by Scott Benson

So much for the 24 point spread, huh?

Random thoughts from last night’s narrow 31-28 Patriots win over the upstart Eagles:

*First, all due credit goes to Philly for this one. I don’t know about you, but I sure underestimated them. The Eagles probably had more success carrying out their game plan than the Patriots did.

*I’m sure we’ll hear how the Eagles have given the rest of the league a blueprint on how to beat the Patriots. News flash: the Patriots won. Lost in the blueprint stuff will be the fact that for the second time this month, the Pats took a solid punch and remained standing. That’s twice in the last four weeks they’ve rallied to win in the fourth quarter, with late plays being made on both sides of the ball. Oddly, you might think more of the Pats for winning this kind of game. That they walked out of there winners after looking like upset victims all night says everything about their mental toughness.

*I have to thank the Eagles, though – last week, I was having a hell of a time staying with that rout over the Bills. Didn’t have that problem last night.

*Slants and in-cuts – THAT WAS THE GAME! It all started with the Philly o-line – they rolled the Pats d-line pretty good in this one, and AJ Feeley had plenty enough time to find the holes in the Pats secondary, of which there seemed to be many. The Pats never mounted a consistent pass rush, and they left their defensive backs to take a pummeling. I thought John Madden was extra sharp on explaining how the Pats would give away the inside to protect against the big play. The Eagles were happy to take it, and it almost won them the game. When they tried to get to the perimeter late, the Pats took the ball away twice. Why did the Eagles do that, by the way, when they had owned New England between the numbers?

*The Eagles were intent on stopping Randy Moss, and did so admirably, which had a trickle down effect on Tom Brady and rest of the Pats offense. Philly put a lot of heat on the MVP quarterback (three sacks) with their typical array of blitzes, which disallowed any of the deep throws that had been the Pats hallmark through the first ten games. The end result? The high flying Pats offense was held to – gasp – just 24 points.

*Speaking of Moss – do you think the NFL came right out and said to their officials, “Mr. Polian wants you to call more offensive pass interference penalties on Randy Moss,” or did they try to straight-face it with some ‘general’ language instead?

*So with the chips down, Wes Welker saved Brady and the Pats (Jabar Gaffney with the assist). Remember there were a few days there after the trade when we fretted over whether New England really had to give up the second rounder for Welker? Seems even more ridiculous now. Didn’t he go over EIGHTY receptions last night? Would the Patriots have won without him? Oh, and one more thing: LOVE the little screen play with him coming in motion and then taking the quick pass behind two receivers on the edge. That’s as good as a running play.

*Which they otherwise had little interest in pursuing. The Pats had 13 carries by people not named Tom Brady (who was the team’s best runner on the night). I liked how Laurence Maroney hurled himself at the end zone for the winning points, but on the final possession, he seemed to think he was helping by being tackled as quickly and as passively as possible. He couldn’t be less of a factor in the Patriots offense.

*Both Rosevelt Colvin and Randall Gay left with injuries, which figures since the Patriots went into the game the healthiest they’ve been all season. Gay’s injury forced Eddie Jackson into regular action after a long layoff, and it showed. Ellis Hobbs and Rodney Harrison both hobbled off as well, but both returned. We’ll hear a lot about New England’s secondary being “exposed”, I think (despite three picks, two by Asante Samuel), but again, I go back to the pass rush. I’ve said it before – there’s a good bit of the team’s money tied up in that front seven, and as a result, they’re the ones who have to make the plays. They didn’t tonight, for the most part.

*So the Pats have clinched the AFC East and, at mimimum, the third playoff seed (they can’t finish behind West leader San Diego now). In the race for the first seed, it comes down to this – the Colts and Steelers have to hope the Pats lose three of their last five if either is going to have a shot. I suppose they’ll look at tonight’s result as evidence it could happen, but as mentioned above, I think they would be reading that entirely wrong.

*Back on ice for another week, antique Dolphins. You AND your champagne.