Not because Larry Fitzgerald is Keyser Soze (though, he might be). Because I duped myself into believing the Cardinals weren’t good enough to expose the Eagles flaws.
If the Vikings and Giants couldn’t do it, how could the Arizona Cardinals?
To me it was simple. There’s no mystery to the street. No arch criminal behind it all. If you think your team is better than your opponent, you’re gonna find out you’re right.
And then like that…poof…the season was gone.
The Cardinals were the better team Sunday. They outcoached, outplayed and outexecuted the Eagles. They made every big play they needed and they deserve to be in the Super Bowl.
I was shocked at how well the Cards played, but I was more shocked at how badly the Eagles were exposed. And that’s my fault.
Because I knew exactly who the Eagles were. I wrote it two weeks ago. We’ve all known all year…hell, we’ve known all decade.
And yet they still fooled all of us.
It’s uncanny. On January 5, I laid out all of the Eagles’ flaws standing in the way of a Super Bowl: and every one of them reared up and bit them on Sunday.
The QB’s accuracy was terrible. McNabb threw the ball under, over, behind and through his receivers time after time. He again (aside from one early 21-yard burst) refused to run the ball despite having clear running lanes. And worst of all, failed to execute the two minute drill (more on this later).
The coaches got outplanned. Reid and Jim Johnson were a play behind Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley for the entire first half and a painful, game-deciding 14-play, 72-yard, nearly eight-minute fourth quarter drive. The coaches abandoned the run when a draw in that final drive may have netted the Birds some big yards (though, for once, I am not blaming this loss on the lack of running). And worst of all, Reid twice showed his inability to get over the mental “hump” of calling timeouts. In the first half, the Eagles at 3rd and 14 from their own 36 called timeout with 1:48 remaining—that gaffe coupled with Quintin Demps personal foul allowed the Cards to tack on a field goal. Reid also wasted valuable second half timeout…because of confusion (and what appeared to be disagreement) over a third quarter, second-and-seven call.
Westbrook made little to no impact on the game with his 14 touches. If he’s healthy, someone is paying him a lot of money to do his best Reno Mahe impersonation. Meanwhile, two backs who played little all season (Edge and McGahee) had significant burst in the championship games. You have to wonder, is this a new trend? Are more teams going to start saving their RBs for the playoffs?
The defense…the small, fast defense…got torched. They were thrown over, thrown through, run around and run over. As much as you can blame McReid (and you can blame them plenty), more blame has to fall on the No. 3 defense in the league.
First, they inexplicably didn’t show up until half time. Maybe some Phoenix prankster set all their alarm clocks to Yukon Time. And then, that painful, 14-play, 72-yard, nearly eight-minute fourth quarter drive. And despite the D’s staunchness in the third quarter, you could feel that fourth quarter drive coming. Dawkins and Co. are too small to be on the field as much as they were Sunday. They were bound to get worn down…and Whisenhunt knew it. The Cards ran the ball nine times on that final drive. On the final 3rd-and-goal screen play, when the Eagles desperately needed to hold Zona to 3, Hightower ran through Demps to score the game-deciding TD.
But the piece de resistance came with 2:53 to go; the ball in McNabb’s hands, 80 yards away from a tie game. Donovan and Andy had a chance to prove all their critics wrong. One 2-minute drill here, when it mattered, would have shown that this isn’t the same team that has come up short in four other championship games.
This time it was going to be different. This time, it was the year of Philadelphia. This time, we had the Legend of Matt Stairs on our side.
And then McNabb threw under Westbrook…and over DeSean…and behind Baskett…and through Curtis.
And like that…poof…the season was gone.
They are who we thought they were. And it looks like they always will be.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.