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Sunday, December 8, 2013
Philly blizzard: Super Bowl preview?

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA – This was fun. Despite a weather forecast that called for a mere dusting, the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles played in a surprise blizzard Sunday. Snow started falling about 90 minutes before kickoff, and it didn't relent until early in the fourth quarter.

The field was covered before kickoff. The grounds crew could not keep up. They shoveled the yard lines and goal lines at every opportunity during the game but opted not to plow at halftime. There was just too much snow and not enough time or places to put it. The storm won. In all, eight inches fell in Lincoln Financial Field during the Eagles' 34-20 win.

Imagine football in a snow globe.

It was a beautiful, iconic afternoon that no one who attended will forget. It just wasn't the way a Super Bowl should be decided.

But that's exactly what might happen.

Want to see what a Super Bowl in a blizzard would look like? Look no further than the Lions-Eagles matchup. This game was a preview of how Super Bowl XLVIII could look at MetLife Stadium in North Jersey, thanks to the National Football League's insistence on holding its signature event outdoors in cold weather for the first time.

Detroit fumbled the ball seven times, five on botched center-to-quarterback exchanges and four in the first quarter alone. Neither team attempted a field goal. It was touchdown or bust. Both teams went for two every time they scored a touchdown. After drawing a penalty on a two-point conversion, the Lions attempted a longer PAT, only to watch the Eagles block David Akers' kick.

Bryce Brown
Eight inches of snow in Philadelphia made for great images, but not necessarily great football product.

As they figured out what strategy to employ given the conditions, the Eagles finished the first quarter with minus-2 yards of offense. "God forbid we continue to do that, that was going to be a long day for us," Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly said. The Eagles entered Week 14 with the league's third-ranked offense but had only 90 yards by halftime and no third-down conversions.

Defensive backs could not stay with receivers on post routes or fades. It was so difficult to cover receivers running in deep snow that Eagles cornerback Cary Williams advised Kelly to go back to throwing deep in the second half. Kelly listened. And it worked.

Trailing 14-0 in the third quarter, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles hit wide receiver Riley Cooper with a 44-yard pass that finally got Philadelphia's offense moving. DeSean Jackson caught a 19-yard Foles pass on the next play to pull the Eagles within 14-6.

"It was almost like that kind of got us going, got our confidence back a little bit," Kelly said. "And then we got rolling there."

LeSean McCoy broke the Eagles' single-game rushing record by gaining 217 yards on 29 carries, but he needed to get through only a defense line essentially playing on ice skates and into the open field to score. McCoy scored on runs of 40 and 57 yards, both in the fourth quarter.

"They warned us it could be bad," McCoy said, "but not this bad."

It was, as Philadelphia rookie offensive lineman Lane Johnson said, "like cows on ice."

That's not the way football is supposed to be played. If it were, the season would open on Nov. 1 and go through the end of March.

It was certainly fascinating to see so much snow and players having to adjust. At halftime, players from both teams experimented with various shoes in an attempt to get better footing. It didn't matter. The snow fell steadily until early in the fourth quarter, when it slowed but never really stopped. In all, there were eight inches on the ground, with only the yard lines remotely clear.

Ball handling, as Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said, was "at a premium." It is why Philadelphia put Foles under center and utilized inside runs.

Linemen loved the game because it was decided in the trenches, but neither team resembled its normal self. Detroit had been stout against the run, yet gave up 299 rushing yards. The Eagles had been prolific throwing the ball, yet Foles completed only 11 passes.

Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford completed just 10 of his 25 passes and averaged 5.9 yards per attempt in driving snow.

Imagine if you worked the entire season to build your team's identity and then had to completely adjust because of a snowstorm in the biggest game?

That shouldn't happen. Severe weather should not be an issue. Rain is one thing, and that is bad enough. But a blizzard, in which teams can't kick field goals because the footing is so poor and offensive skill position players have a distinct advantage because defenders can't run and cut the way they normally do? That shouldn't be a concern.

Yet it could be on Feb. 2 at the Meadowlands, if the Farmer's Almanac is right. Its prediction for Feb. 1-3: "Intense storm, heavy rain, snow, strong winds. This could seriously impact Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2."

If there is a blizzard on the night of Feb. 2, it could turn out to be either the coolest game ever or a farce. Opinion would be divided, as it was between the teams that played Sunday in Philadelphia. It was a lot easier to enjoy the conditions if you were on the winning side.

Eagles center Jason Kelce had the best suggestion for what he'd like to see happen on Super Bowl Sunday.

"Hopefully it doesn't snow that bad," Kelce said. "But a little trickle down, that would set the mood off pretty well."

The NFL can only hope that is the worst thing that happens.