September 14, 2003
Patriots Take Flight, Soar To Victory
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
PHILADELPHIA -- The story of the evening was a haggard Donovan McNabb, beaten and battered, standing over center in the fourth quarter, wishing this was all over.
He slouched as he stood behind Hank Fraley, a look of total despair and defeat written all over his face. The exhausted Eagle quarterback took the snap, took three steps back and fired a pass into the right flat.
The pass hit Tedy Bruschi right between the 5 and the 4. Bruschi literally walked in from 18 yards for the score that put the exclamation point on this one. It was 31-10 Patriots, which would be the score when the clock read 0:00. This wasn't just a beating of the Eagles (the first win by the Patriots over the Eagles in 25 years), this was a brutalization. McNabb wasn't beaten, he was pulverized.
And when McNabb later ran his final play of the game, you had to feel sorry for him. On a play which wouldn't surprise anyone if it got either Andy Reid or offensive coordinator Brad Childress fired, McNabb was trying to "rally" his team down three touchdowns by rolling right on first and ten at the Patriot 35. All his speed gone and spirit sapped, the immortal Matt Chatham came rushing in from his backside and caught up with McNabb with ease. He clobbered McNabb, knocked out the ball and Anthony Pleasant picked up the fumble. It was the sixth and final turnover of the game for the Eagles, and it was disgusting to watch, even for a Patriot fan.
Talk about a rebound game, the Patriots certainly got it. On a day where Tom Brady regained his silken passing touch and Christian Fauria seems hell-bent on becoming the next Mark Bavaro, the Patriot defense rose up and played one of the more inspired games in recent years. There was clear mission, energy and passion in their game, as the Patriots attacked McNabb all night long and pounded the Eagle quarterback literally into submission.
As the Eagles continued to sputter in their brand new stadium (they were shut out by Tampa Bay Monday night, 17-0), and as their ornery fans continued to boo louder than they yell "Dooooooce!!!", the Patriots completely righted their Milloy-less ship and played with an intensity Lawyer would have been proud of. Except for some brainless tackling technique by Tyrone Poole which helped the Eagles score their only touchdown of the day, the Patriots put a total clamp job on the Eagles' offense. Despite the great passing numbers by Brady, the defense is what led the Patriots to victory on Sunday.
Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel devised a stunning game plan based largely on blitzes and tight coverage on Todd Pinkston and James Thrash. Thrash did manage six catches for 80 yards, but none of the grabs did much damage at all. 37 of those 80 yards came in the fourth quarter with his team down 24-7.
The defense sacked McNabb seven times, two of them by Willie McGinest, who was subbing for the injured Rosevelt Colvin (who was hurt after recovering a second quarter McNabb fumble). In addition to the two interceptions, the Patriot defense also forced five Eagle fumbles, three by McNabb. Despite being flagged twice for 15-yard facemask tackles, Poole led the team with six tackles, with Bruschi trailing right behind with five.
There wasn't anything real fancy about what the Patriots did. CBS's Phil Simms commented that former Redskin coach Joe Gibbs used a constant blitzing strategy to help contain running quarterbacks. This is pretty much what Belichick and Crennel did all game long. Whereas this strategy backfired against Kurt Warner in the 2001 regular season loss to the Rams, it worked brilliantly against McNabb. McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Bruschi and Rodney Harrison came in all night long and from all directions. It was too much for an otherwise talented Eagle defensive line to account for.
Because of this, McNabb averaged nearly nine yards rushing to counteract his lousy pass stats. He finished 18 of 46 passing for 186 yards and two picks. He also rushed six times for 53 yards. Much of this yardage, as is usually the case with McNabb, was forced on him due to having to scramble out of the pocket most all night long.
The design was nice, to be sure. But what helped the execution was the energy level of the Patriots. Obviously eager to put last week behind them, the Patriots showed that they can move forward without Milloy, and still play at the high levels of intensity he helped to bring out here in New England. The Patriots may still have won, but total domination of McNabb and his mates was largely due to the energy of the defense. The Patriots literally played like the Bills did last week.
The defense overshadowed a stunning performance by Brady. Coming off the worst performance of his career last week, Brady used multiple wideout sets and attacked an injured Eagle defense. Brady finished 30 of 44 passing for 255 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked twice, but neither sack proved costly. Brady's passer rating was 105.8, compared with McNabb's 33.4.
Brady looked a little shaky in the early going, mostly in the first quarter. But Brady twice found Fauria for touchdowns (all he does is catch them, folks), one in the right corner of the end zone for eight yards, and one over the middle for five yards. Brady also rifled a pretty 26-yard scoring toss to Deion Branch in the third quarter, a terrific deep slant pattern which hit the speedy Branch right in stride. Branch led the Patriots with 89 pass receiving yards on a day where Brady connected with ten different receivers.
This column mentioned Saturday that this might be one of those games where the Patriots don't need to run the ball to win. This was certainly the case, as Patriot running backs averaged only 2.1 yards per carry on 30 carries for 62 yards. With Brady riddling a banged up Eagle secondary, who needed Kevin Faulk or Antowain Smith? Things were so pass happy that Brady had one fewer carry than Faulk and ran three keepers.
Patriot Nation can rejoice in seeing the fiery spirit back in the team. With the retooled defense and its new strengths, showing that last week was an aberration was huge. Beating a top tier NFC team on the road the way they did is really something to squawk about. Familiarity was there (a preseason game four weeks ago) as was the injury bug, but the Patriots did what they had to do and then some.
And an effort like this could not have come at a better time. When all things seemed lost, when the season looked like it was down the drain after last week's stinker at Buffalo, the Patriots instead came out of this game looking better than ever, and ready to mount a serious run at returning to the playoffs this year.
And you can bet your boot that McNabb feels a hundred times worse this week than Brady felt last week, and in every way imaginable.
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