A sharp sudden rumbling on Friday morning. What could it be? A 5.5 Richter scale earthquake situated 20km or so beneath my fair city? (Actually the quake was under Upper Hutt, which is neither fair nor a city nor where I actually live).
Maybe it was the sound of 40,000 people jumping out of bed “happy as Larry” that they were going to the Big Day Out and not the Long Day at Work.
No my friends I believe that was, in the words of Agent Smith, “the sound of inevitability”.
Philadelphia has been to the NFC Championship four times in four years. They are the only NFL team to do so. The problem, and the only reason they have not been dubbed a “dynasty”, is that for the last three years they have lost. For Philly fans this is the equivalent of preparing for the sneeze that never comes, for four years!
On Sunday (Monday NZ time) they finally sneezed. So to speak.
After losing three straight NFC Championship Games, the Eagles finally came out on top with a 27-10 win over the Falcons. But I don't think they did anything that much differently in this one than in the losses.
Each game is an entity in itself, there isn't something that all of a sudden you do differently. The Eagles were the stronger team and they prevailed. They played magnificent defense, they didn't turn the ball over, they didn't seem to let things phase them and were completely into the game.
For all the talk about strategy and tactics and the emotion in the game, the Eagles won by playing fundamentally sound football. They tackled, they flowed to the ball, they understood their assignments and they kept backside leverage on Michael Vick. Philadelphia executed its plan and really had every player committed to it. It's not always what you do in a game, but the way that you do it.
This game was very much affected by the wind and the Eagles did a magnificent job of dealing with it. Wind is the biggest weather factor there is in football, more than rain, snow, ice or anything else. It doesn't necessarily change your game plan, but it limits you because you really only have two quarters where you have the wind and can execute all your plays. When you go against the wind, you're trying to do things that burn the clock without giving up much to the other team during that time. The Eagles played into the wind as well as any team I've seen. Donovan McNabb even had a 45-yard pass into the wind in the second quarter to set up a touchdown.
One area where the wind may have helped the Eagles was in the defensive coverage. Philadelphia played a lot of single coverage, leaving its cornerbacks one-on-one. When you do that, you're taking some risks outside, but the Eagles matched up pretty well. The wind helped them by limiting the Falcons' ability to throw downfield into the wind. By playing so much single coverage, the Eagles were able to commit more players to the line of scrimmage, which helped put more pressure on Vick, who was sacked four times, and stop the run. Atlanta had the top running attack this season but was held under 100 yards.
Staying on running games, it may have seemed strange that the Eagles got the ball to Brian Westbrook only six times in the first half, but that's largely because they didn't have the ball that much in the first half. Their second touchdown was set up by a long pass and they didn't have many long drives to involve Westbrook in. But what matters is how many touches Westbrook had when the game ended, which was 16 carries for 96 yards and five catches for 39 yards. You don't always spread things evenly over the course of the game. Usually runners on a team that's winning will handle the ball far more in the second half than in the first as they try to grind it out.
Overall, you could see why both teams were in the NFC Championship Game. The demeanor of those teams was very professional. Any celebrations were truly spontaneous, just being happy over a big play. Each team had put in a lot of thought about their opponent before the game, and each player had thought about what part they were going to play. It was so apparent that these guys conducted themselves like pros and like champions. It really shined through to me.
What I can tell you is what, very rotund, Eagles coach Andy Reid said when asked what memory he would like erased from Philly’s last three NFC losses: “My waistline”.