For three quarters, Pittsburgh refused to put the Cardinals out of their penalty- and mistake-riddled misery. In quarter four of Super Bowl 43 on Sunday night, the Steelers and Cardinals staged an epic 15 minutes and ended the 2008 NFL season in grand style. Great game. Great ending. And a bust of all the "have to haves" that we talk about through the year.
What could the Eagles learn from Pittsburgh's 27-23 win? Well, the Steelers ran a brilliant two-minute drill, driving 78 yards in eight plays, consuming just 2 minutes, 2 seconds and scoring the winning points on a perfect Ben Roethlisberger pass in the corner of the end zone to Santonio Holmes, who made one of the great catches of all time to break the Cardinals' hearts. Roethlisberger, clutch his entire career, was 5 of 7 for 74 yards passing on the drive, and Holmes was the go-to receiver, supplying a catch-and-run for 40 yards against the where-where-they? Arizona defense and then finishing things off with the toes-down-grab that should be remembered forever.
Certainly, the Eagles need to win games when they are in similar situations, and they didn't do it in Arizona and that is one of the reasons they didn't make it to Tampa. But I have to tell ya, and feel free to disagree (I know you will exercise your right), the Eagles can't use that game as a blueprint for what they need to "get over the hump."
Those last two minutes? Sure. No question. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg and Donovan McNabb must look at their game plan and execution in every phase of the game, and they must get better in 2009.
But what else can the Eagles learn from the Super Bowl? Do you really think that either team is better than the Eagles, or a handful of other teams, for that matter? I don't. I think the NFL has become so evenly-matched every week, and the team that wins the Super Bowl, and the teams that reach the Super Bowl, are often not even the best teams in the league. Good teams, yeah, but not head and shoulders above everyone else.
For example, we have harped all season about the importance of scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Pittsburgh sure did that in the final seconds of the game, but the Steelers were just two of four on red-zone opportunities and blew the chance to KO the Cardinals long before the end of the fourth quarter because they couldn't score on a couple of gimmes inside the 5-yard line.
How about the "must" of running the football in big games? The Steelers gained 58 yards on 26 carries. Arizona had 12 carries and 33 yards. Discipline? The Steelers committed seven penalties and Arizona had 11 penalties.
It was not a clean, crisp, well-played game. It was a lackluster game for three quarters, and then it was a classic in the fourth period. I don't, however, believe that it served as any kind of jolt to the Eagles to re-evaluate their approach or their philosophy of football. The Eagles need to have a big off-season ahead. I agree with that. Winning nine regular-season games wasn't ideal. The Eagles need to challenge every corner of their roster, and with plenty of salary-cap room and 10 draft picks ahead, they will. I expect an aggressive off-season, but I'm also realistic. There is no evidence that the free-agent market will be flush with talent and the draft should be plentiful with talent, but a lot of the upper-echelon players are going to be juniors, and it is hard to project just how quickly juniors will assimilate to the NFL.
My Off-Season Wish List comes out later today, but there aren't going to be a lot of surprises. I think the Eagles have a fine roster, an excellent coaching staff and an opportunity to have a tremendous off-season. And make no mistake, the Eagles understand they need to address areas across the board to get back to the playoffs and make a Super Bowl run.
Arizona was a completely different team in the Super Bowl than they were two weeks earlier at home against the Eagles. They played their "A" game to reach the Super Bowl. They played a "C" game, at best, against the Steelers.
How can the Eagles play as close to "A" games every week? They need to be mentally tough and they need to have great leadership and they need to win a game or two during the season that they probably shouldn't win. They need to gain some confidence on a final drive and take a victory out of the jaws of defeat.
The Eagles need to be aggressive and have a strong, flexible plan in the months ahead. They have a lot of pieces in place and can add to the mix substantially.
While the Super Bowl was a great fourth quarter and an ending to remember, it didn't provide the "blueprint" for the Eagles, or any NFL team, to follow. The two-minute drill, yeah. Great drive. Holmes came up big. Roethlisberger was terrific.
The rest of the game? Hard to watch at times, honestly. I give the Steelers all the props. They are the champs. The Eagles are still chasing the dream, looking for the right mix to make 2009 a Super season here.