Run it up? On this night, the Patriots were reluctant to even run it.
Run it up?
On this night, the Patriots were reluctant to even run it.
And while the Eagles were unable to close the deal and reverse the result from Super Bowl XXXIX, dropping a 31-28 decision to New England at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid may have dropped a blueprint for beating “the untouchables” in the lap of the NFL.
This could be a case of “Reid it and weep.”
“As a team,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said, “I wish we had played a little bit better.”
Added Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after his team had been forced to break a sweat – a true NFL rarity this season: “They gave us a number of problems in all three phases of the game.”
Problems? Let us count the ways.
For better or for worse, the Eagles managed to come up and keep the potent Patriots’ offense off the field for eight minutes-plus at the start of the game.
Cornerback Asante Samuel’s interception and 40-yard return for a touchdown on the game’s third play from scrimmage had something to do with that. So did a ball-control offense that, once back out on the field, managed to take exactly seven minutes off the clock in a 14-play, 77-yard drive that culminated with running back Brian Westbrook going in from the 1.
After scoring on its first drive of the night, the New England offense didn’t take the field for its second possession until 11:18 remained in the second quarter.
Thank Reid’s “throw caution to the wind” approach for that.
Well aware that his .500 team had little chance of beating the unbeaten Pats playing them straight up, he ordered an onside kick – unconventional strategy, to be sure – after A.J. Feeley’s 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Lewis had evened the score at 14 early in the second quarter.
Really, given the fact that the Eagles were installed as 20-something-point underdogs, what was there to lose?
Wide receiver Hank Baskett recovered and, while the Eagles failed to capitalize and eventually were forced to summon Sav Rocca to punt, their coach had put them in a position to take the lead.
Along the way, the Eagles, with starting quarterback Donovan McNabb inactive with ankle and thumb injuries, exposed weaknesses in the Patriots’ defense.
At various times, Ellis Hobbs, then Eddie Jackson, then Randall Gay were beaten badly in the secondary.
Offensively, the Patriots faced an array of looks, the result being they were outnumbered at the line of scrimmage at times, the product of that being that Brady was sacked as often as he’s been at any time this year (three times, equaling his season-high total versus Dallas) and hit harder than he had been hit in any game this year.
The tone was set early when Eagles defensive end Juqua Thomas leveled Brady for a 7-yard loss on the Patriots’ third offensive play of the game.
“He hit me good,” Brady admitted.
The Eagles also made it a point to take away the deep ball to Randy Moss, limiting the Patriots’ deep threat to five catches underneath the coverage, none longer than 11 yards, for 43 yards in the game.
And don’t even bother looking for anything remotely resembling a pass-run mix in this one.
In the first half, Brady threw the ball 25 times and was sacked twice while the team ran the ball but twice – one a 1-yard TD run by fullback Heath Evans, the other a 12-yard scramble by the quarterback himself that marked the Patriots’ longest run in the game.
Laurence Maroney could have started his holiday shopping at nearby Patriot Place. The running back didn’t set foot on the field until 11:27 remained in the third quarter.
At night’s end, Brady had completed 34 of 54 passes for 380 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and wide receiver Wes Welker had registered career highs in receptions (13) and receiving yards (149) along the way.
Remarkably, though, the offense had produced fewer yards rushing (49) than pass attempts, running the ball only 15 times in the game as the Patriots took the spread formation approach.
“We thought that was the best way to match up with them early in the game,” Belichick explained.
If not for a clutch drive late in the game – a rarity in these parts, for it’s been seldom needed this fall – the Patriots would have been staring at a “1” in the loss column this morning.
Even special teams contributed to the Pats’ problems, place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski stubbing his toe when he was wide left with a 32-yard field goal, thereby botching an attempt that could have given his team a 27-21 third-quarter lead.
“There’s a lot to be happy about,” Brady said after his team had escaped with its 11th win of the year, “but a lot to learn from.”
Staff writer Glen Farley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.