I hate to write about the same thing so close together, but after writing about the Eagles just a couple of days ago, here we go again.
That was the title of my article on Saturday: ‘Here We Go Again’, relating to the resumption of the Eagles rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale. It was going to be the season finale, because there was only a slim chance that the Birds could slip into the NFL playoffs. A number of different things needed to happen, one in particular being a longshot at best.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to lose at home to the Oakland Raiders. The Bucs would make the playoffs if they won in front of their rabid fans. The Raiders seemingly had nothing to play for in a lost season. It had all the makings of a Bucs blowout, and when Tampa took a 10-point lead into the 4th quarter you expected the Raiders to coast out of 2008 and Tampa fans to celebrate heartily.
But…wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, the Raiders did not roll over. They kept coming. They scored the final 17 points of the game. They beat Tampa Bay, and in doing so the Eagles fans watching at home or following the game in the Linc parking lot suddenly saw the door swinging open again.
That door had seemingly been slammed shut a week earlier. Last weekend, the Eagles had this same scenario. The teams that they needed to lose did indeed lose, and the Birds went into their game in Washington needing to beat the ‘Skins to take control of a playoff slot. They came out listless and lost without even scoring a touchdown, and thus were in this desperate position yesterday.
When the Raiders sacked Tampa quarterback Jeff Garcia, the dead-armed maniac who had miraculously led the Birds to the playoffs just two seasons ago, the clock ran out on the Bucs season, and that door again opened for the Birds. Even with that little favor from Oakland, the Eagles still needed another thing to happen. Either the Houston Texans had to upend the Chicago Bears, or the Giants had to beat the Minnesota Vikings.
So, Eagles fans found themselves in the unusual position of rooting on the G-Men. But the New Yorkers would not cooperate. Despite leading most of the game, the Giants lost to the Vikes on a last-second field goal. So the game in Houston was a must-win for the Eagles, and it didn’t look good early as the Bears bolted to a 10 point lead. But once again things went the Birds way. Houston rallied and held off Chicago for a 7-point win.
Suddenly, the Bucs and the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs thanks to their own inability to win the key game, and the Eagles playoff door was now completely wide open. It was down to a one game pre-playoff with those hated Cowboys. Whomever won the late afternoon game at the Linc would enter the playoffs on a high. The loser would see their season end in disappointing and disheartening fashion.
You expected that it would be a great game, with both teams coming out firing with all guns. It didn’t happen. The Dallas Cowboys showed up, but that was all they did. The Eagles, led by their fiery, rejuvenated, future Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins and their similarly revived quarterback Donovan McNabb delivered hit after hit, blow after blow, big play after big play.
In the first half, McNabb led the Eagles to three touchdowns, sneaking in for one himself and firing a pair of TD passes for the others, and the Eagles opened up a 27-3 halftime lead. In the second half it was the defense turn. Dawkins ripped the ball from two Cowboys carriers, and each time his defensive mates scooped up the fumbles and returned them for touchdowns. What was already a blowout turned into the greatest rout in the history of this legendary rivalry as the Birds finished up a 44-6 victory that put them into the playoffs.
Dallas took their high-salaried, big name roster home on what had to be an extremely painful flight home to ‘Big D’. No thought was sweeter for Birds fans than to send the Dallas party home in that manner.
A couple of months ago when the buzzards began circling this Eagles team for the first time, and their quarterback for what seemed like the umpteenth time, I would frequently defend Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid to friends and family. Only folks with short memories could look past what Reid has done here over the past decade. He has now taken the Birds to the playoffs for the seventh time in 10 seasons that have included five NFC east titles, four trips to the NFC Championship game and one Super Bowl visit. There has never been such a sustained period of success in the history of this franchise. To even utter any phrase that would suggest he should be replaced as the head coach is naive at best, and now should be considered downright stupid at worst.
As for McNabb, even being a longtime fan, and even believing that his physical skills would likely yield at least a couple of more strong seasons, I thought it might be time to turn the page and start to rebuild under the ‘quarterback of the future’ in Kevin Kolb. There were fewer low points than the back-to-back embarrassments of the tie in Cincinnati and the humiliating loss to Baltimore, and McNabb looked old and tired in those games. I joined the cause of calling for a change at the position, going back on my earlier defense of the QB.
I was wrong, and so was everyone else who called for McNabb’s head. The man has done nothing since he has been here, when healthy, but win for a decade. He is by far the greatest quarterback in the history of the Eagles franchise. He clearly is not physically old. He rose from the ashes of the Baltimore benching and proved as much over this last month.
No matter what the Eagles do in these upcoming playoffs, both Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb should be back next year, and the year after that, and probably the year after that as well. I was right earlier in the season to defend them. Now after yesterday’s historic, unforgettable victory, I can finally say it: I told me so.