EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 26, 2007

Winning ugly makes pit stop in Foxboro

On Pro Football , Bill Burt

FOXBORO - Not even a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown just 1:22 into the game could change the obvious.

They appeared tired and they appeared bored, on both sides of the ball. And, quite frankly, even if it was a Sunday Night Football game on national TV, you can't blame the New England Patriots. Even if they would disagree with either assessment.

This season has been an emotional one from opening day - be it "spygate" or "running up the score" - to the incredible win in Indianapolis. The "Hatriots," as America has labeled them, deserve a do-over.

Sounds like an excuse, doesn't it, especially with December less than a week away?

The other teams are getting paid $100 million or so per season too. And some of these teams, like the Eagles, apparently aren't that bad.

"They have three defensive backs that have been in a Pro Bowl," said Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. "They've been to a Super Bowl. I don't care what your expectations are."

The Eagles did something few teams have tried against the Patriots. They went for the jugular.

They tried an onsides kick after their second touchdown only 2:10 into the second quarter. And it worked. They soon punted, but the message was clear. They were not going to sit idly by as the Patriots scored six or seven touchdowns.

The Eagles brought with them something seen a lot of in Foxboro - chips on their collective shoulder. The Las Vegas line, normally taboo in NFL locker rooms, was talked about indirectly all week in Philadelphia. The Patriots were favored by 24 points, tied for the most ever for an NFL game.

Eagles coach Andy Reid was very short with the New England media on Wednesday. Most of his answers took only one sentence.

"We're a good team. We know we're a good team," said Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown. "We heard some things (about the odds). But that doesn't matter."

The Eagles also came in with a game plan the Patriots hadn't seen. Basically, Randy Moss was not going to beat them. At all times there was a safety waiting as much as 30 yards behind the line of scrimmage, always on Moss' side.

"This goes back to when Randy was with Minnesota," said Brown. "You have to keep him in front of you. Other than that one time (Moss dropped a long Brady bomb), we did a pretty good job. They usually like to dink and dunk with him early and then they look for that one opportunity."

This game will, in the short term, bring out the naysayers when it comes to the Patriots run at history.

When looking back at a few of the greatest teams ever assembled during the Super Bowl era, the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, and the 1989 San Francisco 49ers are near the top.

The Steelers and 49ers both finished 14-2, the Bears 15-1.

Upon further review, the Steelers in 1979 had a similar scare at home. The Steelers beat the then-1-6 Chiefs, 27-24.

My guess is these Eagles, despite missing Donovan McNabb at quarterback, are better.

Nobody wants to hear that, though, after the 41-16 whippings the Patriots averaged before last night's game.

Pats wide receiver Wes Welker may have single-handedly ensured the 1972 Miami Dolphins will have to keep their champagne on ice for now. His 13 catches and 149 yards were career bests. He had three catches for 39 yards on the eventual winning drive, including a 13-yarder on third-and-9 and a 10-yarder to get the ball to the Eagles' 4-yard line.

Cornerback Asante Samuel would get the other game ball. He had the game's two big defensive plays, an interception return for a touchdown on the third play of the game and an interception in the Eagles end zone as the guests were on the 29-yard line with 3:52 remaining.

The fact that the Eagles went for a touchdown rather than a tying field goal pretty much explains their intentions.

"We came here to win, and we didn't," said Reid.

I'd be lying if I didn't see a few semi-concerns last night. Something is not right with running back Laurence Maroney, which is a concern come cold, wind and rain.

And the Patriots defense, in great health these days, really had their hats handed to them by a career backup quarterback named A.J. Feeley (27 for 42, 345 yards, 3 TDs, 3 ints.)

"People should wake up," said Pats linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "This is the way it is in late November and December. It's going to be like this all of the time down the stretch. This is reality. I hope a lot of the new guys understand that. Those huge (blowouts) are aberrations."

Brady took it a step further and said there were some good elements last night to report, beyond another fourth quarter comeback.

"I wish we played a little bit better, but I give those guys credit," said Brady, who threw for one touchdown, the only time this season he didn't have at least three TD passes.

"I'm proud of the way we played in the fourth quarter and overcame a deficit, and came from behind, and scored when we needed to ... even to run (the clock) out there at the end, to get a big first down to Jabar (Gaffney). A lot to be happy about, but a lot to learn from."

You can e-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.