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In-game edge (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday February 8, 2005 12:52PM; Updated: Tuesday February 8, 2005 12:52PM
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Roman Phifer and the Patriots defense were able to harass Eagles QB Donovan McNabb.
AP

Weis, they say, hates to repeat himself. He's almost impossible to type. He sure showed it Sunday. On the other side of the ball, on defense, the New England complexities involved personnel switches.

Roman Phifer, just about forgotten in the Patriot defense, became a key man against the Eagles, going as both a rush and drop LB. Ted Johnson, the tough-guy inside LB, wasn't on the field against the Colts in the Divisional Playoff, but he was a key man against the Steelers. Then he went to the bench again in the Super Bowl, until an attempt to run the ball was smelled.

So the Patriots took command, but toward the end of the first half they suffered a real setback. Gene Wilson, their free safety and the guy assigned to Brian Westbrook when he lined up in the slot, the Eagle RB's most dangerous position, broke his arm and was out of the game. His place was taken by little-used Dexter Reid.

"We've been down that road before," Phifer said. "You don't have time to worry, you don't have time to panic. For two years now, we've had to play with whoever the coaches put in when someone got hurt. We're used to it."

Well, the Eagles burned Reid twice for TDs, first with Westbrook on an underneath crossing pattern out of the slot, then on a 30-yard post to Lewis. But by then it was too late because it seems, and I don't really know how to put this, that somewhere along the line, the two-minute offense has been lost from the Eagles' game.

Maybe it's because they hadn't been involved in enough contests in which they had to come back late, to win it. Maybe it was because McNabb was having such an erratic game. But Andy Reid played it like he was the tortoise that was going to catch the hare with a slow and steady approach, emphasis on slow. Maybe he figured this game would last five quarters instead of four.

Down 10 points with 5:40 left, the Eagles snailed their way down the field, taking lots of time in their huddle, coming up to the ball slowly, throwing underneath. There was no sense of urgency, just as there hadn't been for the Steelers in the second half of the Championship game against the Patriots. Maybe New England casts some weird spell on opponents in big games, takes them out of their two-minute offense, freezes their minds, or something. It was depressing to watch. Reid mumbled something about being careful and making sure he got points on the board, but I don't buy it. When you're down by more than one score, your two-minute offense has to begin immediately.

Reid had done it at the end of the first half, too. With all their time outs left, the Eagles had the ball on their own 19 with 1:03 showing. They ran three plays, up to their own 41, then called time out at 0:10. Super Bowl, fellas. Biggest game of the year, you dig? Guess they didn't.

And how about their final series of the game? Ball on their own 4, thanks to the fact that they had chosen to rush everybody and not drop someone back on Josh Miller's punt, which, in itself, didn't make sense. Forty-six seconds left. A desperate situation but not entirely hopeless.

One-yard checkdown to Westbrook, clock running. Incomplete pass to Owens on a short slant. Interception. Ballgame over. Has there ever been worse Super Bowl game-planning in the clutch than the Eagles showed Sunday? The sad thing is that there were really some heroic performances from them. Owens, occasionally limping on the ankle that had been broken and dislocated, was magnificent. I was so sure he wouldn't be a factor that I gave him a brush-off in my pregame matchups, and for that I'm sorry.

Well, I still have to look at the Super Bowl film and try to break down the parts of the game that eluded me on Sunday. If I come up with anything shocking, you'll be the first to know. How did I rate this Super Bowl? Interesting, as all of them are. Fascinating, actually. As far as the entertainment value, you'll have to ask someone else about that. Football never has been entertainment to me. There's something in it that's too deep and too honest for that.

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