Philadelphia Eagles and Super Bowl XXXIX: Who Is to Blame?

Michael JohnsonContributor IMarch 9, 2011

Super Bowl XXXIX ended six years ago and ended badly for Philadelphia Eagles fans. I remember holding my 3-month-old son and taking solace in the fact that he will not remember what just transpired at the lousiest Super Bowl location in history, Jacksonville, FL.

The Eagles just didn't lose a hard-fought game (they did play hard) but rather infamously, as Donovan McNabb and the offense tried to learn the two-minute offense on the fly late in the fourth quarter as the Eagles fell three points short to the New England Patriots.

Further demeaning to Eagles fans was that the best quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history, McNabb, allegedly vomited during the “hurry-up” drive that not only all but sealed the game for the Patriots but permanently damaged McNabb’s standing in the City of Brotherly Love for the rest of his great Philadelphia career before floundering in Washington this past season.

Super Bowl XXXIX also provided the tracks for the Terrell Owens crazy train to go into overdrive and Freddie Mitchell to “Fred-Ex” himself out of town and out of the league.

For years I have never been able to figure out who deserves the blame for the Eagles not winning what all of us Eagles fans thought we, at least, had a puncher’s chance to win a Super Bowl title.

Maybe, with Donovan McNabb being gone for a full season, this game can be looked at more objectively. And let’s face it, whether you love or hate McNabb (my favorite NFL player), no Eagles related discussion could ever be looked at objectively while he was here.

So who is to blame for the Super Bowl loss? McNabb? Andy Reid? Todd Pinkston? T.O.? The defense?  Let’s take a closer look:

Donovan McNabb

McNabb finished the game going 30-51 for 357 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had one rushing attempt for zero yards on a broken play. The last interception was a desperation heave on the last play of the game that couldn't really be helped, but the second of the three interceptions to Tedy Bruschi early in the fourth quarter was a real killer that ended a drive that could have cut into a 10-point deficit.

The interception allowed the Pats to run several minutes off the clock, with the Eagles defense finally getting the ball back to the offense to set up the slowest hurry-up drive in NFL history.

The first interception was thrown to Rodney Harrison deep in Eagles territory after a penalty on the New England defense negated an Asante Samuel interception on the previous play.

Still three touchdown passes in the Super Bowl is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the threat of a running game was never present. Also for what it’s worth, McNabb was under heavy duress for most of the game with no adjustments being made to slow the Patriots pass rush down.

Wide Receivers

This was supposed to be the year when Donovan McNabb finally acquired enough offensive weapons to not only put up the statistics normally associated with an elite quarterback, but to also get the Eagles over the hump and win the Super Bowl.

For most of the season the Eagles appeared to be an offensive juggernaut, setting a franchise record for points scored and only scoring under 25 points (the number that would have won the championship) five times (I’m not counting the two public forfeits the last two weeks of the season).

So what happened to the vaunted wide receiving corps? First Owens’ ankle was broken by a Roy Lee Williams horse-collar tackle, which was banned in the NFL during the following offseason. The injury forced Owens to miss the two throw-away games to end the regular season and the two playoff games that led to the Super Bowl.

While T.O. was a warrior in the big game, finishing with nine catches for 122 yards, he didn’t command the same double teams and rolled safety coverage he consistently commanded in the regular season. That, and the emergence of Brian Westbrook, was what made the Eagles offense so dangerous in 2004.   

After T.O., the receivers were ordinary. Todd Pinkston was impressive in the first half with four catches for 80 yards, including a gorgeous 40-yard catch in the second quarter which led to a L.J. Smith touchdown catch from McNabb. However, Pinkston missed the second half of the biggest game of his career because of cramps.

Read that last sentence again; I’ll wait.

So in the second half of Super Bowl XXXIX, the Eagles offense fielded a receiving corps of a hobbled T.O., rookie Greg Lewis, Freddie “I got something for you Harrison” Mitchell, and tight ends L.J. Smith, and Jeff Thomason, who was out of football and signed to fill a roster spot for the injured Chad Lewis, who was hurt in the NFC Championship against Atlanta.

Were those weapons enough to win the Super Bowl for the Eagles?

Running Backs

Brian Westbrook finished the game with 15 carries for 44 yards and seven catches for 60 yards, including a game tying 10-yard touchdown catch from McNabb in the third quarter.

Dorsey Levens finished the game with one rush for one yard. For comparisons’ sake, Corey Dillon of New England finished with 18 carries for 75 yards and one rushing touchdown. He also has three catches for 31 yards.

Kevin Faulk finished with eight carries for 38 yards and two catches for 27 yards. So that’s 26 carries for 113 yards for the Patriots’ running backs and 16 carries for 45 yards for the Eagles.

The lack of a rush game has been a common theme in Philly for a while now but we sure could have used a running game in this one.


Giving up 24 points to Tom Brady is nothing to be embarrassed about, but they were just torched by Deion Branch. He finished with 11 catches for 133 yards and a Super Bowl MVP trophy. Deion Branch has never had a game like this before or since Super Bowl XXXIX, so it was very disheartening to watch him take over the game like he did.

To make matters worse, the Eagles fielded three Pro Bowlers in the secondary; the great Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis and Lito Sheppard. The Patriots, very expertly, ran their offenses primarily out of three and four receiver sets to take run specialist Jeremiah Trotter out of the game. With Trotter out, the Patriots ran the ball very effectively and the Eagles defense was unable to stop much of what the Patriots did in the second half.

The Eagles defense failed to stop a Mike Vrabel touchdown catch in the third quarter on a goal-line play, even though the Pats ran the same play in the previous Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers.

It should be noted that the defense did force a Tom Brady fumble in the second quarter to stop prevent at least a field goal drive. Also the defense did force the Patriots to punt in the fourth quarter to set up the aforementioned “hurry-up” drive late in the fourth quarter.

Besides Deion Branch lighting the defense up, the other main defensive failure was that Tom Brady didn’t face consistent pressure from the defensive line. I’m sure that had a lot to do with Mr. Branch burning the defense. Even Matt Ware was unable to stop the bleeding.


Andy Reid might be the best coach in Eagles history, but he was outclassed in this one. My biggest gripe is that, even though the receiving corps was a disaster in the second half, McNabb kept firing away in what was a pretty close game throughout.

There are a few ways this can be looked at: Maybe he just had too much faith in No. 5 and believed he would prevail in the end. Maybe Big Red wanted to prove that his pass-happy scheme can win a championship. Maybe he saw Troy Brown in the secondary and thought the New England secondary could be further exploited.

Whatever the reason, 51 passes in a three-point game isn’t usually a recipe for success against a dynasty like New England had back then.  But it’s not Andy’s fault anyway.

Roy Lee Williams

It’s his fault. He was the one to horse-collar T.O. and to force a gimpy Owens to play on one leg. Did you see that Patriots’ secondary? Troy “slot-receiver” Brown was playing defensive back. T.O. caught nine balls for 122 yards in the Super Bowl on one leg!

He would have destroyed those guys if healthy. With T.O. and Westbrook both lined up a receiver, Betty White would have been open at least once or twice. So if anyone is to blame, it’s Roy Lee Williams.