Sports views: Eagles let time and chances get away

Posted: Tuesday, February 08, 2005

In the betting world, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, easily covering the one-touchdown point spread to put a few bucks in their fans' pockets.

In the real world, they drove those fans nuts with turnovers and mindless clock management in the fourth quarter of a game they had a chance to win.

Assignment No. 1 at next summer's Eagles training camp: the hurry-up offense.

That's the opposite of the slow dance the Eagles took down the field on their last touchdown drive against the New England Patriots — players straggling back to the huddle, coach Andy Reid watching dispassionately, quarterback Donovan McNabb acting too deliberately as the clock ticked down.

Eagles fans shouted ''Go! Go!'' at the game Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla., and probably millions more watching on television shouted the same thing, trying telekinetically to prod the team into some sense of urgency. Look at the clock, look at the score. ''Go! Go!''

The game and the points were on the line when the Eagles, trailing 24-14, started with the ball on their own 21 with 5:40 left. They needed two TDs to win the trophy but only one to cover the point spread. Rather than rush, they moved patiently, excruciatingly so, running the clock down to 1:55 in going 49 yards. Rather than a no-huddle offense, they huddled too long.

Center Hank Fraley tried to hurry his teammates to back to the line of scrimmage, McNabb called them back for a chat.

''We went to our hurry-up offense,'' McNabb insisted.

''We were trying to hurry up,'' Reid agreed.

''Go! Go!'' fans shouted in the stands, at bars, at home.

McNabb, throwing on 12 of 13 plays during that drive, put the bettors ahead with a 30-yard TD pass to Greg Lewis. Winning the game was another matter.

''We did try to get it going,'' Reid said of the offense. ''I can't tell you the details, the circumstances on why it didn't work as well as it should have.''

Maybe he can explain it and get it right by next year.

With the clock down to 1:48, Reid called for an onside kick that didn't work, a questionable decision since the Eagles' defense had stopped the Patriots three and out on the previous series. Reid almost certainly would not have gone for the onside kick if there were an extra minute on the clock.

The whole ending plays out differently if the Eagles had managed the clock smarter and saved a precious minute in their last scoring drive.

A kickoff rather than an onside kick pins the Patriots deep, doesn't put them on the Eagles' 41. The Eagles maybe get the ball back in better position after a punt than they did when they took over on the 4-yard line with 46 seconds left. McNabb maybe doesn't throw that last interception under pressure back by his own end zone.

There were surely many other reasons why the Eagles lost 24-21 — two other interceptions, a fumble, four sacks, a general sloppiness that was uncharacteristic of the team. Then, too, there were the Patriots, who showed again the difference between a very good team and a great one.

The Eagles who showed up in this game were merely very good — except for one who almost couldn't play.

Terrell Owens would have been the MVP if the Eagles had found a way to win.

T.O., who says he found divine powers of recuperation, matched Curt Schilling in the World Series for one of the all-time gutsy command performances by an athlete under duress.

There was Owens, ready to be the star again, 6 1/2 weeks after doctors screwed a plate to his ankle. Defying medical advice, risking further damage, he not only played in the Super Bowl, he played as if he'd never been gone. He cut right, cut left, spun around, juked defenders for big yards after he caught the ball. He caught nine passes for 122 yards, the longest a 36-yarder.

He was strutting again, his arms flapping. He had said he would not be a mere decoy and he surely wasn't. McNabb went to him from the start, giving him the honor, as it were, with passes on the first two plays, one incomplete, the second good for seven yards.

T.O. was back. Defiantly back. Making chumps out of doubters. Showing again that there's substance behind his flashy, self-promoting style. All that awaited was some new TD dance, but he never got the chance.

Something was missing, the extra strength to swat away defenders, the extra speed to break away. He played gallantly but just couldn't quite get into the end zone as he had 14 times this season.

The Eagles may do some ruminating the next few months, ruing the mistakes they couldn't afford to make against the Patriots, thinking about the changes they'll have to make to win one game more. They kept their bettors happy, but they let themselves down.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org



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