JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jim Johnson, the man who built an Eagles defense that was one of the best in the NFL this season, did not have an answer Sunday night after his team fell to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. He looked down, shrugged his shoulders and let out a tired chuckle.
Philly's defense game-planned for New England's screen passes, even saw them coming -- and still couldn't stop them on the Pats' final touchdown drive.
"Yeah, we knew [the screen] was coming," Johnson said. "We just didn't get to it. It's as simple as that. As simple as that."
Johnson's defense gave up 24 points -- only 24 points -- to the Patriots here, playing New England closer than most people thought possible. But a couple of plays here and there got away from the Philadelphia defense, and that was enough to help the Patriots to their 24-21 win.
If you had to point to a single play that really did in the Eagles, you'd have to give the nod to the screen, an option every single NFL team has in its repertoire. It's an oldie-but-goodie, killer if-it-works call. It's a play designed to set up a wall of blockers on the outside of a formation for a shifty receiver, often a running back. It's most effective against overly aggressive defenses.
And Sunday night, it worked for the Patriots. Boy, was it a killer.
The screen pass was the New England's play of choice on its final touchdown drive of the game, a nine-play, 66-yard beauty that put the Patriots ahead 21-14 barely four minutes after the Eagles had tied the score. On the second play of that drive, New England quarterback Tom Brady threw a screen to backup running back Kevin Faulk on the left side of the formation for a 14-yard gain. That was just a hint of things to come.
Six plays later, on the second play of the fourth quarter, the Pats went to the screen again. Brady spread the formation, putting three receivers on the left side of the line, then flicked the ball to Faulk on the right side. Faulk rode a wave of blockers 15 yards to set up CoreyDillon's two-yard touchdown plunge.
The worst part about the play for the Eagles is that they saw it coming, all the way. You could even hear them telling each other to look out for it.