As always, here are my 10 observations from the Eagles' 20-14 win over the Giants:
1. Just when people started questioning Brian Westbrook’s health, age and ability, he responded with a historic back-to-back stretch, proving once again why he’s one of the best weapons in the NFL, and also a fan favorite. Against the Giants, he carried 33 times for 131 yards and caught six balls for 72 yards. In the last two games, he's piled up 241 yards on the ground, 92 yards receiving and six total touchdowns. In 2003, Westbrook returned a punt 84 yards for the game-winning touchdown in a 14-10 Eagles win over the Giants at the Meadowlands. In 2008, perhaps he saved the season.
3. He’s been killed plenty of times this season and throughout his career, and rightfully so. But it’s only right we give L.J. Smith some credit for this game. The numbers aren’t really astounding – six catches for 44 yards. But Smith made some plays at big times. With 2:49 left in the second quarter, he made a nice move for a 10-yard gain on third-and-nine from the Eagles’ 48-yard line. Later in the drive he made a 12-yard catch for another first down. We all know the drive didn't end well, but Smith did his part to get the team in field-goal range. After the game, Andy Reid was asked if this was Smith’s best performance of the year. He said Smith has had some good ones. Not sure which games he’s talking about, but is it any coincidence how much better this offense looks when the tight end is involved?
4. Some notes on the commitment to the run. Westbrook carried a season-high 33 times. Of 28 first-down plays, 21 were running plays. Of 14 first-down plays in the second half, 13 were running plays. Overall, 30 passes, 41 runs. The point that the offense committed to the run because it was running the ball well is a valid one. And so is the point that the gameplan was more balanced because of the weather conditions and the fact that the team was playing with a lead. But someone in our live chat made the point that this game reminded them of the Jeff Garcia-led Eagles team of 2006. When looking at today’s offensive performance, I don’t disagree.
We understand it was windy. You don’t need to show us the soft pretzel wrapper blowing in the wind every time you go to commercial break. We don’t need the American Beauty camera-work. Instead, just try to continue to follow the ball on play-action fakes and give us good angles on replays. Also, don’t zoom up too close on Tony Siragusa. Some of us are watching in HD.
Maybe that tie wasn’t such a bad thing. If a couple things went differently earlier in the season, we would be talking about the Eagles as one of the NFL’s elite teams. The offensive line is playing with a vengeance, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a more balanced team the rest of the way. Westbrook has put together a two-game stretch that rivals anything he’s ever accomplished. Donovan McNabb is taking care of the football. And the defense is playing with a sense of pride. They’re clearly better than the Browns, and then you get to prove how good you are against the Redskins and Cowboys. Reid’s teams generally play well this time of year. Maybe they’re peaking at the exact right time, can get hot, and then you never know what happens. After all, they just went into the Giants’ house and convincingly beat the likely No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Don’t let them sucker you back in. It was a nice win. No one will argue that. But the Giants had so many things going against them. The game was pretty much meaningless for them. They still have the division wrapped up and are going to be the No. 1 seed. They were without Plaxico Burress and had to face that distraction all week. Brandon Jacobs left the game with an injury. The conditions were terrible. And the Giants still had a chance in the fourth quarter. The Eagles will beat the Browns next week and then lose one of the final two. Then they’ll bring back Reid and McNabb, and in training camp next year will tell you just how close they were in 2008.
8. Third-down conversions were a huge key. Overall, the Eagles were 12-for-18, a spectacular rate of 67 percent. In the second half, they were 8-for-10, which is pretty ridiculous considering the way the offense has played all season, the conditions and the Giants’ defense. Eagles fans across the country undoubtedly pumped their fists when McNabb scrambled for first downs, and when Kyle Eckel converted a third-and-one in the third quarter. The first time the Eagles lost to the Giants, they were 3-for-11 on third down. In the last two games, the Eagles are 22-for-33.
9. In today’s current sports landscape, teams love to say “No one believed in us.” Most of the time, it’s garbage. A team finishes the regular season in first place, advances to the championship with no problem and then tells us no one believed in them after they win. Well, the Eagles could have definitely played that card after this game. I scoured the Internet Saturday like I do every week to let you know what experts were picking the Eagles. There was one writer for FoxSports.com who liked them, and a couple CBSSports.com writers who thought they’d at least cover. But that was about it.