Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Miracle

Somehow, they got in.

Neither Oakland nor Houston should have won against better teams, teams that had something to play for, but they did. They gave the Eagles a chance to sneak into the playoffs, and the Eagles grabbed it with both hands.

A week after abandoning the running game (5 rushes in the second half), Andy Reid suddenly discovered it again, and piled up 137 rushing yards against the Cowboys. The defense was monstrous, keyed by huge plays from Brian Dawkins. DeMarcus Ware, leading the NFL with 20 sacks coming into the game, was never even close to tying the NFL record of 21. The Eagles dominated the 'Boys in every phase of the game, further driving home the choking image of the Cowboys. Consider these December records: 1-3 this season, 5-8 with Romo at QB, 0-3 against the Eagles. There won't be any chance for them to "improve" upon their recent 0-2 playoff record this season, thanks to a 44-6 blowout loss in a game they had to win. Jerry Jones should fire himself as GM immediately.

The Birds travel to Minnesota next week and have a very good chance of winning. The Vikings are an excellent running team, but they are one-dimensional on offense. And their defense...well, it's not so good against the pass (music to Andy's ears.) But let's be honest, this week is just a bonus. After that disastrous performance against the Redskins, just making it to the playoffs is a huge and undeserved surprise.

This game opens up some very interesting questions for next season. Dawkins was incredible, forcing two key fumbles that led to TDs, capping off a Pro Bowl season with his best performance when it mattered the most. He did look a step slow at times this season, but he embodies everything you want in a football player - he makes game-changing plays at the biggest moments of the biggest games. At 35 years old, what kind of contract do you offer him? His replacement (Q Demps) has already been drafted and has shown a lot of skill. But how can you afford to let go of Dawkins, after a performance like that?

Offensive tackles Runyan and Thomas have played at a very high level as well. The Eagles allowed only 23 sacks all year, one more than the team record of spite of passing 170 times more than the year they set the record. Thomas was single blocking Ware most of the game today, and didn't give up a single sack. Both their contracts are up, and they are both old, but they continue to play at a high level. The Eagles do not make a habit of re-signing players over 30, let alone 35, but all three of them made a strong statement that they deserve consideration for an extention after the season.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, the long months of the offseason will offer plenty of opportunities to ponder these roster moves...for now, it's all about winning that next game, and making the most of this unexpected gift.

I was wrong about a lot of things this football season, as I usually am, but I feel the need to own up to a couple of them I was especially adamant about. I'm too lazy to link back to the blog posts where I made the predictions, so just take my word that I was wrong:
  • The Patriots went 11-5 without Tom Brady, and I have to give credit to their coach, even if I despise him. They didn't beat a single good team all season, instead padding their record against the likes of Rams, Raiders, Chiefs and Seahawks. Versus teams that won the four AFC divisions, their record was a miserable 1-4, including three losses of 20+ points, with the lone win coming in a division contest against the Dolphins. (Note: In compiling that stat, I'm giving the West to the Chargers, although that game is far from over.) Yet winning 11 games in the NFL is no small feat, and I would not consider the Patriots to have above-average talent without Brady, especially when you take their injuries into account. So I reluctantly give credit to the coaching staff there, and admit that my prediction of a sub-.500 finish was way off base.
  • Brett Favre did not play better than Aaron Rodgers this season, and it does not look like the Packers would have fared any better with him at QB. He played like a buffoon in the last four games, throwing one TD and seven picks, finishing the season as the league leader in INTs. His horrible play, combined with Chad Pennington's resurgence in Miami, will probably lead to the firing of GM Mike Tannenbaum and coach Eric Mangini in New York. Favre needs to hang it up, right now, and just stay retired this time. It's one thing when a Pro-Bowl caliber QB wants to unretire...but when a stumbing, bumbling, turnover machine wants to give it another go, it's sad to watch. Take whatever shreds of dignity that remain to you and go home, Brett. It's over.


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