Opportunity Lost

by | January 10, 2011 at 5:01 PM | General, NFL, Sports

Just about everyone who picked Philadelphia to beat Green Bay on Sunday (myself included), did so because they thought Michael Vick would somehow will his team to a win. It wasn’t that Philly was the better team (Green Bay, after all, has a defense that doesn’t give up every time the opponent gets inside the 20), it was that if Michael Vick could get his hands on the ball with a chance to win the game, the ’85 Bears wouldn’t be able to stop him.

Vick had come too far, too fast to let 11 mere mortals deny him his immortality.

So when Vick got the ball back, down five with 1:45 left and only 66 yards separating him from another miraculous comeback, Philadelphians were justly confident.

This is what Michael Vick does best. This is what he has done all year. Vick will finally silence the rest of his critics, and in doing so, he’ll win over America with his heart.

Heart. Hell, it was printed on the rally towels the Eagles handed out to fans for the game. This was fate. It was predetermined. Destiny was ready to finally give Birds fans a storybook ending.

Or not.

You know the rest. After driving the Eagles down to the Packers’ 27-yard line, Vick inexplicably forced a ball into the left corner of the end zone – to Riley Cooper. Tramon Williams, who has been a star all year for the Packers D, snatched the underthrown ball out of the air with ease.

Game over. Season over. Storybook over.

Philadelphia will move on. After all, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The 2010 Eagles weren’t supposed to sniff the playoffs, let alone win the division and actually be a legitimate Super Bowl threat.  Philly will get over this loss and quickly shift from green to red, where four of the best pitchers in baseball will mend our broken hearts (34 days away).

But the shift in mood won’t reflect the real opportunity lost in that one ill-advised pass.

Is Green Bay a better team? Probably. But only slightly. And to get the Pack at home, and have the ball in your best playmaker’s hands, just one play short of advancing … those opportunities don’t come around often. And they almost never come with the league as wide-open as it is this year.

The NFC is there for the taking. Hell, even the AFC lacks a dominant team. But all that is a pipe dream now. And probably always was. Especially when you take into account Philadelphia’s historically abysmal defense.

“Historically abysmal” isn’t hyperbole. It’s accurate. Philly brass will point out that the defense finished in the top half of the league in total defense, rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed. They’ll bring up the 33 takeaways the Eagles managed … only the Patriots and the Giants had more this year.

But you can use stats to prove anything. I’ll pick one. 36 red zone touchdowns on 46 red zone possessions. That’s your 2010 Eagles in a nutshell. One stop in the red zone against the Packers, and the Eagles win that game. But Aaron Rodgers went 3-for-3 inside the 20, with three passing TDs.

Yes, the Eagles had injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, inexperienced and unheralded players were forced onto a field where they didn’t belong. But those are excuses. And despite being true, neither explains the epically bad red zone performance. Playoff games are won by players who make plays. The Eagles defense made one all game (Tapp’s forced fumble). And it just wasn’t enough.

Though, all that said … with a defense that didn’t perform, with an offensive game-plan that refused to commit to the run, with an offensive line that couldn’t block the winter sun, the Eagles were 27 yards and one play away, with the ball in the hands of their best playmaker, and that playmaker failed to make a play.

No one is happy about that, but it happens. Michael Vick understands that.

“It’s a bad way to go out but, hey … I went out swinging.”

Eagles fans understand that too. We do. And, Michael, we have your back … this year. Just don’t ever let it [bleeping] happen again.

Email me at russakoffrules@comcast.net; 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.