The build-up to the NFC Championship playoff game was enormous. And accordingly, speculation over the ‘keys to the game’ ran from the Nor’easter that deposited over a foot of snow on Philadelphia to the Falcons’ swift defensive ends; from versatile Eagle running back Brian Westbrook to the Falcons’ two-headed ‘thunder and lightning’ running game of Duckett and Dunn. But ultimately and appropriately, the game really came down to the two quarterbacks, Falcon Michael Vick and Eagle Donovan McNabb. And when all was said and ‘Dunn,’ the fourth NFC Championship Game in as many years proved to be the charm for the Philadelphia Eagles, who prevailed and earned the rather dubious honor of facing the dynastic New England Patriots in the upcoming Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Eagles D played a disciplined game, diligently refusing to overpursue Michael Vick or RB Warrick Dunn. Defensive lineman Derrick Burgess and linebackers Keith Adams and Jeremiah Trotter clearly loaded up on Chunky Soup, successfully containing Vick and forcing the young QB to try and beat them with his arm as opposed to his legs. And that, football fans, was Eagles head coach and resident genius Andy Reid’s game plan. Vick threw for a grand total of 136 yards, no TDs and one interception.
But of course, this is an oversimplification. The Eagles also deserve props for the tremendous job they did in shutting down Falcons running backs TJ Duckett and Warrick Dunn, and for reducing TE Alge Crumpler, Atlanta’s leading receiver, to nothing more than an afterthought. And that underscores an issue that has stalked the Falcons for several seasons now, and quite possibly cost them this NFC Championship game: the lack of a vertical, field-stretching wideout. Peerless Price was brought in several seasons ago to serve as the team’s #1 WR. Price simply isn’t #1 material, however. Lacking speed and separation ability, Price is more of a possession guy than anything else. This year’s first-round pick, WR Michael Jenkins, was drafted to be a deep threat … but he seems to be a pricey bust.
The Eagles offense, on the other hand, was able to move the ball even without their #1 wide receiver, Terrell Owens. Proving his great versatility, RB Brian Westbrook was effective both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. The Eags’ ability to run made McNabb much more effective and ironically, it was McNabb’s scrambling ability that made all the difference on this frigid Sunday. Eluding a very good Falcons pass rush that made life miserable for Rams QB Marc Bulger last week, McNabb’s scrambles bought time for the Philly pass catchers and was part of Reid’s brilliant offensive scheme. TE Chad Lewis was the greatest beneficiary of McNabb’s arm, recording a pair of TDs.
The Falcons thoroughly dominated the St. Louis Rams on both sides of the ball last week, but that game was played on the fast turf of the Georgia Dome and not outdoors, on natural grass, in the brutal northeastern cold. Likewise, in the Wild Card playoff game last week, the Eagles dismantled a Viking team that possesses a dynamic offense but also prefers playing in a dome.
So, the upcoming Super Bowl XXXIX promises to be one fantastic showdown boasting a variety of storylines.
1. Two brilliant head coaches in the Eagles’ Andy ‘Ben Franklin’ Reid, and the Patriots’ Bill ‘Obi Wan Kenobi’ Belichick, try to outscheme one another.
2. Two great running backs, the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook and Patriots’ Corey Dillon, face off.
3. Two of this generation’s greatest quarterbacks, Eagle Donovan McNabb and Patriot Tom Brady, meet for the ultimate prize.
I have no idea as to how the upcoming Super Bowl is going to shake out; the two teams are evenly matched. Even with their litany of injuries the Patriots have won every game that matters. Likewise, the Eagles have overcome significant injuries as well. One thing is certain however: Superbowl XXXIX promises to be a great game!
Jamey Feuer is the Children’s Librarian for a large New Jersey community. Often, parents will bring their little ones to his library with the primary motive of talking sports with Jamey.