Not farfetched to imagine Eagles in the Super Bowl

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy, the Eagles' most valuable player, would be stellar in a Super Bowl.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy, the Eagles' most valuable player, would be stellar in a Super Bowl.
Posted: January 23, 2014

IT IS A fortnight of misery. This is annual anguish in every football town not involved in the biggest game on the planet.

It is 2 weeks of wondering, "Could my team have been in the Super Bowl?"

It is 14 days of second-guessing personnel moves, of cursing the injury monster and cruel fate, of wishing your team had a playmaking safety.

That's what it will be in Philadelphia, anyway.

The Eagles are close to being a playoff perennial. They need a pass rusher and a safety and a cornerback, a little depth on the offensive line and some seasoning.

But this will be an especially painful 2 weeks for Eagles fans who want immediate gratification. Honestly, how far can the Eagles be from competing with the ugly half of the Super Bowl cast?

No, the Eagles cannot compare to the AFC representative. The Birds went to Denver and were demolished. It was a very real, very accurate snapshot of what the Eagles were at the moment, and, really, what the Eagles became by the end.

For that matter, the New England team that Denver beat Sunday, as flawed and as undermanned as it was, would dismantle the Eagles nine games out of 10. Maybe more.

San Diego and Kansas City proved to field a better product than Philadelphia, too, albeit incomplete; they have some coaching issues in those towns. Still, the Eagles would not have run through Missouri or Southern California.

They could have made it through Seattle or San Francisco; they could have made it to the Meadowlands.

The Eagles might be 2 or 3 years from the completeness built around John Fox and Jack Del Rio and Peyton Manning. They even might a year or so from the crumbling empire of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady; a dominance built, perhaps, more on illegal videotaping than it first appeared.

But how far can the Eagles be from the shabby Seahawks and 49ers?

Two teams so undisciplined? So unprofessional? So classless?

To understand the dearth of character and wealth of ability, review Richard Sherman's comportment after his shining moment. Outside of the most devoted fans, few in Football America knew who Richard Sherman was before he deflected that lousy pass from Colin Kaepernick into the hands of a teammate and ensured Seattle's win Sunday.

They know him now.

Sherman used his moment of glory first to incur an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, then to vent some misdirected anger.

You don't scream two ungracious answers at lovely, young Erin Andrews, the game's most fetching sideline reporter.

Sherman was right, though; he even undervalued himself. He not only is the best cornerback in the NFL, he is the best player on Seattle's deep and charismatic team. He is to the Seahawks what running back LeSean McCoy is to the Eagles.

The difference: McCoy matters on about 75 percent of the Eagles' offensive plays. Sherman is relevant about 80 percent of the time on defense, since teams either decline to throw at him or they run the ball.

Certainly, running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson are outstanding players, and if Pro Bowl safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas played for the Eagles 2 years ago, they might have made Juan Castillo defensive coordinator for life.

But Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis can counter with similar talents: wideout DeSean Jackson and his peerless speed; cautious quarterback Nick Foles; defensive glue Connor Barwin; guard Evan Mathis; and the Birds' former best player, left tackle Jason Peters, who earned a sixth Pro Bowl honor after missing a season with two Achilles' tendon ruptures.

Had they faced the 49ers, could the Eagles' offensive weapons and blockers contend with the 49ers' front? Put Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks in the box and McCoy might disappear. Offensively, tight end Vernon Davis is just the sort of nightmare the Eagles' linebackers and safeties cannot defend. But the Eagles' passing game might still work, perhaps; and you wouldn't expect Foles to implode the way Kaepernick did.

Kaepernick's three turnovers in the fourth quarter cost the Niners a second title trip in as many seasons. His play - much of it self-inflicted - underscored how dubious a distinction it is to represent the NFC this season.

Consider the events of the final 18 minutes of its championship game.

Seattle ran into the 49ers' kicker.

Wilson was flagged for a 16-yard intentional grounding, which, in the moment, essentially knocked the Seahawks out of field-goal range . . . and convertible third-down range. It also set up a fourth-and-7 at the 35, a 53-yard field goal, which is the edge of kicker Steve Hauschka's range, down by four points early in the fourth quarter. Except Hauschka saw the wind he'd be kicking into and told coach Pete Carroll he didn't think he could make it.

So the Seahawks went for it on fourth-and-7, the 49ers jumped offside . . . and allowed Wilson to throw a 35-yard touchdown pass . . . on a foolish, all-or-nothing play call that gave Wilson no short targets.

Then commenced the quarterback follies.

Kaepernick fumbled away the ball at the 49ers' 23, which set up the Seahawks at the 6. No worries: The Seahawks fumbled the ball on consecutive goal-line runs. The officials blew the first fumble call and gave it back to Seattle, but Wilson's junior-high handoff to Lynch on fourth down gave the Niners the ball, anyway. Also, the Seahawks, at home with the lead and built on defense, should have kicked a field goal.

That's not how Carroll did it when his best player was getting paid at USC, no sir; and that's not how his Seahawks do it now.

Kaepernick generously gave it back two plays later, trying to throw over Chancellor, who is 6-3. Wilson fumbled a snap and helped limit the Seahawks to a field goal. And then, after a fine drive, Kaepernick underthrew his receiver in the end zone. That's the pass that prompted Sherman to display the gentility and grace he learned at the adobe feet of his coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh . . . the boor and bully who, of course, now coaches the 49ers.

The Cardinal must be proud. How about it? Tiger? Condoleezza?

No, the Eagles aren't far from contending with the best the NFC has to offer. They let Drew Brees and Sean Payton and the bountiful Saints hang around, and they paid with a loss.

What if they hadn't?

The Eagles could have beaten Carolina, even in Carolina. They could have hung with Seattle in Seattle; heck, the team's fearsome 12th man, usually louder than the Boeings they make down the highway, didn't represent at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, either.

This was a season of raggedness throughout the conference. A dismal Dallas team had a chance at a playoff slot in the final week. The Bears and Lions threw away playoff chances. Aaron Rodgers returned after missing 2 months and so skewed the balance of talent that he nearly knocked the 49ers out by himself.

It is only appropriate that the NFC sends a hot mess of garbage to the infamous landfill sites that make up fetid marshes of the Meadowlands.

That garbage could easily be driving up the Turnpike from Philadelphia.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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