PHILADELPHIA - It was more a party than a playoff game, with the Eagles pummeling Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and the rest of the Vikings, and a city convinced that this is its year to go to the Super Bowl, cheering itself hoarse over a game with less drama than a kindergarten production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
And now, it’s on to the NFC Championship game, and it’s time once more for the City of Disappointing Finishes to be afraid, to be very, very afraid.
Philadelphia beat the Vikings with relative ease, 27-14, with the second Vikings touchdown coming at the two-minute warning at the end of the game. The Eagles bustled into the locker room afterwards full of smiles and confidence, talking about how sharp they were, how loose they were, how great they feel.
It’s the playoffs, and teams should feel good when they win, especially when, at the end of the day, only three other teams are still in the tournament. But when you come down to it, all the Eagles did was lay a licking on a mediocre team that limped into the playoffs with an 8-8 record. All they did was beat the Vikings.
“We left a lot of points on the field,” said virtually every one of them, echoing the team line laid down by coach Andy Reid after the game. The implication of that is that they can do a lot better, score a lot more. The downside of that is that they also could do the same thing again against a far better team than the sorry Minnesota crew that limped out of town Sunday night.
“I just believe this is our year,” said middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who had a monster game.
You can believe that if you want, but the reality is the Eagles have no reason to be loose, not after what’s happened to them on NFC Championship Sunday in each of the past three years.
It’s seared into the memory of every Eagles fan like a brand on the flank of a steer. The Eagles have been one win away from the Super Bowl three straight times and every time they’ve fallen apart.
There’s always been a reason. Three years ago, they had the Rams in St. Louis, and that was the year that team was trying to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The next year, McNabb was hurt and the Bucs were on a mission. Last year, McNabb hurt his ribs during the game and the Panthers had too much defense for the Eagles to overcome.
This year should be the charm, but should be is a long way from will be. It is true that the Eagles have been the best team in the NFC all year. It is also true that the Falcons have come in under the public’s radar, a team known for having Michael Vick, perhaps the best athlete ever to play quarterback in the NFL, but not known for much else.
But the Falcons showed that they’re more than Vick in beating the Rams to get to the championship game. They have the best running game in the league, made better by the attention that defenses have to pay to Vick. Their passing game isn’t the greatest, but with Vick, it doesn’t have to be. More important is that they have a defense that can put pressure on a passer and cover underneath; except for a couple of big plays, they shut down one of the best passing offenses in the game.
The Eagles may be the favorites on paper, but Atlanta is no pushover. And without Terrell Owens, out with detached ligaments in his ankle, the Eagles are not nearly as explosive as they were with him.
They showed against the Vikings that they are still powerful, with a big offensive line that gave Donovan McNabb enough unencumbered time in the pocket to compose sonnets while looking for his receivers. But the Eagles, without Owens, aren’t dangerous in the sense that they can explode at any time and from any place on the field.
They didn’t talk a lot about Vick and what they’ll do to stop him. From Reid on down, they said they’ll take a day to enjoy this win before working on their game plan for Atlanta.
They know it won’t be easy. Vick is the fastest man on the field no matter who else is out there with him. He’s also got a strong arm and a running attack that can eat up clock and opposing defenses.
If he has a bad day, Vick can be very, very bad. But if he’s on, as he was against the Rams, he can make All-Pros look silly.
And Sunday, he’s coming to Philly with the Falcons. That’s not supposed to be a good place to come or a good place to be. The Philly fans are loud and passionate, the Philly weather is cold and wind-whipped. You come to Philly in the playoffs, you come in as the underdog.
Which should be good for the Eagles. Except that for two straight years now, teams that have faced that situation have gone on to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles know that. They say they’re loose. Don’t believe it.
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