While the threat of lightening before last week’s much anticipated season opening “raise the championship banner” game never came to fruition, lightening did strike once again in the closing seconds of an Eagles – Falcons game at home.
Much like the divisional playoff game last January, Atlanta managed to drive the ball all the way down inside the Eagles 10-yard line with time winding down, causing a lot of nail biting with the faithful who had come out on a surprisingly humid early Sept. night.
But once again, it was the Eagles defense that came up big when a pass that was intended for Julio Jones was ruled incomplete due to being caught out of bounds, and the local Birds escaped with a win in the opener that kept the “feel good” positive atmosphere that has surrounded this team since last February alive for at least one more week.
That’s not to say that there isn’t work to be done. The offense struggled, just as they did in last year’s playoff game, but managed to keep it close and score when needed. But games like this on a consistent basis will not a Super Bowl repeat champion make.
On the positive side, the Eagles defense looks to be its strength, at least for now. And there is no reason why Nick Foles cannot improve his play, just as he did in the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl. The Birds really have no choice until Carson Wentz is cleared to play, which could be as early as next week at home against the Colts.
But first, the team must travel to Tampa for a contest that initially looked like a day at the beach (Clearwater beach to be exact). But that was before the Buccaneers went down to the Big Easy and gave a spanking to the New Orleans Saints, who many had picked as their Super Bowl favorite.
Tampa quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has journeyed around the NFL more than Anthony Bourdain has journeyed around the world, ran roughshod over the Saints defense last week in a 48-40 Tampa win.
But while the “Fitz” hasn’t met a barber he actually likes, it seems that he does have a duo of quality receivers that get his beard all tingly, most notably Mike Evans and former Eagle DeSean Jackson.
The Eagles defense will have to come to play, and cannot afford to take Tampa lightly. On the plus side, even though this is technically a road game, count on a “Tampa Takeover” as Eagles fans will be coming in from both near and far to soak in the sun and suds, and support their team like very few fans can.
Much like the Chargers game last year, there could very well be more Eagles fans than Bucs fan at this game, which would make it a surreal situation when a chorus of boos roll out when the home team is introduced.
But along with the Eagles strong travel contingent (including yours truly who will be attending a wedding in Sarasota the night before), there is already a legion of Eagles fans who are transplants from the Delaware Valley who get together every Sunday to watch their beloved Birds at the Crowne Plaza Tampa Westshore (near the airport).
The group is appropriately known as “Tampadelphia”, and when I was visiting Tampa last December and looking for a place to watch the Eagles – Giants game with fellow Birds fans, I happened to find this group with the help of a local Eagles fan.
Things got a little scary at the end of the game, but the Birds pulled it out by preventing the Giants from scoring after having 1st & Goal from the Eagles 9 (quite similar to last week’s Falcons game as well), which caused the Tampadelphia crowd to erupt…
While I think that the Eagles will face a tougher test this week than originally thought, they are still the better team, and should come out ahead, 31-17.
Let’s hope the sun shines on the Birds this Sunday. Meanwhile, if the sun shines a little in these parts as well, that wouldn’t be so bad either. Six straight days of cloudy weather is getting to me…
Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):
EAGLES at Buccaneers 1:00 PM FOX
Panthers at Falcons 1:00 PM FOX
Chiefs at Steelers 1:00 PM CBS
Dolphins at Jets 1:00 PM CBS
Chargers at Bills 1:00 PM CBS
Patriots at Jaguars 4:25 PM CBS