Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The NFC Title Game is Here, Part II

I think Jeff Schultz at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is desperately trying to annoy Eagle Nation. First, there was yesterday's serving of Falcon crap to dissect. Now, this...

They break certain rules here. One of the parking spaces reserved for the handicapped at the Eagles' training complex has been reassigned to somebody deemed far more worthy. A makeshift sign slapped over the blue wheelchair icon reads: RESERVED FOR T. OWENS ONLY.

Now, if they could just change the rules on the field, everybody would just be so much happier here.

"All of the people who are paranoid? Have a good time," Brian Dawkins said. "We're not playing that game."

This year is different, they say. Of course. When you think about it, every year has been different. Once they lost to St. Louis. Once they lost to Tampa Bay. Once they lost to Carolina. There's your difference. This week, Philadelphia plays in its fourth straight NFC title game, against the Falcons. The Eagles will be missing Terrell Owens, the player they figured could best get them over the hump or through it. No Owens, no difference?

Donovan McNabb talked about pressure Sunday after the Eagles dispatched of Minnesota, 27-14. He said it was all on the Falcons. But McNabb's trail of logic was nonsensical and presumably orchestrated to deflect attention away from himself and his team.

The Falcons have played in only one NFC title game (after the 1998 season). They won.

The Eagles have played in four in the modern era. They won in 1980 and constructed a new identity for themselves in the last three.

The Falcons are underdogs Sunday. If they lose this game, there will be abbreviated feelings of devastation, immediately followed by warm reflections on the season and a glowing outlook on the future, thanks to the franchise's four corners: Arthur Blank, Rich McKay, Jim Mora and Michael Vick.

If the Eagles lose, there won't even be a millisecond of excuse time. This isn't a town built for, "That's OK, guys. We know T.O. didn't play. The important thing is, you tried. Hot cocoa?" This is a town built for, "Andy Reid - dead man. Donovan McNabb - dead. Every miserable slob in that pathetic organization - dead."

And the pressure is on the Falcons?

...Perception is reality. The Falcons are the fun team to watch, the young team on the rise. The Eagles are the franchise that's out of excuses. Lose in the Super Bowl without Owens, they could be forgiven. Lose Sunday without Owens but with Jevon Kearse and with Brian Westbrook and on their home field - again - there's no slack, bunky.

...This is how long it has been since Philadelphia won an NFL championship: Chuck Bednarik played 58 minutes as a center and linebacker. The Eagles beat Green Bay in 1960.
I might get tired of ripping this guy to shreds by Thursday, but not yet.

1. Yeah, I know the Eagles haven't won a title since 1960. But the Falcons have as many NFL Titles as Pauly Shore has Oscars.

2. Last I checked, T.O. has a broken leg. I know he's superman, but a broken bone generally qualifies you for a handicapped space. Heck, I know some people who spent a couple years at Villanova with a handicapped sticker on their automobile, and they needed it far less than T.O. does now.

3. Yeah, T.O. won't play Sunday. So what will be the Falcons' excuse when an Eagles team that's less than 100% beats them? It wasn't their time yet?

4. Schultz sees a "glowing outlook on the future" for the Falcons franchise. Please, why don't they try earning consecutive playoff berths before they start bragging? The Eagles have been to the playoffs five straight years. They're several million under the salary cap, thanks to smart cap management (too smart, sometimes). They've locked up a lot of their young talent. Their top four picks from the 2002 draft (Sheppard, Lewis, Brown and Westbrook) include two Pro Bowlers (Sheppard and Lewis), another starting cornerback (Brown) and their most explosive offensive weapon (Westbrook). And they have ten draft picks in April, including three in the top 60 picks. Now that's a glowing future.

5. Mike Vick, wunderkind that he is, passed for 82 yards more than I did last weekend, and I was checking out rehearsal dinner sites in Hershey, PA. Vick will need to pass for a lot more than that to win on Sunday. Unfortunately, he's playing a secondary with three Pro Bowlers in it.

6. Fine, the Falcons are a fun team to watch. So were the Colts. Peyton Manning will be watching the Super Bowl again, same as everyone else. Maybe he can keep a seat warm for Vick.

7. Please note the entire absence of any real football analysis comparing the two teams in his column. I was half-expecting a lame joke about booing Santa Claus. Maybe he's saving that for tomorrow.

8. The Falcons, miracle of miracles, won their only NFC Championship Game appearance, back in 1998. That was so long ago that no one save a few rabid Virginia Tech boosters knew who Vick was. It was so long ago that America didn't even know who Ashton Kutcher was (sigh - a much better time, in many ways). That was so long ago, Mike Shanahan actually won a playoff game - he won the Super Bowl. In fact, there's a nice legacy for the Falcons -- they're the last team to lose to Shanahan in a playoff game.

9. The Falcons will likely rely on their league-leading rushing attack on Sunday, which also means relying on their rushing leader, Warrick Dunn. The same Warrick Dunn whose first two playoff visits to Philadelphia ended in frostbite and losses with Tampa Bay. Somebody needs to get Dunn some long johns.

10. Yes, the fans in Philly are tough. But are we sure there are any fans in Atlanta? We know one thing -- the reason people will walk away with a feel-good glow in Atlanta on Monday after they lose is because they don't have any real passion for their team. Eagles fans bleed green-and-white. Falcons fans need to be reminded what their team colors are.


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