Sam Donnellon | At least Birds' defense did its job

Posted: September 10, 2007

GREEN BAY - Brodrick Bunkley said he could not speak.

"Cut the bottom of my tongue," the Eagles' defensive tackle said. "Hurts too much to talk."

And here's what I was thinking:

Maybe it was self-inflicted.

Because that's what I would do if I were any Eagles defensive player walking off Lambeau Field yesterday. I'd be so afraid my emotions would overcome my team-first mantra after that 16-13 mess that I would chomp down hard to keep the words swimming around in the brain from finding their way to my mouth.

"This one," linebacker Takeo Spikes was saying a few feet away, "is a tough one to swallow."

Tough for so many reasons, not the least of which is this:

The Eagles' defense looked great. Whether it was Jevon Kearse bulling his way around end, Mike Patterson and Bunkley validating their summers or the secondary reading and reacting correctly, this defense looked nothing like the Achilles' heel some feared it would be.

Sean Considine made plays. Omar Gaither was a run-stopper. Four quarters of charging and chasing Brett Favre, four quarters of few communication breakdowns and even fewer big plays. Four sacks, an interception, a forced fumble that positioned your struggling offense 38 yards from the end zone with 4 minutes, 18 seconds remaining of a tie game, positioned your offense to salvage its day with even the most modest of scoring drives.

"I was thinking the game was over," Brian Dawkins said. "As much confidence as I had in our offense, I figured they would put something on the board for us there."

Two runs, a scramble, a holding penalty, and an incompletion later, Sav Rocca failed his first chance to bury a coffin-corner kick, and the Packers had the ball on their own 22.

As it had done all game, and especially in the fourth quarter, the Eagles' defense held. The only first down the Eagles allowed in the quarter came during that drive. Still, when Quintin Mikell slapped away a third-down pass to force Green Bay to punt again with 1:09 left, the only team left with a chance to win the game in regulation seemed to be the Eagles.

"We had total control of that game," said Trent Cole, who had sacked Favre in the first half. That was the half in which the Packers - until a fruitless last-minute drive against the Eagles' prevent scheme - had accumulated just 55 yards of offense.

And emerged tied.

Greg Lewis gave them seven of those points when he muffed the first punt he fielded, starting a circus chase of the oblong rascal into the end zone.

Nick Barnett's pick of Donovan McNabb's third-down pass on the ensuing possession set up the other three. Even then, the Eagles stopped Favre cold, but Mason Crosby's 53-yard field goal was good.

Favre looked miserably lost and out of sync for most of this uneven afternoon, rushing throws, running the play-clock out on himself in confusion. True, the Packers are still auditioning running backs, their offense still relies too heavily on

accidents and opportunism, but Favre's passing options are better than they have been in years, and well, he's Brett Favre.

His biggest play - the one that led directly to the only points the Eagles' defense really allowed - was a desperate flip pass to a blocking back as Spikes had him in his grasp and Joselio Hanson fanned on an attempt to strip the ball.

Instead of a turnover or a sack, running back DeShawn Wynn - listed third on Green Bay's depth chart - scampered 18 yards to the Eagles' 24.

Six plays and five positive yards later, Crosby kicked the second of his three field goals, from 37 yards out.

They were the only points the Eagles' defense really surrendered.

"It just goes to show you," Spikes said. "Turnovers in this league will kill you. If you don't protect the football. If you don't make the plays you're supposed to make. The little things, you know?"

That last part left a little sting in the new Eagle's mouth. It's not just the turnovers you get in this league, it's the ones you miss. After the Eagles scored 10 unanswered points to tie the game in the first half, Spikes had a Favre gift slip through his hands deep in Green Bay territory.

"What if, what if, what if," Spikes said. "I hate to leave a game, leaving 'ifs' on the table."

Especially on a day when he and his side of the ball eased our uneasiness and uncertainty. The defense looked fine.

The troubling thought, on a day when it surrendered three points and lost, is: What if that's not enough? *

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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