August 24, 2003
Is There Such A Thing As A Big Preseason Win?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
It's going to be this easy in Week 2. Right?
This is the same Eagle team that hosted the 2002 NFC Championship Game? Well, maybe so, given that in the football finale at old Veterans Stadium, the Eagles cut a stinker which sent Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl. Seven months later, at home in their new digs, looks like nothing has changed. The Eagles simply hate to play at home.
This is absurdly facetious, of course. The Eagles were recently installed at two Las Vegas sports books as the favorite to win this year's Super Bowl. Donovan McNabb was rated the top quarterback in the NFL by The Sporting News. The Eagle offensive line is one of the league's best. It's doubtful Troy Vincent will have as bad a game in Week 2 as he did on Friday night.
Some experts have done backflips and somersaults over the Patriots' 24-12 win over Philadelphia on Friday night at brand new Lincoln Financial Field. Some went so far as to suggest that Patriot Nation should start making their hotel reservations for Houston in January. The Patriots took the NFC runner-up at home and treated them like a hungry Ted Washington holding a hot, delicious hoagie sandwich. As Keith Jackson (and we don't mean the former Eagle tight end, mind you) would say, whoa, Nellie.
And everyone assumes that it's only the fans who get misguided and premature euphoria.
Was it a nice game to watch? Absolutely. Did the Patriots look good? In most areas, yes. In what is usually the prime dress rehearsal for the regular season, should the Buffalo Bills begin having nightmares at this time? Perhaps.
However, it is our duty to calm everyone down and lay some sense of that awful word known as "reality" on everyone. The Red Sox know what "reality" means (translation: do the Red Sox still look like a team which will finish the year hitting .300 as a team and at least make it to the World Series?). "Reality" in Foxborough versus Yawkey Way is a bit different, we admit, but down in Norfolk County, it deals more in assessment rather than in panic and submission to the inevitable.
That said, let's focus on a few areas and see what we really have with these deposed Super Bowl champs.
Who really wants the ball?
Would you feel safe installing Kevin Faulk as the starting tailback and hand him the ball 20-25 times per game? In what has become somewhat of a pendulum personified, now the momentum has swung back to Faulk and a growing feeling of consternation has been leveled on Antowain Smith. Faulk clearly had the better game, rushing for 39 yards on 10 carries. Smith did next to nothing, only 26 yards on 14 carries.
Granted, the offensive line is not the best at the moment. You have Bill Conaty at center, as both Damien Woody and Dan Koppen are banged up. Right tackle still has not been reconciled (and if James "Big Cat" Williams is the long term fix, if I were Adrian Klemm and Kenyatta Jones, I would take ostrich lessons real fast, you know, how to bury your head in the ground), and Matt Light still looks like a better guard prospect than a left tackle. But they pass blocked pretty well Friday night, and kept Tom Brady healthy and happy.
Given all this, the only running back finding much of anything is Larry Centers. For the second week in a row, he had two carries and a great average. Does this suggest that Centers be the top dog? Please. But something is amiss if Centers emerges as the best rushing threat this team has.
Still, if Brady has games like this, where he throws three touchdown passes and has a passer rating of 116, the rushing game doesn't become that critical. But it is preseason, and when the games count, Brady will need some help.
With one week left, three things need to happen. Woody needs to heal up, someone needs to claim the right tackle job, and Faulk needs to declare war on Smith. Anything to fire that big guy up and make everyone believe that he is back to his 2001 form.
Maybe there's nothing to worry about. Both J.R. Redmond and Antoine Womack were let go on Sunday morning. Looks like Centers is staying, as he basically replaces Redmond. Or perhaps a veteran is out there, begging Bill Belichick to take him.
Why run to the house when we already have a house?
We promise that any jokes made in reference to the size of Washington are done totally in jest, written only to engender a slight chuckle out of you. In all seriousness, if Washington is this good after one day and no practicing, and if he stays healthy, several Our Fathers and Hail Marys are in order. It doesn't matter which Almighty, if any, you believe in. The trade for Washington may turn out to be the biggest event of the preseason, and it could define the entire year.
This is one area which can be spoken about in gleeful terms, irrespective of what time of year it is. Washington exceeded all expectation placed on him Friday night, as he stepped right in and made a difference in the defense. He stuffed Correll Buckhalter for no gain on the first drive, then on the third drive drew a holding call on Hank Fraley. Both plays killed each drive. Ted Johnson was quick to point out how easy it was for him to roam around and make plays with Washington down low tying up blockers.
Actually, the best assessment of Washington comes from the Chicago camp. Brian Urlacher won't comment on the trade out of pure and utter disgust. Washington was sort of a safety net for Urlacher, who was named the top NFL inside linebacker by The Sporting News. Bryan Robinson was more vocal, saying that \"Ted was our biggest leader, make no mistake. He was the guy who got us going. Here today, gone tomorrow. That\'s the way this league is. If it shocks you and you\'re upset about it, you\'re in the wrong business.\"
More vanilla for everyone to enjoy
If McNabb looks this bad in four weeks, put a crown on my head and a scepter in my hand and call me Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
Sacked three times? One carry for two yards? He did complete 12 of 19 passes and had none intercepted. But this is not McNabb. At least not what the Patriots will see when things count.
McNabb is perhaps lucky he didn't wind up like James Thrash, though it was his fault which caused Thrash to get thrashed like he did. In what perhaps was the defining moment of the game for the Eagle quarterback, he overthrew Thrash on a pass in the right flat midway through the second quarter. Thrash leaped and tried to come down with the ball. Ty Law laid a clean (and not a hard) hit on Thrash, causing him to somersault backwards and land at the base of his head. The game was stopped for 25 minutes as players on both teams wept and prayed (David Patten had his hands up in the air). Thrash was okay, but it was scary as all get out and McNabb was beside himself.
Simply stated, things will be different next time. The offensive line will block better and not commit stupid penalties. McNabb will find areas of no containment. Someone, perhaps not Todd Pinkston, will take Asante Samuel to school. Now that Duce Staley is finally back in the fold, he will occupy Belichick's thoughts mightily.
Moral of the story: (forgive me if this sounds like repetition) Calling this a "huge win" is folly because it is preseason and these teams meet again in four weeks. The Eagles will bounce back, and will likely use this game as inspiration.
The nice thing is that the Eagles had darn well be well prepared for a Patriot squad that also will be a lot better, too.
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