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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Eagles Crush Dallas

As the Christmas euphoria slowly fades, I’m still rather shocked at the turn the Philadelphia Eagles’ season has taken. After yesterday’s 23-7 pounding of the Cowboys in Dallas, which wasn’t even that close and clinched a playoff spot, this team that was once left for dead looks poised for a deep playoff run. I won’t even scoff at those using “Super Bowl” and “Eagles” in the same sentence.

Despite the reluctance of seemingly every media member to say it, Jeff Garcia is running this team better than Donovan McNabb has for most of his career. The fact is that this team relied on the big play under McNabb, and that’s not what this offense is meant to do. They don’t have to do that under Garcia, who has been consistent, responds well after making potentially critical errors, and is clearly more comfortable in the offense and the spotlight. He even runs the ball effectively, something McNabb started to shy away from, and has taken balls that bounce at the feet of receivers out of the offense.

The refrain from McNabb loyalists is, “It’s only five games.” Yet, the fact is Garcia has been in this offense his whole career, and made a few Pro Bowls. He’s not Joe Montana by any means, but in this offense with this talent around him, he is better than McNabb.

The “mystery” of better play calling is a bit confounding, but I have to believe it has something to do with Garcia. The lack of running the ball has been an issue for years, including the first part of this one, and now it’s not. Time of possession was another issue that lingered, and it no longer grabs headlines. What changed? Yes, Marty Mornhinweg is now calling the plays, but I can’t believe that’s the whole story.

Is it possible Garcia simply instills more confidence in the coaches than McNabb? That might explain the team running the ball more – if you’re not afraid of 2nd and 3rd and long because your more confident in your quarterback’s ability on more pressurized plays, maybe you can risk a run failing on first down.

Another potential factor in the turnaround seems to be Garcia’s personality. Normally, I don’t care what a guy “gives” the press, but just the way he answers post-game questions offers possible insight. He’s just a guy talking football, as opposed to McNabb’s stock answers that make him seem hyper-sensitive. Cliché as it may be, this is still football, and I can’t imagine this isn’t a factor for the rest of the team on some level.

The whole world saw Andy Reid get in Garcia’s face after he spiked the ball at a guy for an idiotic 15-yard penalty a week ago. There’s no way Reid would ever have yelled at McNabb that way. It just suggests that Garcia doesn’t need to be treated with kid gloves. Reid even talked today about how Garcia took a leadership role; a lot of guys on the team, except Garcia, have said the same. When healthy, McNabb talked more than anyone about McNabb as the leader.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that guys have stopped dropping balls. Brian Westbrook running better than any back in decades for the Eagles doesn’t hurt. Correll Buckhalter staying healthy certainly doesn’t hurt. The defense’s re-awakening doesn’t hurt either. This team looks like it’s clicking on all cylinders, speaking of clichés, but the quarterback is still the focal point.

It just seems ironic that with the big name quarterback on the sidelines, the Eagles may be more poised than ever for a deep playoff. It also appears to be true.

Other thoughts:
· This may actually become one of the more memorable win in years. Smacking Dallas in Texas on Christmas Day, complete with an incredible goal-line stand and watching T.O. pout afterwards . . . just awesome.
· If this Eagles season doesn’t convince you that there is no such thing as an NFL expert, nothing will. Every analyst said this team was doomed in the second half of the season, especially with three straight division road games. They just swept those games.
· The first words out of Darwin Walker’s mouth after the game when approached by a reporter bemoaned how everyone had written the team off. It’s a minor thing, but I hate when players do that.

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