What have we learned - Championship Game Weekend
Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25. Before I rant about how crappy the Eagles were, let's consider why the NFL needs full-time referees. In the first half, with the score 14-3, the Eagles had 3rd-and-6 at the Arizona 15 or so. McNabb throws a pass to a wide receiver (Baskett, I think, but I'm not sure) who is clearly being held by the defender. No call, no first down, and the Eagles have to kick a field goal. With 2 minutes left, the Eagles have one last chance to win on 4th down, and a pass to Kevin Curtis is incomplete. Rod Hood not only knocked Curtis down, but as he was falling, grabbed Curtis' leg. No call, no first down, Arizona basically runs out the clock. Just before the Cardinals' third touchdown, Asante Samuel was called for pass interference on the goal line to give Arizona a first down. That was definitely pass interference, so I'm just wondering why neither of the other two penalties were called. If the Eagles score a touchdown after the first penalty, it's 29-24 late in the game instead of 25-24. Then, if Arizona scores, the Eagles need only a field goal to tie. With a first down late in the game, they probably score. Troy Aikman, imbecile that he is, said that neither play should have been called, even though they were both close. That's bullshit. Both were clear penalties. I don't have a problem with refs missing tough calls, but both of the plays were in space with no one but the two principals involved, and both were E-A-S-Y to make. Our hometown newspaper, even as it was glossing over the play (it wouldn't do to imply that the Cards didn't win completely fairly), wrote "Rod Hood was all over Kevin Curtis," which, 30 years ago, would have been fine. In today's NFL, like it or not, it's a penalty.
Of course, the Eagles shot themselves in the foot enough times as well that they can't blame the refs. For some reason, they decided to skip the game film of the Arizona-Carolina game and therefore missed the fact that you might want to cover Larry Fitzgerald! Seriously, Philly, what the hell? On the long touchdown pass that made it 14-3, there was no way J. J. Arrington was running with the ball. The instant he took the pitch, he ran backward away from the line of scrimmage, and not very fast. Either he's throwing the ball himself or he's going to chuck it back to Warner. Yet the Eagles bit, leaving Fitzgerald one-on-one with a guy who's not even their best cover guy. If Asante Samuel or Sheldon Brown or even Lito Sheppard had been covering Fitzgerald on the play, maybe I could have forgiven it. But they weren't, and that stupidity killed the Eagles. On the third touchdown, the guy covering Fitzgerald let him get a free release off the line of scrimmage. The ball is at the 1-yard line, and Fitzgerald is either going to run a slant or a fade. Either route depends a lot on timing, but the cover guy (Brown, I think), doesn't jam him. If Fitzgerald can't get off the line right away, the ball is overthrown. Lots of teams don't jam receivers enough, especially when they're playing a team that relies on timing routes, like the Cardinals do. What the hell?
And then there's Jim Johnson's defensive strategy. I love Jim Johnson, don't get me wrong. But sometimes he does inexplicable things. On Thanksgiving, the Eagles didn't blitz a lot. They made Warner hold onto the ball and look around, and Warner tends to get happy feet if he has to hold onto the ball a long time, and that leads to sacks and fumbles. So why change? The Eagles blitzed too much, and Warner loves that, because he's best when he takes short drops and zips the ball out of there. He's difficult to blitz because of that. I was surprised the Eagles didn't just play tight coverage and let their front four get pressure, because that's what worked the first time. Why didn't they? Beats me.
McNabb didn't have a great game, but he's not the reason they lost. Early on he threw some bad passes, but neither of his two turnovers led to scores and he (apparently) made some wonderful throws in the second half. I put this almost all on the defense - you can't let the best player beat you, and they simply didn't cover Fitzgerald well enough (granted, it's hard to cover him, but it didn't appear like they tried anything new after seeing him destroy the Panthers, which is just stupid). When the Eagles finally took a lead, Arizona went right down the field for the winning points. So although I'm sure lots of Philadelphia fans are baying for McNabb's blood right now, they should be wondering why the defense couldn't keep it together in the biggest game of the season. I've said this before and I'll say it again - McNabb should be the quarterback of the Eagles as long as he wants to be. If anyone has to go of the Reid-McNabb alliance, it should be the coach. His refusal to commit to the run game always bites the Eagles in the ass. I don't think he should go, either, but if one of them has to, it should be Andy.
Eagles fans who are bitching about the QB or coach should remember the Ray Rhodes Era. Or the Richie Kotite Era. Or the Marion Campbell Era. Or even the Buddy Ryan Era (good teams, never won a playoff game). Yes, the Eagles still don't have a Super Bowl win. But back in those days, you could stop paying attention to football in early November, if not sooner. It's January, and we're still watching the Eagles play football. So that's pretty nice, even if it doesn't lead to the promised land.
Oh, as for the Cardinals? The Steelers better figure out how to cover Larry Fitzgerald, or they just might become the "worst" team (by record) to win a Super Bowl.
DeSean Jackson update! 6 catches for 92 yards and 1 touchdown; 1 punt return for 13 yards.
Turnovers: Eagles 3, Cardinals 1. Turnovers = loss? Actually, no, but I'll go by the stats. One Philly turnover led to the Arizona one ... on the same play (interception by Arizona, fumble back to Philly); a fumble led to no points; the third turnover was on the last play of the game. So I'll give Arizona the "win," but it's odd that four turnovers were so inconsequential in a game of this magnitude. 1-0.
Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14. Apparently there was a game last night. I turned it on in time to see the Ravens score to make it 16-14, and then I happened to see Troy Polamalu return his interception for a touchdown. He's good.
Turnovers: Ravens 4, Steelers 1. Turnovers = loss? Probably. 2-0.
And so order is restored in the NFL, as the home teams both win the Championship Games. On the one hand, I'd like to see the Cardinals win the Super Bowl, and they have a slim chance. Pittsburgh also likes to blitz, and if they try it like the Eagles did, Fitzgerald or Boldin (let's not forget him, as he'll probably be completely healthy by them) will be able to get open for big plays. The Steelers don't have a great offense, so a few big plays might do them in - as long as Arizona doesn't turn the ball over. On the other hand, the Bidwills, who own the Cardinals, are scum of the earth, especially the old man, William. Bidwill is the guy who refuses to share the 1925 title with the Pottsville Maroons, even though his family retroactively claimed the crown when they had no right to. This is a guy who is quoted in today's newspaper whining about the Eagles' defeat of the Cardinals in the 1948 NFL Championship Game. He says, "We had beaten the five times in a row. Then the blizzard game came. It should have been move to Monday night, but the commissioner wouldn't change it." First, Bidwill, it was 60 years ago. Let it go! Second, the commissioner at the time asked both teams (which includes the Cardinals) whether they wanted to play or postpone it. Both teams wanted to play. It's a little late to be bitching about it when you had your chance back then, isn't it? (Bidwill didn't own the team back then, but he was involved with running it.) So I just want Bidwill to be thwarted once again in his quest, because if history is any indication, he's so cheap he won't play Kurt Warner (a free agent) to come back and he won't re-negotiate Anquan Boldin's contract, and next year the team will suck again.
It doesn't really matter, because I'm not going to watch the Super Bowl. Once the Eagles leave the scene, football has no interest for me. I'm not that grumpy, because after the Eagles lost to Baltimore and fell to 5-5-1, I didn't expect them to make the playoffs, so anything they did in the postseason was gravy. I hope they are a better team next year, and I hope Andy Reid gets a big back to pound the middle so he doesn't get his quarterback and his other running back killed. And would it kill them to throw more screen passes? Sheesh.