Eagles fans have plenty of time to ponder flawed hurry-up offense

February 09, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

IT HAS BEEN more than two days since the New England Patriots won their third NFL title in four years, and I can't help thinking Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid is sitting in his den with that play card in front of his face, comfortable that there still is plenty of time left on the clock.

Hopefully, he's not wearing tights.

The Eagles fell short in the Super Bowl for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that they were playing the greatest team of this generation, but the enduring memory for a lot of frustrated Eagles fans will be the seemingly leisurely drive in the final minutes that brought them back to within a field goal but burned so much time that there was little realistic hope of completing a 10-point comeback

The Philadelphia Daily News summed it up with this screaming post-mortem headline yesterday:

"WHAT'S THE RUSH?"

There are reports that quarterback Donovan McNabb became ill in the waning minutes of the game, but it is unclear how much that affected what happened in that time-consuming march, which he closed out with a healthy 30-yard touchdown pass.

But three times during the critical possession - which started with 5:40 left in the game - McNabb completed a pass for 5 yards or fewer and ran at least 30 seconds off the clock. He engineered what would have been an impressive scoring drive (13 plays, 79 yards) if it had taken place in the second quarter, but not when the Eagles might have set themselves up for a realistic last shot at a game-tying field goal if they could have conserved the minute it took to run two of those worthless short pass plays.

It's tough to argue that point when the first 15 yards of that drive took 2:05. The Eagles offense was so deliberate that their fans were shouting for them to hurry up. I know this because I have a friend who - despite a Temple University education - is an Eagles fan and was sitting among the unwashed masses at Alltel Stadium.

Confidential to Andy: When everybody asks you all summer why your two-minute drill lasted four minutes, just tell them you ran it twice.

Here's another headline, from yesterday's New York Daily News:

"ANDY'S STUPOR BOWL"

That might be piling on, but this isn't the first time that the Eagles have had time-management problems. They drove 92 yards at the end of the first half of their playoff game against the Vikings and then came up empty when the clock ran out before they could kick a chip-shot field goal. You don't get away with that kind of thing against the Patriots.

This is where you have to choose whether to keep things in perspective or measure Reid against the only thing he has not accomplished. He has taken the Eagles to four straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl, a record that would be the envy of most coaches in the NFL. He also has lost three of four NFC championship games and one Super Bowl, which has put him in the position of being the Marv Levy of a new generation.

Personally, I'm pretty impressed with the guy, but he had the misfortune last week to be cast in opposition to one of the greatest tactical coaches in NFL history. Bill Belichick isn't everybody's favorite teddy bear, but he gets it done on and off the field as well as anyone ever. Reid isn't in the same class, but it's not a very big classroom.

Belichick runs such a tight ship that his players wouldn't talk dynasty even after they won their third title in an era where the NFL salary cap has created an environment in which most franchises would be thrilled to get one. Reid spent part of the Super Bowl prep period trying to persuade backup wide-out Freddie Mitchell to keep his face off the Patriots bulletin board and never seemed to be on the same wavelength as Terrell Owens - though, in fairness, who is?

I try to stay away from the X's and O's (because my few moments in the presence of Brian Billick have convinced me that I am an imbecile), but it's probably fair to say Reid did not exactly win the battle of the game plans. The Eagles led briefly and were tied at the end of every quarter but the last one, yet McNabb threw the ball 51 times and did not run it effectively once.

Give the Patriots credit for dictating a lot of what happened on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but Reid and McNabb still have to answer for their disjointed offensive scheme. Now comes the talk that McNabb was nauseated in the huddle. That might explain a lot, but it isn't much consolation for all of the Eagles fans who felt the same way as the clock ran out on Sunday.

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