SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Finishing

I don't recall when I first heard this term used in sports, although it might have been used in conjunction with Chris Webber's role on Michigan's "Fab Five" teams in the 90's. Webber isn't a great shooter, but he had a knack of getting inside and making a lot of baskets in traffic. It also seemed like he could follow others' shots and convert offensive rebounds into scores. The Fab Five rolled over most of its competition, and they had a good knack of finishing off opponents. Put differently, when they had an opponent in a bad place, they kept them there. True, those Michigan teams did not win a national title, but they did finish off most of their opponents.

Now, that term is widely used, and whether you use it in sports or in business, you know the types of teams, players, people and companies you're talking about. You're talking about people who take a project from start to finish and, yes, they get it done -- well and on time.

Fast forward to today, where at the start of the fourth quarter my beloved hometown football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, was smacking their division rivals, the New York Giants, all over Lincoln Financial Field. Donovan McNabb's offense was impressive (despite a few drops from starting FB Thomas Tapeh), and the defense put a great rush on Eli Manning (who, when they didn't, excelled at finding open receivers). The much-talked about defensive line, which goes eight deep and sometimes substituted the back-up line for the starters, fired off the ball well, the Giants, relatively speaking, look tired, and it was 24-7 at the start of the fourth quarter.

And then the Eagles forgot that they were playing the formidable New York Giants, a division rival (oh, I said that already), a team that made the playoffs last year, and a team that most predicted would finish ahead of them in the division this year. Andy Reid's offense got conservative and neglected to do what had given them the big lead (shades of the sleep-walking that they suffered during the fourth quarter when trying to come from behind the Patriots in the Super Bowl two years ago). Michael Lewis failed to pick up a Plexico Burress fumble deep in Eagles' territory that would have ended the Giants' drive early in the fourth quarter (Tim Carter ended up falling on the ball for a TD that, after the PAT, made it 24-14, Eagles. Had Lewis picked up the ball, the score would have been 24-7, with the Eagles in possession. Talking about a big swing -- in points and momentum). Brian Westbrook fumbled later in the quarter, Trenton Cole incurred a stupid personal foul in that gave Giants' kicker Jay Feely an makeable FG with ten seconds to go to send the game into OT, #4 CB Joselio Hanson seemingly played his way onto the waiver wire with his inability to cover a bed let alone Amani Toomer or Burress, and the Eagles' imploded.

To the Giants' great credit, the Eagles' failure to finish them coincided nicely with their refusal to believe that they were finished. They kept on coming at the Eagles, and their fortitude was rewarded. Eli Manning, battered but unbowed, kept on rallying his team, and he hooked up with Burress with about 5 to go in OT to give the Giants' an improbable walk-off win in OT, 30-24.

It wasn't rope-a-dope, it wasn't playing possum, it was just a refusal to quit when the other team had hit them hard for three quarters of the game. The Eagles had the Giants on the ropes and failed to finish them, and, despite what Giants' fans might say now, after three quarters most, if not all, believed that their season was in jeopardy and that their team was finished for the afternoon. Give the Giants loud kudos-- they fought back mightily and will build on this win in weeks to come. But as much credit as the Giants deserve, the Eagles deserve the same amount of criticism. In the weeks to come, we'll see whether this victory will be more of a boon to the Giants than the crushing defeat will be a consistent nag on the Eagles' confidence.

The Eagles just plain blew it today.

Going into the game, many Eagles fans expected their team to lose today. They were concerned that the Giants needed the game more, and, as a result, would come in more focused. The Giants did need the game more and got out of the gate quickly, but it was the focus of the Eagles that impressed everyone for 3/4 of the game. Given the way the game went down today, Eagles fans will be most bummed not only that the team lost, but how they lost.

Philadelphia is a city starved for a champion. Deep down, Eagles fans had hoped that last year was an aberration, and that their beloved Birds would recover, go 10-6, and at least make the playoffs this season. Their schedule is tough, but their defense seems revamped, and the offense seems reinvigorated. Most fans won't despair after this loss, for it's much too early in the season. It's when we're in week 13 or 14, with 3 starters on the IR and the team battling for a wild card spot or division title, that they could look back on this game and wonder what the season might have been had they been able to finish the Giants today.

The Giants' showed a champion's determination today. They keep their calm and took each series one at a time, and with precision they wore down the Eagles' defense and exploited the absence of Lito Sheppard and Rod Hood in the secondary. Helmets off to them for a wonderful effort. When everyone thought they were finished, they finished strong.

The Eagles?

They simply failed to finish.

2 Comments:

Blogger Escort81 said...

Certainly, give Eli Manning credit for a great performance late in the game, going 20 for his last 26, despite being sacked 8 times during the game.

My first thought after the game was that Andy Reid's mixed record of drafting has caught up with him. Matt Ware was a 3rd round pick out of UCLA in 2004 and appeared to be the kind of tall, lanky CB that the Eagles needed to defend the bigger receivers in the NFC East. He was beat out by journeyman Joselio Hanson in the final roster cuts this year, leading one to infer that Ware either did not have the head or the physical skills for the position. Either way, he is a significant bust. A sucessful CB pick at that slot changes the nature of the fourth quarter of the Giants-Eagles game, since, as Troy Aikman commented on the Fox broadcast, Manning was looking at who Hanson was trying to cover on every play.

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