What Would Buddy Do?
Season in Review: Top Five Eagles games of the 2008 season (now with extra hindsight bias)
Posted on February 7th, 2009 at 5:30 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

As part of the post-season post-mortem, I’m treating myself to a review of the happy moments from this past season.  I offer you my five favorite games, which I will argue were the “best” Eagles games of the season.  “Best” is pretty loosely defined here, but the criteria in play are (a) quality of opponent/ victory, (b) potential for persisting in our memory beyond the next couple months, including signature plays or moments, and (c) how I enjoyed that particular game.  Essentially, I’m trying to figure out which five games I’ll remember a few years from now.  Note that I’ve left myself some wiggle room with criterion (c) — where and how I watched the game will actually matter here.

For those of you still convinced this wasn’t a cool season, rest assured that this was actually a challenging list to assemble.  I seriously sweated some of these calls.  Yeah.  No kidding.  Note also that the playoff games don’t automatically earn a spot on the list (though it’s hard to exclude them).

And now, in descending order…

(5) Eagles 26, Vikings 14 @Minnesota, January 4, 2009.  This edges out the honorable mentions by virtue of being a playoff game and having two signature plays: (a) the Brian Westbrook screen-pass TD and (b) the Asante Samuel pick-six, which included Chris Clemons flattening Tavaris Jackson.  The Westbrook TD will livve in my memory as a companion piece to the long screen-pass TD against the Redskins last season.  It’s also worth noting that, um, well, maybe there won’t be a ton of awesome Brian Westbrook plays in the future.  What I’ll remember about watching this game is that it felt like the Eagles were losing throughout most of the first half (even though they were winning).  What I’ll probably forget is how a bad snap made the ending of this game a lot less stressful than it could have been.

(4) Eagles 20, Giants 14 @ The Meadowlands, December 7, 2008.  I would argue that this was the game that turned the season for the Eagles — more so than the win against the Cardinals.  Sure, the Giants were reeling a bit from the Plax news, and the Birds had a couple extra days of rest, but this was the game that showed us how they’d make their run: tough defense and an efficient offense led by a pissed-off Donovan McNabb.  It didn’t hurt that Antonio Pierce was personally responsible for the Eagles’ two touchdowns, the second of which will be remembered as signature play (the dump-off pass where Westbrook just ran away from Pierce).  It also didn’t hurt that I had great seats and ended up on TV.  At the time, I expected that this would be the highlight of the season.

(3) Eagles 23, Giants 11 @ The Meadowlands, January 11, 2009.  An abusive effort from the Eagles’ defense that included two (2) fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter.  We knew the Giants weren’t the same team they were in early November, but they still had a week off and home-field advantage: and the Birds still roughed them up.  In addition to the fourth-down plays, we’ll also remember the Asante Samuel pick and Donovan McNabb’s phone call (though we didn’t actually see that).  We had great seats (at the goal line, nine rows up) and the Birds scored both their TDs right in front of us.  And we’ll fondly remember joining the crowd of Birds’ fans above the tunnel after the game.  And then we went to Disney World (!).

(2) Eagles 44, Cowboys 6 @ Lincoln Financial Field, December 28, 2008.  Eagles porn!  Not since the playoff win against the Lions in the mid-nineties had a game just completely gone this improbably well for the Birds.  That it happened against the Cowboys with a playoff spot on the line in the final game of the season, in a game that wouldn’t have mattered had a 13.5-point favorite lost at home in the one-o’clock slot…well, I mean, I guess that’s why we call it Eagles porn.  Things you probably don’t remember about this game include the fact that McNabb only threw for 175 yards (though he accounted for 3 TDs).  Things you’ll remember for a long time include Chris Clemons dropping the stiff arm on Tashard choice, Brian Dawkins ripping the ball out of Marion Barber’s hands, and the part where Tony Romo apparently collapsed in the locker room.  Note that as of today (February 7, 2009), it appears that the Cowboys have yet to recover from this loss.

(1) Eagles 15, Steelers 6 @Lincoln Financial Field, September 21, 2008.  Would this — a September game against an AFC opponent — have been number 1 if the Steelers hadn’t won the Super Bowl?  No.  But it would have been no lower than number 3.  This game was the sneak preview of the Eagles defense that would emerge in December.  Watching the game again is as Eagles porn-y as the Cowboys game, and maybe even more so: the Eagles’ pass rush looked like something out of the early 90s.  From the NFL.com game report:

The Eagles recorded nine sacks and a safety and had at least twice that many knock-downs. And those numbers don’t count the four times Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger barely escaped sacks and was credited with 6 total rushing yards. If Roethlisberger was less elusive, the Eagles very easily could have tallied 15 sacks or more.

Remember also that the Eagles didn’t have much on offense that day: Westbrook got hurt early, Kevin Curtis wasn’t back yet, and the Steelers can also play some defense.  But the Birds got it done, most because Pittsburgh could not keep their quarterback upright.  The signature play of the game — and maybe the season — is undoubtedly the Brian Dawkins superhero strip-and-recovery with 3:39 left in the game in which Dawkins appears to violate the laws of Newtonian physics (feel free to treat yourself to another viewing).  If this game gets mysteriously erased from my DVR, couples therapy will be in my future.

Honorable mentions: Eagles 48, Cardinals 20, Dallas 41, Eagles 37 (the only loss that had a chance).

After further review, a more reasonable (and oddly enthusiastic) take on the recent unpleasantness
Posted on January 24th, 2009 at 3:28 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Like Andy Reid says, “This is a very sudden thing when you lose in the playoffs.”

Certainly for the players and coaches this makes sense, but it also feels a bit sudden for us fans.  Over the past week I’ve had to go cold-turkey on my daily feeding of Eagles content (the other Eagles blogs, Football Outsiders, the local papers, the team videos, PFT, you get it), and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice.  With the Eagles out of the playoffs, I really just lost interest.  Could barely make it through the high-end NFL Films highlights on Inside the NFL.  And I wasn’t happy about it (I like reading/ watching all that crap).

With time comes acceptance, and now I feel like I have to move on and do things like “start paying closer attention to the rest of the world.”  Can’t say that’s been particularly thrilling, what with the ongoing global economic meltdown, a tough week for my employer, and the bitter cold darkness of winter.  I suppose the inauguration thing was nice, but that was just a brief pause from the aforementioned global economic meltdown.  Should be fun.

Still, a few days off from consuming the content and writing about it has afforded me a bit of clarity regarding the 2008 Eagles.  After losing the NFC Championship Game, I wasn’t sure if this season was a success or a failure, or if I was happy or bummed about it.  I mean, I was as pissed about the game as anyone, but that’s not the right time to try to assess the full season.  But now I’m there.

May I now present my summary and non-specific (no talk of specific players, games, etc, plenty of time for that later) judgment regarding the 2008 Eagles: inconsistent teams really make for excellent TV shows, and this was both inconsistent and wildly entertaining.

This was not a great team.  Their record and the circumstances that propelled them into the playoffs (a 13.5-point favorite losing at home in Week 17) were fair and to be expected.  9-6-1 sounds like a slightly better than average team.  If the Eagles had been consistently good, they wouldn’t have needed such an absurd set of circumstances to get into the playoffs.  But, given the chance, they gave us a spectacular treat: a couple of playoff wins, and a trip to the NFC Championship that was painfully close to working out.  And there was nothing that wasn’t awesome about that.

So I think we’re allowed to be bummed about all the missed opportunities throughout the season, but maybe the reason the Eagles didn’t prevail in some of those winnable scenarios was that they weren’t really that much better than their opponents.  They were in the mix throughout, sure, and when the bounces went their way — say a failed snap by the Vikings, a stop on fourth-and-2 against the Giants — there was much rejoicing.  But for every bounce that went their way, we can all remember a few that didn’t — fourth-down plays against the Bears and Giants, Quintin Mikell not getting off his block on fourth down against the Cardinals, the ball dropping through DeSean Jackson’s hands against the Skins.  We tend to focus on the misses as if the team should expect to convert all of their opportunities, but it doesn’t work that way.  There’s a bit of randomness in there, and when you’re a slightly better than average team, well, you can’t expect much more than a random distribution of happy outcomes.  So the Birds were a bit “unlucky” at times, but they also had more than their share of “lucky” moments as well.

In that context, I think the last four weeks were an absolute treat.  Sure, they lost in the NFC Champsionship again, but they also destroyed the Cowboys (in what I hope will be remembered as the “Eagles porn” game), and beat the Giants in the playoffs!  On the road!  The Cowboys still haven’t recovered from that loss, by the way, and who among us isn’t loving that we get to enter the 2009 season with significant bragging rights versus the Giants?  Also the defense played super cool and Andy Reid had a ridiculous beard!  This is pure goodness.

Despite what they sold us last summer, the Super Bowl was not this team’s birthright — they weren’t that good.  But they still almost got there!  As customers, how can we be bummed about that?  Leave the sunk costs — and deep emotional scars — of NFC Championships past behind you, and admit that this was all a blast, and certainly a whole helluva lot more than you thought you were getting from this team in November or October.

Like any good drama, this season had a twist and a surprise ending.  It may have been occasionally ponderous and sometimes dreary, but you can’t argue with the trick ending.  Thus shall I remember this team fondly: they weren’t actually that good, but I sure walked out with a smile on my face.  To borrow a phrase, the Eagles outkicked their coverage a bit, and I really enjoyed watching it.

Administrivia: we’ll be mostly dark around here for the next couple weeks, with a bigger announcement looming.  I’ve got a couple season-review pieces I’d like to post in the next couple days, though.  Bear with me.