You’re traveling through another dimension, beyond those known to Man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a land whose boundaries are that of imagination. It is not a normal regular season game and it precedes the playoffs which begin next week. It is a time to rest starters, heal injuries but yet face a longtime division rival – a rival who ended the Eagles 2009 with an embarassing playoff loss just one week after mopping up the regular season. This is what we refer to as … The Twilight Zone Bowl
Veterans watched the scoreboard, more interested in what was happening at Lambeau Field than in their own stadium. Would the Bears beat the Packers and send the Giants to the Linc next weekend? Or would the Packers win and make the postseason trip to Philly? Well at least the Eagles knew they had locked in the #3 seed with the privilege of hosting their first playoff game. The rest of the good news consisted of the forecast being for rain rather than snow and Governor Ed Rendell not being asked for his thoughts regarding the decision to play this game. Who knows what he might have said? Wussification? Philadelphiacation? Eagle-ification (see Vikings Eagles Postponed by Storm)? Maybe he would use the term “Lack of Eisenhowerian Fortitude”? I’m certain that I should digress… OK that’s enough.
57 minutes of relatively uninteresting football slogged along in what felt more like a preseason game than a tune-up for the playoffs. The fans were marginally noticeable, the coaching staff was preparing for their playoff opponent and a preponderance of the Eagles starters were inactive for this game (including Michael Vick who was watching on TV from the locker room rather than on the field with his teammates). The Eagles, without Vick, DeSean Jackson and numerous others sitting out to heal up for the postseason, finished the regular season with a 14-13 loss to the Cowboys, who long ago were eliminated from playoff contention.
“There were all these scenarios, everyone was trying to figure out who we we’d be playing,” said Quintin Mikell, one of 18 key Eagles who didn’t play against Dallas. “I was excited to play the Packers. Obviously, it’s always tough when we play the Giants. I was glad we got the Packers.” Same Packers who beat the Eagles about the face and head in Week One? File that quote away for future reference. Could end up on a bulletin board or two in northern Wisconsin this week.
While the Eagles’ backups were blowing a last-minute lead in their meaningless game against the Cowboys, the Packers were finishing off the Bears. The Eagles and Packers will meet at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Linc, where the Eagles have won four straight playoff games. Mind you, Philadelphia has lost their last two regular season games to the Vikings and Cowboys respectively – have one productive offensive quarter over the past 12. The 2010 season opener to Green Bay at home was a pianful and difficult setback. It was also the impetus for Michael Vick to take the reins and for many other changes to come.
It’s been nearly four months since the Packers opened the season with a 27-20 win over the Eagles at the Linc. The Packers led 13-3 at halftime when then-backup-QB-Vick replaced injured then-starter Kevin Kolb and proceeded to electrify the stadium, passing for 175 yards, scrambling for 103 more and putting up 17 second-half points before the Packers — helped out by a late Eldra Buckley fumble as the Eagles were driving again — hung on for a 27-20 win.
That was the emergence of the new Michael Vick – Vick 2.0 if you will – and Sunday’s game will be Vick’s first playoff start in six years. The Eagles beat the Falcons at home in the 2004 NFC Championship Game on their way to Super Bowl XXXIX. One of Vick’s two career postseason wins was against the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2002, while with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers finished 10-6 this season, but were 3-5 on the road, including three straight road losses to finish the season. Then again, the field is 53-1/2 yards wide, 100 yards long and the rules are the same. 11 men per side, four downs, 60 minutes, etc. Home field advantage being what it is, most of the players really don’t factor it into their game plan. An entire season has been played since that last game and the losing team gets sent home to think about what they’ve done. That should be all the players need to know.
“The first time we played them, I don’t feel like we gave them our best showing,” guard Todd Herremans said. “Just speaking for the offensive line, I think we’re much better than we were the first game. We lost Jamaal [Jackson] early, and we were kind of a mess up front. Mike [McGlynn] came into that game when he wasn’t expecting to play at all. We’ve grown a lot as an offensive line from the beginning of the season. We’re astronomically better.”
The Eagles will have at least seven different starters in the playoffs than in the opener. Some nine guys who played in that game are no longer on the roster. Anybody heard from Hank Baskett, Mike Bell or Antwan Barnes lately? The Eagles’ starting lineup now includes guys like Kurt Coleman, Jamar Chaney, Dimitri Patterson, Mike McGlynn and Moise Fokou, who were all backups the first time these two teams met. Not to mention Vick.
“I think we’re a lot better than we were in Week 1,” said receiver Jason Avant. “I think they’re better on defense and we are better on offense. So it poses a lot of challenges. They certainly have a great defensive line and a great secondary, one of the best in the league. Charles Woodson is back there. Both teams have taken steps to be better. I know we’ve made a lot of strides.”
Sunday’s loss dropped the Eagles to 10-6 after a 10-4 start and gave the Cowboys five wins in eight games since Wade Phillips was fired and replaced by Jason Garrett. The Eagles haven’t won since their New Miracle in New Meadowlands game 3 weeks ago. Last week in was the “hapless” Minnesota Vikings who outplayed the Eagles starters. This week it was the Cowboys against the Eagles Junior Varsity squad.
Kolb went the whole way Sunday against Dallas and had a miserable afternoon. Kolb didn’t have much to work with either. Protected by an offensive line of backups, he was sacked six times, three by DeMarcus Ware and twice by Anthony Spencer. He threw 3 INT (two coming on desperation passes in the final seconds of each half) and lost a fumble that Ware returned for a touchdown. The final interception was a fourth down heave from the shadow of the Eagles own goal post subsequent to an especially painful QB sack and three prior attempts to move the ball forward.
“I definitely made my share of mistakes,” Kolb said. “We were limited quite a bit because we weren’t going to play certain guys, but … we still had plenty of opportunities to win the game. We didn’t get it done but fortunately, this wasn’t a must-win. That starts next week against Green Bay.”
Vick, Jackson, Trevor Laws, Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy, Stewart Bradley, Winston Justice and Asante Samuel were all inactive. Mikell, Parker, Joselio Hanson, Coleman, Ernie Sims, Chaney, Jason Peters, Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson dressed, but never got on the field. Several others, including Herremans and Brent Celek, played only a very few snaps. Jeremy Maclin was one of the few starters to play, but after the Eagles were unable to get him 36 yards in the first quarter to get him to 1,000 for the season, Maclin left the game and didn’t return.
“It gives me a chance to see some of the younger guys and gives [the starters] a week and a half rest,” Reid said. “I think it’s the right thing to do for us. Other people do it other ways, but that’s what I believe in. It gives everybody an opportunity to rest up, in particular in the short amount of time we have here. We just ran out of gas at the end. I thought they battled and did some good things.”
The patchwork defense — featuring guys like Brandon Hughes, Jamar Adams, Keenan Clayton, Trevard Lindley, Gerard Lawson and Bobby McCray — allowed only seven points, the one TD coming with 55 seconds left. First-time NFL starter Steve McGee, who began the season as the Cowboys third-stringer, threw a four-yard TD pass to Jason Witten to rob the Eagles of their seventh 11-win season under Reid.
McGee became the second quarterback in six days to beat the Eagles in his first NFL start. He completed just 11 of 27 passes for 127 yards, but for the second game in a row, the Eagles did not record an INT after recording at least one in their first 14 games.
What does it all mean? Mostly that over the past months, this Philadelphia Eagles team has been very good, very bad, very easy to out-scheme, decimated by injuries, totally impossible to be stopped and generally everything in between. They’ve rolled up 60 points, collected more 60+ yard TD plays than any team and also been unable to scratch out 14 points. They’ve had defenders burned for 3 TD in one half, given up scads of sacks and rallied to score 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against one of the league’s best defenses. Literally anything is possible and nothing is unlikely. We’ll be back later in the week for a complete preview and breakdown of the Packers game. Sunday 4 PM kickoff so we’ll have plenty of time to prepare.
The regular season has ended as 12 teams remain. Some call it the postseason or playoffs or even the tournament but now it is win or go home. Perhaps not another dimension but certainly a middle ground between science and superstition. It lies between the pit of a man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is a realm not only of brute strength and blazing speed but of presence of mind. Each game is tempered by rules and measurements and governed by time but what happens on the field within those parameters is subject to infinite possibility. There’s the signpost up ahead. We’re entering… the NFL Postseason!
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org