Tuesday night's game did not go so well, you might say. I tuned in hoping for a crisp performance that would set the tone for us getting the No. 2 seed and storming into the playoffs on a high note. My hopes and what actually happened were just a bit different, which is like saying the Grand Canyon is just a bit of a hole in the ground.
I sure didn't see a performance like that coming. Rather than obsess on it, let's turn to history for some inspiration. Back in 1962, the Green Bay Packers were defending champions. They began the year 10-0. They had the best offense in the NFL. On Thanksgiving, they played the Detroit Lions. Green Bay lost 26-14 and the game wasn't that close. The Lions sacked Bart Starr 11 times. They dominated the Packers.
After the game Vince Lombardi told his team that they should consider the game a good lesson. If the Packers played like individuals, they could lose. If they played as a team, they were going to win. The team responded by winning out and giving Lombardi his second NFL title.
Obviously not all the factors are the same. The Packers were a dominant team and full of veteran players who had been together for several years. There were multiple Hall of Famers on that team. We have a mostly young team that is learning on the fly. That's a big difference. I still think the key point is valid - play like a team.
Against the Vikings, our guys didn't show the kind of cohesion you expect from a good football team. The Vikings executed their corner blitz perfectly. The defensive linemen slanted the right way to occupy blockers. The linebackers sold the fact they might blitz, which forced our backs to look for inside rushers. Then Antoine Winfield did his part. He stayed off the line, so as not to tip his hand. He waited even at the snap to let the linemen get going. Then Winfield shot off the edge and was unblocked, time after time. The Vikings defense was well orchestrated and they played as one.
Our offense responded as 11 guys. The linemen were confused. LeSean McCoy didn't always make good pre-snap reads. Michael Vick is partially responsible. After Winfield comes free a couple of times Vick should have identified him prior to every snap and known where he might be coming from. You have to wonder if the receivers were doing their part by adjusting to hot routes. I didn't see that with any regularity.
Playoff games are won by teams, not stars. Minnesota and Dallas both had more talent than the Saints last year, but New Orleans won the Super Bowl by playing as a team. The Patriots' most talented team was the 2007 group, but they lost in the Super Bowl (if only I could remember who beat them). The lesser bunch from 2001 overachieved and won the big game.
Our young Eagles need to learn from the Vikings loss and adjust accordingly. They have done this before. Remember the games when King Dunlap started at left tackle for Jason Peters? Every prognosticator predicted that John Abraham would destroy our blocking and have a monster game. Nothing close to that happened.
The coaches came up with a great game plan. They used influence plays to burn Abraham. They got him confused and made him hesitant. Dunlap did his part. He was ready to go and played the best game of his career to that point. Other blockers helped Dunlap at times and did a good job. The backs chipped on Abraham. Tight ends helped out. We wore Abraham down and Dunlap blocked him one-on-one for the fourth quarter and even some plays before that.
I know this team can come together and do some special things. The playoffs are the ultimate test because teams have to keep that kind of focus for multiple games. That is the hard part. Can the 2010 Eagles do this? Honestly, I don't know. We have so many young guys. The flip side of that is the Vick factor. He is really a special player and he's got the ability to win a game with a handful of great plays. No matter what happens, I'll be excited to see what this team does. The regular season has been a lot of fun, but the postseason is what truly defines players and teams.
Back to the Vikings game for a minute. There were a few guys who showed up and played well. Kurt Coleman got the start at free safety and I thought played pretty well. He had eight tackles including one tackle-for-loss. Coleman did miss a key tackle on Adrian Peterson in the second half, but Pro Bowl running backs do that kind of stuff to star players, let alone rookies.
Jamar Chaney also had eight stops. He had three TFLs. He even broke up a pass down the middle. Chaney did get burned in coverage a couple of times. One play was in the fourth quarter when Percy Harvin got open behind him on a key play. I know a lot of people were upset at Sean McDermott for that coverage, a linebacker on a receiver. That is something I've seen multiple teams do this year. The goal is for the linebacker to stay underneath and a safety to stay behind, limiting the receiver. The problem is that today's receivers are so good that they can make tough grabs in traffic.
Brent Celek caught a season high 10 passes. He's had a strange year. Celek dropped some passes that he normally catches, but he's also been asked to block more than ever. I think his blocking has come a long way. He still has some plays where he gets beaten, but he does win his share of battles. As a receiver, he's made some big plays in recent games. We need him to get hot. Tight ends can be important in cold weather games.
Rookie Clay Harbor caught his first touchdown pass. He did a great job to get both feet down in the back of the end zone and hold on as he was hit. That was an impressive catch. I get the feeling he's going to at least make a play or two for us the rest of the way and then will be a regular part of the offense in 2011.
The good news about the loss is that it came on a short week. We can file it away and now start focusing on Dallas. The game has no playoff implications. Andy Reid could rest some players and Dallas is going to have a young quarterback playing for them so the game will have an odd feel. Still, we're talking Eagles-Cowboys. Any time those teams play it is fun. Jerry Jones was ""mad as hell"" after last week's loss at Arizona. I hope he's madder than that after Sunday.