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Vick-timized: Rodgers, Packers Triumph Over Eagles for Second Time This Season

Before the 2010 season, it had been 48 years since the Green Bay Packers had won a football game in Philadelphia.  Now, they’ve managed to do it twice in one season.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers notched his first playoff win, outdueling MVP candidate Michael Vick and leading the Packers into the next round of the playoffs where the NFC’s No.1-seeded Atlanta Falcons await them.  Awaiting the Philadelphia Eagles is a long offseason to ponder why and how they ran out of momentum and magic late in the season.

Rodgers threw for three touchdowns passes to three different receivers (Tom Crabtree, James Jones and Brandon Jackson).  He completed almost 67 percent of his passes, finished with a QB rating of 122.5 and passed for just 180 yards.  Just eight of his passing yards went to Greg Jennings, who finished the game with a meaningless catch for eight yards.  Rodgers got plenty of help from running back James Starks.

The unknown rookie back out of Buffalo, Starks chewed up the Eagles’ soft defense, totaling 123 yards on 23 carries, good for over five yards per carry.  In a surprising move by Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, he devised an unpredictable element to the Packers’ game plan: establish the run, and run the football to keep Vick and the Eagles’ big play offense on the sidelines.

That sentiment best describes the Eagles offense, which went stone cold following the Miracle at the New Meadowlands the week before Christmas.  Philly’s remarkable comeback resulted in a last-second 38-37 win capped off by a sensational, game-winning punt return for a touchdown by DeSean Jackson.  Since that epic victory, the Eagles’ big play element went into the witness protection program.  They scored 38 against the Giants.  Their final three games, including Sunday, they combined to score 43 with Sunday’s 16-point total being the highest of their last three contests.

It appears as though their Sunday Night turned Tuesday Night game against the Minnesota Vikings was the turning point of the season for Vick and Eagles.  The Vikings blitzed Vick from all corners of the field and he had trouble deciphering where, when and who was coming on the blitzes.  On the Eagles’ ensuing possesion of the game, the Packers blitzed.  Vick never it coming and Desmond Bishop planted Vick for a nine-yard loss and set the tone for the entire evening for the Packers’ defense.

The story before, during and after the game was Vick.  At 30, and with a new life in the NFL, he wore the Superman cape all year long for the Eagles.  But in the final moments, with the Eagles trailing 21-16, Vick had the ball in his hands and a chance to deliver some more magic.  With :44 second left, on an all-go route, Vick intended a pass for Riley Cooper.  Cooper, a big athletic receiver, was covered well by Packers corner Tramon Williams.  Vick’s pass wasn’t high enough and Williams made an game-clinching interception sealing the win for the Packers and the first wild card home loss under Andy Reid for the Eagles.

Admittedly after the game in his press conference, Vick said he could have checked it down to a back, but he got greedy and tried to go for the home run, taking a shot into the end zone.  Vick’s statement about getting greedy and wanting to go for the big play perfectly describes the Eagles’ offense.  It’s explosive and predicated on making big things happen.  The problem is, however, when confronted to play small ball so to speak, the Eagles don’t make the grade.  They rushed for only 21 times, 12 times with LeSean McCoy.   It’s been a troublesome, hair-pulling question for Eagles fans under Reid’s tenure in Philly, why he doesn’t like to committ and ofter abandons the run.  They’ll have another offseason to try to answer that question. 

But this doesn’t fall entirely on Vick’s shoulders.  Normally automatic at any point in the year, all pro kicker David Akers missed two field goals from 41 and 34 yards.  And there’s the Philadelphia defense that appears befuddle and soft, much like a Philly pretzel.  It shouldn’t be a major headline tomorrow that the Eagles’ have one of the worst red zone defense in the NFL.  Three times the Packers marched into Eagle territory and three times in the red zone they punched in six points.  Out of 43 times this year when Philadelphia’s opponents have gotten into the red zone, 33 times they’ve scored.  As much as the red zone is a glaring problem for the Eagles, third downs might be their achilles heel.  Green Bay converted five third downs in the first half and seven for the game.  Overall, the Packers were 7-for-13 on third down.  It’s tough to get the ball back to the offseason when the opposition is either scoring or staying on field with a brand new set of downs.

Twice this season against Green Bay, Vick fell short attempting to pull the Eagle’s butts out of the fire.   He was harassed constantly by the Packers and played without DeSean Jackson for a good stretch of the game when Jackson left a leg injury.  Vick himself was playing on an injured ankle.  One can suspect the Eagles will address both lines of scrimmage in the offseason.  Did anyone see how awful Winston Justice looked? 

The defense didn’t stop allowing points and the big stops were scarce.  Twelve times this season the Eagles gave up at least 20 points.  For a five-week stretch that began in Chicago, the Eagles allowed 31, 24, 27, 31 and 24 points.  The Packers, a supposed team without a running game, was able to run it almost at will on Sunday, running early and often and with a guy named James Starks.  Vick wasn’t able to pull off enough dynamnic plays with his legs or his arm, that the offense thrived on this season.

As far as the Eagles are concerned, now the attention this offseason will primarly be focused on the the Michael Vick watch.  With an expiring contract and uncertainly of a new CBA that’s threatening the potential lockout in 2011, what becomes of Vick?  Stating he hopes to remain in Philadelphia, Vick acknowledged this is a business.  Once the Vick experiment began, the Eagles began thinking big thoughts, Super Bowl thoughts.  And those thoughts never surfaced with talks of Kevin Kolb leading the Eagles.  Time will tell how the situation between Vick and the Eagles all works out.  But the Eagles can’t be foolish enough to allow Vick to test the open waters of NFL free agency.  Not with half the teams in the league without a franchise quarterback to build around.

And as for the Green Bay Packers, their victory once again signifies that they’re a sexy, popular pick to reach the Super Bowl despite the fact they’re the NFC’s sixth seed.  Next week they’ll travel to Atlanta in a rematch from earlier this season with the Falcons in which the Falcons pulled out a 20-17 win.  Now we’ll get to see Matt Ryan versus Aaron Rodgers Part II.  Two the game’s best young quarterback’s on display with the stakes raised even higher and a spot in the NFC Championship haning in the balance.

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