently winnable game, though Drew Brees is probably the one quarterback left in the NFC playoffs who won't be bamboozled by the relentless blitzes. One hopes that the Eagles show up for the entire game this time, if only to see what a truly interested performance looks like.
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