With two full weeks of preparation, and two full weeks of being forced to listen to Eagles WR Freddie Mitchell’s mouth write checks that his body and ability proved incapable of cashing, the Philadelphia Eagles were about as ready to take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX as any team possibly could have been. To the untrained eye the teams matched up pretty well. And of the game’s numerous story lines, one of the most intriguing was the battle between the two quarterbacks. Brady, unassuming and cool under fire, vs. McNabb, a gifted athlete determined to be the first QB to best Brady in the big game. And while the final score was far closer than most expected, the game itself really wasn’t.
At first blush it would seem that McNabb posted very good passing numbers, going 30/51 for 357 yards and three TDs. But, he also threw three very costly interceptions. Brady on the other hand threw for a far less gaudy 23/33 for 236 yards and two scores, but significantly was never picked off. Now, that’s not to say that Brady conducted a flawless game, because he didn’t. But watching Brady you got the sense that he really was as under control as he appeared. That when push came to shove he would complete the pass that mattered, confident in his receivers’ ability to make the play. Watching McNabb, you just didn’t have that same sense. And McNabb received a heroic effort and far greater production from WR Terrell Owens (9/133) than anyone not named Terrell Owens could have anticipated. In short, the Eagles just couldn’t match the confident rhythm set by the Patriots.
But the Patriots’ third Super Bowl victory in four years was attributable to far more than just “Tom Terrific’s” efficient passing day. Nope, New England’s win truly was a team effort. Jitterbug receiver Deion Branch (11/133) made every catch and kept the chains moving with a record-tying day, RB Corey Dillon (18/75, 1 TD) kept Eagle defenders back on their heels and ran with great determination and power, and Pat scat back Kevin Faulk (8/38 and two receptions for 27 yards) proved to be Westbrook’s equal on this day, spelling Dillon and frustrating Philadelphia defenders on a pair of screen passes. Both Patriot backs helped keep their QB upright and relatively free of grass stains.
Meanwhile, the Patriots’ defensive game plan was relatively straightforward: stop Brian Westbrook and contain Donovan McNabb. And while they certainly succeeded in bottling up the versatile Westbrook, who rushed for a very pedestrian 44 yards (60 yards receiving), as for containing McNabb? Well, as effective as the Pats’ defenders proved to be, McNabb might have been more hamstrung by his team’s offensive game plan. McNabb, who possesses outstanding athleticism and very good speed, scrambled once for zero yards. Again that figure: 1 rush, 0 yards. No designed quarterback draws, no bootlegs, no nothing. This is Donovan McNabb we’re talking about here, not Chiefs QB Trent Green who’s about as elusive as a garden gnome. It almost seemed as if the Eagles were determined to prove a point in keeping McNabb in the pocket. Which I might add, collapsed with regularity under the weight of the Pats’ impressive pass rush yesterday.
On the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, the difference between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots wasn’t enormous, for the Patriots were assuredly not head and shoulders above the Eagles at the skill positions. There have certainly been far greater talent disparities in recent years. But despite Freddie Mitchell’s irritating protestations to the contrary, New England’s victory came as no great surprise to most fans and analysts. Invisible to the naked eye, the difference was the confidence, big-game savvy, and workmanlike approach taken by the Patriots. And by 10:45 PM Eastern Standard Time, the difference between the Super Bowl foes was enormous. New England had secured a dynastic third victory in four years … and the Eagles were left to ponder what could have been, hopeful that they might get another shot next year.
Jamey Feuer is the Children’s Librarian for a large New Jersey community. When not keeping tabs on his library’s collection, he finds time to write about football, baseball and basketball.
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