Sunday, December 27, 2009
Eagles make it look easy -- for a half
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
Brent Celek and Jason Avant were part of an Eagles offense that sputtered in the fourth quarter.
PHILADELPHIA -- As we speak, the Philadelphia Eagles are the hottest team in the NFC. While the Vikings and Saints have stumbled down the stretch, the Eagles (11-4) keep stacking wins.
The hard part is figuring out how much to read into the Eagles' six-game winning streak. Midway through the third quarter Sunday at the Linc, I was ready to make them the odds-on favorite to reach the Super Bowl. They had pulled off one of their patented lightning-quick drives to go up 27-10 and it appeared the visiting Broncos were just about done. But a couple plays involving Eagles rookie Macho Harris turned the game around and the Eagles were forced to claw out a 30-27 win.
That the Eagles were able to survive this game speaks to their character, but it is not something they want to try on a weekly basis. This is the most explosive offense of the Andy Reid era. A couple of years ago, this offense would have gone in the tank without running back Brian Westbrook. But now he's merely a complementary piece in the Eagles' high-powered offense.
In the first half, the Broncos assigned All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey to cover wide receiver DeSean Jackson at all times. Quarterback Donovan McNabb responded by hooking up with tight end Brent Celek four times for 121 yards and a touchdown. Matched up with a linebacker in the first quarter, Celek made a one-handed catch for 31 yards to set up the Eagles' second score.
The Broncos finally dropped into zone coverage in the second half and it paid immediate dividends when Bailey intercepted McNabb on the Eagles' second play from scrimmage. The Eagles answered when Jason Avant made a brilliant adjustment on a ball that was deflected by Broncos safety Renaldo Hill. Avant's touchdown put the Eagles up 27-10, and they appeared to seal things when cornerback Asante Samuel picked off Kyle Orton at the Eagles' 8 yard line. But Harris was called for unnecessary roughness during the return and Samuel was flagged for spiking the ball. The Broncos finally held the Eagles and started their next drive at Philadelphia's 25-yard line.
A stunned crowd watched the Broncos score two touchdowns in 49 seconds to pull within 27-24. The Eagles' offense went flat and the Broncos' blitzes started to bother McNabb. The Broncos tied the score with Matt Prater's 46-yard field goal with 6:11 left in the game and actually losing to Denver became a possibility for the Eagles.
Facing a third-and-25 on the ensuing drive, McNabb turned back the clock in racing 27 yards for a first down. The Eagles ended up punting on the drive, but McNabb's mad dash saved them from poor field position. When the Eagles got the ball back with 1:41 left, McNabb fired a 27-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was barely able to keep both feet in bounds.
"We work on that sideline drill every day in practice," Maclin said after the game. "It's hard when you come from college because you only have to get one [foot] down. But I knew had it all the way."
It was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but the call was overturned when the booth asked for a replay.
It was the third time this season the Eagles have either overcome a deficit or tie in the fourth quarter to win. That is the most they have had since 2006, when Jeff Garcia was filling in for an injured McNabb. And though it is a good sign that the Eagles are capable of winning close games, they certainly do not want to see large leads evaporate.
"It's something we can't keep doing," Celek said. "It takes a toll on you to keep putting yourself in that position week after week. I don't know why we seem to have the lulls here and there, but we need to get it fixed."
The Eagles could still overtake the Vikings (11-3) as the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC. But right now they are focused on beating the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas next Sunday to win an outright NFC East title. Everything else will take care of itself.