FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - They came in as 23-point favorites and left making excuses for a much-harder-than-expected three-point victory.
The Patriots' powerful offense, which had been averaging more than 41 points per game, was supposed to have its way with the Eagles' struggling defense last night. If you look at some of the raw numbers - 410 total yards, 380 passing yards, 25 first downs, a 63.0 third-down efficiency rate - you might think they did.
But Jim Johnson's defense gave quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriot offense as tough a time as it's had all season in the Eagles' 31-28 loss.
Brady, who hadn't thrown fewer than three touchdowns in a game this season, managed to find the end zone just once last night. That was on a 19-yard pass to ex-Eagle Jabar Gaffney at the end of the first half.
Brady, who had thrown just 88 incompletions in the Patriots' first 10 games, had 20 of them last night. He completed 34 of 54 passes as the Eagles pressured him more than he's been pressured all season. They also did a good job of taking away his favorite receiver, Randy Moss, holding Moss to five catches for 43 yards.
"We had a lot of different guys giving pressure [on Brady]," Johnson said. "We blitzed quite a bit and we thought we had it covered. At times, we covered well, and other times, we didn't cover as well as we would have liked to.
"At least we were getting pressure. We mixed things up and they went to a lot of four wide [receiver sets]. We felt
any time they did, we would pressure them. Basically, that was our game plan. Every chance we had, we had to bring pressure."
The Eagles, who came into the game with just one sack in their previous three games, sacked Brady three times, which was as many times as he's been dragged down this season. They also pressured him enough the rest of the time to hurry many of his throws.
When the Patriots opened the game in a four-wide receiver set, Johnson countered with a 3-3-5 alignment that frequently had strongside linebacker Chris Gocong line up at end and rush Brady.
Gocong, a college defensive end, had one of the Eagles' three sacks. It was the first sack by a linebacker this season.
"We felt we had to pressure him," Johnson said. "If we didn't get to him, we had to throw off his timing and move him around the pocket a little bit. And at times, we did. He's a smart quarterback and he got away from a couple of blitzes and still made his throws."
With the Eagles doubling Moss most of the night with cornerback Lito Sheppard and free safety Brian Dawkins, Brady turned to slot receiver Wes Welker, who caught a career-high 13 passes for 149 yards, but no touchdowns.
"I wish we had played a little better, but I give those guys a lot of credit," said Brady.
"I think our production all across the board, we had a lot of pressure, sacks and tackles," said linebacker Takeo Spikes, who had one of his best games of the season with seven tackles. "We were very active, and I think it was a real good game plan that we had coming in to the game against these guys."
This was an offense that had scored fewer than 34 points in just one of its first 10 games. This was an offense that had scored on 61 of 105 possessions. Against the Eagles, they scored on just four of nine possessions and finished with a season-low three touchdowns.
"They gave us some problems," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the Eagles' defense. "They did some things we didn't expect.''
* Why the replay official didn't
* Why the replay official didn't
bother to review Jabar Gaffney's touchdown catch at the end of the first half. The call might not have been reversed, but there was enough doubt about whether Gaffney was inbounds to look at it.
* Why the Eagles didn't use one
of their three timeouts after Gaffney's touchdown to lobby the officials to review the play. *
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