FOXBORO, Mass. -- Dispatches from that wildly entertaining and better-than-we-ever-expected Eagles-Patriots game at the Big Razor Blade on Sunday night ...
• They had to earn this one. Work for it. Break an honest to goodness sweat. Pitch a tent and make a night of it.
But in the end, when they added up the pluses and stacked them against the minuses, the New England Patriots still protected everything that really matters. They lost nothing but a little aura of invincibility, and the truth is, that could wind up being a good thing. Their perfect record is intact at 11-0, and so is their clear-cut path to history, which just got narrowed to a five-game march through the month of December.
The Patriots were severely tested by the prideful Eagles in their 31-28 victory -- their closest game of this memorable season -- but ultimately the lessons they learned didn't cost them any of their goals. New England was reminded that no team, no matter how talented, can play its A game every week in the NFL. The league is too tough, the season too long. Some games you just survive, and tip your hat to an opponent that nearly had the measure of you.
There's no shame in that.
"It was just one of those games,'' Patriots safety
"You're not going to be able to play your best game each and every week. But the thing that's positive, the thing that's encouraging is that we were able to pull it out despite not playing particularly well. You can't take away from what (the Eagles) did. They came out and they handed it to us. They came into a hostile environment and they were able to make plays all over the field. But at the end, we were able to clinch, and that's the important thing.''
As close a call as it was for New England, the Patriots drove for the go-ahead touchdown on offense when they had to -- scoring midway through the fourth quarter -- and came up with the game-saving interception when they had to (by cornerback
Something tells me the Patriots have one or two more of these nail-biters coming this season, and Sunday night's tense unfolding of events might be a resource that New England draws on for positive muscle memory.
"It gives you confidence, confidence in the team and confidence in the other players,'' Harrison said. "You're not going to blow people out by 30 points every game. Especially in November and December, when it starts getting cold outside and you can't really pass the ball as much, and you have to do different things. It helps build confidence to know when a game is close we can pull it out.''
• For reasons weren't not entirely clear on, the Eagles (5-6) apparently didn't get the memo informing them that they were cast in the role of the Washington Generals opposite to the NFL's version of the Globetrotters.
This is what a moral victory looks like in today's NFL. You take the mighty Patriots the distance, and wind up standing tall and proud like Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed (at least in the first fight).
A point-spread of 24 points, huh? Vegas was only off by three touchdowns in this one. The Eagles came into the game determined not to be the Patriots' next tomato can, and they very nearly delivered a knockout punch themselves. New England beat Philly by three points in the Super Bowl almost three years ago, and from the looks of it, the gap hasn't budged.
"That was about the way we expected it tonight,'' Patriots head coach
If the Eagles play like this the rest of the way, they might just go from 5-6 to the playoffs for a second consecutive December.
"We proved to ourselves what we can do,'' Philadelphia receiver
Said Eagles coach
• What a perfect game plan the Eagles concocted for this one. How do you begin to deal with a team that refuses to lose? You play it as if you have nothing to lose. You take chances galore. And then you take some more. You play aggressive on offense, aggressive on defense, and aggressive on special teams.
You onside kick early in the second quarter (the Eagles did, and naturally it worked). You throw pass after pass on offense, and you blitz
The Eagles defensively were resourceful all night long. A long-standing 4-3 defensive team, they went into a 3-4 formation often, using linebacker
"We felt we had to pressure them,'' Eagles defensive coordinator
"We disappointed we lost. But realistically we did some good things out there. But that's a good quarterback. He's smart, and he still made his throws.''
• Brady, who threw for 380 yards, but a season-low one touchdown, wasn't the only good quarterback on the field. If you're looking for reasons why the Patriots were nearly perfect no more, it starts with the astounding game that
If A.J. Feeley was thought of at all coming into this game, he was an afterthought. At most. After all, it was A.J. Feeley, for crying out loud.
But guess what? He may not be the Eagles future (
"He showed tremendous poise back there,'' Harrison said of Feeley, who threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns, with three interceptions. "The guy looked like a Pro Bowler back there.''
Feeley has been through this career loop-de-loop before, of course. He failed in his starting chance in Miami after his first stint in Philadelphia, but he wouldn't be the first 30-year-old quarterback in the NFL to get a late-career shot and make the most of it. No matter what Reid says publicly about McNabb's job security -- and after the game he re-affirmed McNabb is the starter once he's healthy -- it's going to be hard to not keep running Feeley back out there for the foreseeable future. Feeley's veteran teammates can see the difference between where McNabb's at these days, and where Feeley was Sunday night.
"A win would have been great, but we can't talk about it,'' Feeley said. "It's something to build on for this team. Obviously it was a loss. It's tough to take, but I think we're going to build on some of the positives that came out of this game.''
• What a weapon Patriots slot receiver
"Tonight was just my night,'' Welker said, in typical Patriot understatement.
But Welker's best move of the night? That came just after the game, during a live on-field interview with NBC's sideline reporter,
"Bill Belichick is calling me over,'' Welker told a surprised Kremer. "And he's the one man I take over you.''
• Think about this one, football fans: From the fourth quarter of their Week 9 game at Indy, until halftime of Sunday night, the Patriots totaled 12 possessions. They scored 11 touchdowns and one field goal on those dozen drives.