I boldly made XVII predictions about Super Bowl 39. How did I do? I was hoping you wouldn't ask, but OK.
The Patriots will win. Check.
The Eagles will cover the spread. If you took the points, you made money.
You will eat way too many chips. Admit it. I'm 3-0.
Terrell Owens will catch a few passes but will not be a major factor. BZZZT! Owens caught nine passes for 122 yards and was the Eagles' best weapon.
And can we talk for a second? Just how impossibly amazing was that? I've already seen and heard a few variations on this thought among the nattering nabobs: "If the Eagles had won, Terrell Owens' performance would have ranked right up there as a classic case of overcoming injury to shine in a big game."
What I think my collegues mean is "If the Eagles had won, and we all liked Terrell Owens better, Terrell Owens' performance would have ranked right up there as a classic case of overcoming injury to shine in a big game."
Which is not to say that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb won't do some damage in the passing game. He did. To both teams. McNabb tossed for 357 yards and three touchdowns. He also missed some open receivers and made others break stride to catch the ball, and he threw three interceptions.
I was right that Todd Pinkston, a mediocre receiver, would step up. He had four catches for 82 yards, including a leaping 40-yard grab that helped set up the Eagles' first touchdown. But I was wrong that Freddie Mitchell, a little better than mediocre, would do the same. He had one 11-yard catch before leaving with leg cramps. Instead it was Greg Lewis who came through. After catching 17 passes for 183 yards in 10 games during the regular season, Lewis caught four for 53.
I was also wrong that Brian Westbrook would carry the offensive load. But the prediction was that McNabb would do some damage, and he did.
The Eagles' attitude will be talked about a lot in the aftermath of the game. I wrote that "if the Eagles win, their 'loose' demeanor will get a lot of credit. If they lose, it'll be said they were doomed from the start because they were clearly 'just happy to be there.'" I don't think this is happening.
Sideline reporters Pam Oliver and/or Chris Myers will talk about deaths in the families of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and defensive end Richard Seymour. Brady's grandmother got the full treatment from Myers, but without the predicted business of how the Pats rallied around their grieving teammate. If Seymour's family tragedy was mentioned, I missed it. Let's call this a whiff.
Another sideline report: The rehabilitation of running back Corey Dillon. Nope. Dillon's time in Cincinnati was mentioned in passing in the booth, but not by the sideline troops. I've fallen to .500 at 4-4
Brady will be the game's most valuable player, Dillon will have the most spectacular stats, and someone who makes two big plays for the Patriots defense will win the MVP award. A trifecta of incorrectness, arguably. Brady may have been the game's most valuable player, maybe not, but Deion Branch had the gaudiest stats and got the keys to the Caddy. But it wouldn't have been outrageous to give the award to Rodney Harrison, who intercepted two passes.
And by the way, the NFL and one of its official sponsors have hit on a way to make the awarding of the Most Valuable Player award as crass and trivial as anything in sports. After asking Branch one interview question, Terry Bradshaw reached into his overcoat pocket and said, "I've got something in my pocket I'd like to give you as the MVP of Super Bowl 39. The Cadillac of your choice. There's the keys, right there."
It looked like Bradshaw was telling Branch to go have a good time at the prom. For a second I thought he was going to give Branch his rabbit's foot.
Kevin Faulk will catch at least two passes over the middle that will result in gains of 15 yards or more. Faulk had a nice game, but not in this way. I'm 4-6.
Eagles pass rusher Jevon Kearse will not get a sack. Correct.
The Eagles will sack Brady at least three times, but he'll more than offset that by burning Philly blitzes with good reads and quick passes. They only got him twice.
There will be one commercial that almost everybody else thinks is funny that you will not think is all that funny. The guy working with all those chimps. Am I right? I'm right.
The Eagles will turn the ball over before the Patriots do. Harrison intercepted a McNabb pass at the Patriots 4-yard line for the game's first turnover. I'm on a roll at 7-7.
Paul McCartney will play that hideous song "Freedom" during the halftime show. Nope, he just played Beatles songs, plus "Live and Let Die," though he did, as predicted, refrain from any wardrobe malfunction jokes. But this is a miss. I have to say McCartney's performance was surprisingly entertaining. Beatles is it? Maybe I'll check them out.
After the Patriots win, there will be ridiculously earnest discussions about whether their run of three Super Bowl titles in four years constitutes a "dynasty." Maybe there are Packers, Steelers or 49ers fans arguing the point on talk radio somewhere, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of debate. "The Dynasty Is Official," says the New York Times. It's there in the papers, it must be the truth.
The game will not be decided on a last-second field goal, but it will still be in doubt in the final minute, and it will be considered one of the most exciting Super Bowls in history. Well, it wasn't decided on a last-second field goal and it was technically in doubt in the final minute. The Eagles did take possession with 46 seconds left. But if this goes down as one of the most exciting Super Bowls in history, I'll have to wonder what game I watched. Interesting, but not an all-time classic. Let's call this one a draw.
That leaves me at 7-9-1. I think that's the kind of mediocrity you can expect from this column on a consistent basis.
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Was the Eagles' onside kick a mistake? [PERMALINK]
I've been surprised at the number and vigor of the letters I've gotten criticizing the Eagles for their onside kick with 1:48 to go. Most of the criticism in the media seems to center on Philly's poor clock management in the endgame, when the Eagles seemed not to notice or care that they were losing and time was running out.
The Eagles, trailing 24-21, had two timeouts left. Their onside kick failed. After the Patriots went three and out and punted, Philadelphia took over at its own 4 with 46 seconds to go and no timeouts remaining. Rodney Harrison intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass on third down to clinch the game.
Here's how one reader put it: "Why didn't the Eagles kickoff deep, hold the Pats there and make them punt from their own end? The Eagles could have had the ball somewhere near midfield with the same 46 seconds -- or better field position had somebody ripped off a nice return. It made no sense for the Eagles to give the Pats such an advantage. And none of the announcers seemed to pick this up. It wasn't clock management, it was field-position management that cost the Eagles a legitimate shot at winning."
The popular view among the typists and talkers seems to be: Had the Eagles managed the clock better, they might have scored their touchdown with maybe three minutes left, rather than after the two-minute warning. Then they wouldn't have had to kick onside. The assumption being that Philly had no choice but to try the onside kick.
Big assumptions on both sides. I don't think the decision was a slam dunk either way.
It's easy to say, as my reader did, that the Eagles in that situation should "kickoff deep, hold the Pats there and make them punt from their own end." But it's not so easy to do it. A single first down wins the game for the Patriots.
Sure, the Eagles held after the onside kick, but that's because field position dictated that the percentage play for the Pats was to run it into the line three times and, if necessary, punt it away. On their own 20, say, the percentage move would have been to run their offense.
The Eagles had stopped them without a first down on their previous possession, it's true, but taking a longer view, stopping them without a first down was something the Eagles hadn't been doing very much.
By my count, dating back to New England's first possession of the second quarter, the last 23 times the Patriots had walked up to the line on first down, the Eagles had stopped them without allowing the next first down four times. That's about a 17 percent success rate for the Philly defense.
According to a figure I've seen reported here and there -- but which I can't vouch for -- about 24 percent of anticipated onside kicks are recovered by the kicking team. I'm still trying to nail down the correct stat. This one seems a little high, but not outrageously so.
At the time of the onside kick, I thought Eagles coach Andy Reid made the right call. After thinking about it and doing this figuring, I still feel that way. I liked the Eagles' chances of recovering that kick better than their chances of holding the Patriots without a first down. But I can understand the opposite point of view. Either choice is a longshot.
I do agree, though, with my fellow thumbsuckers that the Eagles were far too leisurely when they took possession with 5:40 to go, down by 10 points, and then again on their final possession. Brian Westbrook is being criticized for catching, rather than dropping, a pass over the middle at the line of scrimmage with defenders all around him on that final possession, but I'm more forgiving of a heat-of-the-moment, almost instinctive play like that than of the Eagles' taking more than 20 seconds to line up again after it.
Reid has defended the Eagles' approach, saying they were aware of the clock but didn't want to go to a no-huddle approach because that limits offensive choices, and the Eagles wanted their entire arsenal at their disposal against that tough New England defense.
Well, I could argue the point that a no-huddle offense takes options away from a defense too, making it less effective, but I won't because Andy Reid knows more about a single off-tackle running play than I know about all of football, flag and paper-triangle football included.
But I know a thing or two about a man making excuses after the fact, and I think that's what Reid's doing here. The Eagles should have stepped on it, and everybody knows it.
Previous column: The Super Bowl
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