Les Bowen: Until McNabb and Co. step up, Eagles doomed to view Super Bowl trophy from afar

TAMPA - As you might have deduced from the dateline, I am still in Tampa as I write this - cool, blustery, rainy Tampa, just in case the wife is reading - but I have a pretty good guess as to how the aftermath of Super Bowl XLIII is playing out back home.

Plus, the boss just sent me Rich Hofmann's column for today, which grapples with the topic at hand.

Yeah, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watched his defense blow the game, then took the ball downfield and re-won the Super Bowl, using eight snaps and 1 minute, 55 seconds of the 2:30 that remained when he took possession at his 22. The first play, Roethlisberger actually lost 10 yards on a hold by his really sketchy offensive line. Didn't matter. Seven passes ensued, five completed, one 4-yard scramble, 84 passing yards, Steelers win.

Yes, it was the same Cardinals defense and pretty much the same situation as the NFC Championship Game 2 weeks earlier, when Donovan McNabb failed to re-win that game. (McNabb did what Kurt Warner did Sunday, throwing a long touchdown pass to put his team ahead with too much time left on the clock.)

No fourth-down Roethlisberger passes bounced off a receiver's hands after the receiver was tripped, because the Steelers never faced fourth down. They saw third down only once, third-and-6 from their 26, on which

Roethlisberger hit Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes for 13 yards.

In the NFC title game, McNabb got the ball back at his 20 with 2:53 left. He hit three of his first four throws, for 33 yards, before missing on four in a row, including two that were really poorly thrown, under pressure. And, of course, his last throw was on target, but incomplete.

You could certainly tell the Steelers were not the Eagles. On third down,

Roethlisberger did not check down to someone standing next to him in the backfield, and Holmes did not run the route 2 yards short of the sticks. Overall, Roethlisberger seemed to get the play calls from the sideline pretty quickly, get to the line, and get the play off without having to waste precious timeouts, correct confused tight ends on where they were supposed to line up, or lose his lunch.

We can spend hours dissecting these various elements. You don't have to be a McNabb basher or even an Andy Reid hater to strongly suspect that if the Eagles are ever going to win a Super Bowl, it won't be this way. You can't know it won't be this way - fourth-and-26 did happen, by the way - but from the body of evidence that has accumulated since then, you can strongly suspect it. No, Donovan and Andy probably will have to win a Super Bowl the old-fashioned way, by getting a big lead and sitting on it, as Pittsburgh did in Super Bowl XL.

Couple of points that might otherwise get lost: Santonio Holmes, a complementary receiver to Hines Ward in the Steelers' scheme, was a first-round draft choice, 25th overall, in 2006. That's the late first-round area the Eagles have preferred to trade out of lately, unexcited about the available talent. The last first-round Eagles wideout was Freddie Mitchell, in 2001.

Holmes has had some problems off the field, and he wasn't exactly Roethlisberger's go-to guy all season, catching only 55 passes, but with Ward limited by a knee injury in the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh's running game not a factor, Holmes was able to take over on the final drive.

DeSean Jackson certainly has that level of talent, but if the Eagles ever get back to the Super Bowl, he will be their No. 1 receiver, not a complementary guy - he'll be Ward, not Holmes. Which is a difference between the teams, I think. And which Eagles receiver will go up to McNabb before the winning drive and tell him, "I want the ball in my hands, no matter what," the way Holmes did Sunday?

Hard to envision any Eagles receiver coming back from a drop and winning the game on the next play, the way Holmes did.

(And, yeah, it's also hard to envision McNabb throwing consecutive end-zone passes right where they needed to be, in that situation.)

"It definitely can be thought of as redemption," Holmes said at a day-after news conference. "It was a play that I should've made. Ben put the ball where only I could catch it. I really took my eyes off of it thinking about keeping my feet down before I got my hands on the ball and just lost sight of the ball. But coming back, and having the faith in me and believing that I could be the one to make that play, he gave me the opportunity in the back of the end zone, and I promised myself this time that I wouldn't lift those feet off the ground."

Actually, though Holmes keeps insisting he never lifted his feet off the turf, replays show he did, just a little - but he was able to jab them back down with time to spare before falling out of bounds, the ball hugged tight. Great pass, great catch. Congrats, Steelers.

You didn't have to spend a lot of time this past week around 76-year-old Dan Rooney, the son of his team's founder, born on the North Side, near the stadium, to sense that the term "gold standard" might be just a little more applicable to this franchise than to the franchise that has tried to appropriate it. Authenticity is a tough thing to fake.

"It's generational, it's passed down from father to son, and it's unbelievable. I don't know if I can use words to eloquently describe the relationships that this organization has with Steeler Nation," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday. Tomlin, by the way, said he would have taken an intentional safety on fourth down, rather than risk a blocked punt late in the game, had the Cardinals not gotten two points on a third-down hold in the end zone. "I know that the more I get to understand it, the more Steeler Nation drives me. I want to give them something to be excited about. I want to perform for them. I want to win for them because they are that special."

But really, Pittsburgh, you need six? Should a city be allowed to have more Lombardis than decent downtown (pronounced dahn-tahn) restaurants?

Isn't there an NFL rule somewhere about that? (Maybe it's in the part of the rule book the league wasn't using Sunday, along with the "tuck rule" on Warner's last alleged fumble.)

Yes, we are jealous. On the other hand, we do have a Major League Baseball team.

So there. *

Send e-mail to bowenl@phillynews.com. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.