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Twilight Zone Bowl

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Jan 3 2011 @ 4:29 am In NFL,Philadelphia,Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment

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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 

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Cowboys' Jason Witten (82) breaks a tackle by Philadelphia Eagles' Keenan Clayton (57) to score a touchdown in the second half

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 [3]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.

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Dimitri Patterson #23, Colt Anderson #30 & Mike Patterson #98 take the field

 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.

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Donald Lee completes his Lambeau Leap

[6]“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.

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Kevin Kolb #4 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a desperation pass against the Dallas Cowboys

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.

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Michael Vick (7) throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers in the second half. The Packers won the game 27-20

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.

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Jan. 11, 2004 Freddie Mitchell snares a pass for first down when it was 4th & 26 while covered by Green Bay Packers Bhawoh Jue (21) and Darren Sharper late in the fourth quarter

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 [10] 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] [10] 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.”

[11]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.

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Tommy McDonald led the 1960 Eagles to become NFL champs

“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.”

The Eagles and Packers have met twice in the postseason. The first was in 1960, with the Eagles winning the NFL Championship Game at Franklin Field. The second was 2003, which was the famed “fourth-and-26 game” at the Linc.
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Cowboys' Stephen McGee is sent flying after a tackle from Philadelphia Eagles' Trevard Lindley

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.

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Kevin Kolb #4 of the Philadelphia Eagles is sacked by DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys

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.

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Kevin Kolb (4) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys' Jason Hatcher (97) in the second half

“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.

[16]“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 [10], Jamar Adams [10], Keenan Clayton [10], Trevard Lindley [10], Gerard Lawson [10] and Bobby McCray [10] — 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.

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Stephen McGee (7) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles' Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the second half

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.

With people like Austin Howard, Reggie Wells and King Dunlap manning the offensive line, the Eagles netted only 244 yards, their fewest at home since they had 227 against the Jaguars in 2006. Jerome Harrison ran for 99 yards for the Eagles while Chad Hall caught six passes for 84 yards and a four-yard TD.David Akers scored seven points and finished with an NFL-best 143 points, one shy of his club record set in 2008.The Eagles finished with franchise records for most points (439) and net yards (6,230). The Eagles also finished second (to San Diego) in the NFL in total offense (YPG) & 389.4, fifth in Rushing YPG (145.4) and NFL worst in RedZone defense – but still ranked 12th overall in defense.
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Chad Hall #16 of the Philadelphia Eagles hauls in a first half TD against the Dallas Cowboys

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.

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Head coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles meets with head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys after their game on January 2,

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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