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Ultimate love-hate conflict for an Eagles fan heading into playoffs

As a life-long Eagles fan I will try to explain my love-hate complex which is numbing my expectations for the NFC Divisional showdown with Atlanta this Saturday:

I love that we’re in this situation. Home game, week of rest on the Bye, Atlanta is very good but very beatable…

I hate that we’re not at full strength personnel-wise. I hate that we’re without our best guys at LT, MLB, PR and QB.

Last time we were in this type game, with all the hyped-up pressure and increased tempo, we had arguably much less overall roster talent but at least proven key positional personnel at the “can’t afford mistakes” spots—LT, MLB, PR and QB.

The year was 2009 after a bizarre 2008 regular season which ended up at 9-6-1.

LT= Tra Thomas

MLB= Stewart Bradley

PR= Brian Westbrook

QB= Donovan McNabb

See the photo of Najee Goode up above? It’s from Tuesday’s practice session indoors at NovaCare. Look into his eyes. Do you see the urgency to make a difference in the void left by the injured MLB Jordan Hicks? I know we’re counting upon him and Dannell Ellerbe to be that kind of guy on Saturday. Is it asking too much?

This is the kind of look I want to see in our MLB’s eyes on Saturday:

Stewart Bradley (55) and Co. made two fourth-down stands in the fourth quarter, allowing Philadelphia to pull away for a 23-11 victory over the Giants in that divisional title game on January 11, 2009.

At PR, the biggest thing is to make smart decisions on when to fair-catch and when not to, not to mention securing the ball when you do elect to catch it. I’m holding my breath when Kenjon Barner is back there on the 10 and he’s got to make that kind of decision. Mistakes here are crucial. I never had that concern with Brian Westbrook back there.

At LT (left tackle), there is also very little margin of error for Big V in the passing game. One too many turnstile mistakes and the game goes advantage Atlanta. Nick Foles needs to be kept clean of clear shots from the left side of the line, or we are going to be tortured by some serious bad plays, the kind that end in strip-sacks or passes bouncing straight up in the air off a defensive lineman’s helmet. You didn’t have to worry about stuff like that with Tra Thomas at LT.

That brings us to QB. I am so sick of the national media saying we’re not a good team without Carson Wentz. We are still a good team, just not a great team without Wentz. That said, it’s up to Nick Foles to compensate, and for Doug Pederson to call his plays accordingly.

In the playoffs in 2008-09, Donovan McNabb was not exactly at the top of his Carson Wentz-type game either. He was pretty much beaten up after enduring busted ribs, broken ankle and an ACL of his own. But he had a ton more playoff experience than Nick Foles has had.

McNabb was far from perfect in the 2009 divisional title win. But he gave us a gritty never-say-die performance.

Ahmad Bradshaw returned the opening kickoff to the Eagle 35-yard line and the Giants finished the drive with a 22-yard John Carney field goal. On the first play of New York’s next drive, Asante Samuel came up with another big playoff interception for the Eagles, returning the ball inside the New York 5-yard line. Donovan McNabb stretched the ball over the plane for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak as Philadelphia took a 7–3 lead. New York punter Jeff Feagles pinned the Eagles deep in their own territory early in the second quarter, and the Giants defense forced McNabb into committing an intentional grounding penalty from his own endzone, giving the Giants a safety. Carney missed from 46 yards on the ensuing New York possession, but he was good from 34 yard on the next possession as New York went ahead 8–7. The Eagles’ offense finally got on track on their last possession of the half, driving down the field and getting a 25-yard field goal by David Akers to take a 10–8 lead to the locker room.

New York defensive lineman Fred Robbins came up with an interception of McNabb early in the third quarter, and New York retook the lead on a field goal. Philadelphia responded with an impressive drive highlighted by McNabb finding slot receiver Jason Avant for a 21-yard gain on 3rd-and-20 and running back Correll Buckhalter for 19 yards on 3rd-and-10. The drive ended in a short field goal and the Eagles led 13–11. Carney missed a 47-yarder on the next drive, and the Eagles capitalized with a 10-play drive capped with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek. Early in the fourth quarter, on 4th-and-1 from the Giant 44-yard line, Eli Manning was stuffed on a quarterback sneak. On the next drive, the Eagles defensive line stopped Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs on third and fourth down. After the ball turned over on downs, McNabb laced a 48-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson. A field goal followed and the Eagles took a 23–11 lead. Quintin Mikell‘s interception of Manning essentially ended the game.

The point being, Nick Foles doesn’t have to play a perfect game. He just has to be in the moment and make the plays that are there to be made. You get knocked down, you get back up. It’s 60 minutes, and 20 of them might be bad—real bad—but Nick has got to believe in his teammates’ ability to keep him in the hunt. The game could easily come down to Foles’ making one bold strike with everything on the line, as a less-than-perfect McNabb proved in the 2009 playoff game.

As for current head coach Doug Pederson, I love his mantra for the team to “come out swinging” on Saturday, but I hate his P.S. that “even if we lose, we have a lot to build upon for next season.”

Ugh. I don’t expect Doug to “guarantee” a victory ala Joe Namath back in the 1969 Super Bowl, but I am troubled by his Freudian slip which implies he is prepared to lose. Doug’s been acting weird all week. His press conferences have been puzzling, not the usual Doug. Some say he is consciously imitating Bill Belichick in the way he seems to be handling the media right now. I don’t know about that, but even if so, he’s copying a proven winner.

It’s all part of my love-hate complex for this team, this franchise. It’s like how you love your mom, but hate the chores and the grief she gives you when you screw up and she tells you you’ll never amount to anything.

 

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