THINGS LOOKED bad for the Patriots. With a little less than 10 minutes left in the second quarter, they were down 7-0 to an Eagles defense that seemed as if it were about to swallow up running back Corey Dillon and quarterback Tom Brady and his pack of nifty wideouts. Four series had produced 37 yards of offense, a sack, two penalties and no third-down conversions. Now New England was backed up on its 13-yard line. "We were just playing so tight," said tight end Christian Fauria. "We were worrying about their blitz. We couldn't figure out who to block."
It was especially worrisome for Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator who will coach Notre Dame next fall. After Weis signed on with the Irish on Dec. 12 and the Patriots lost to the Dolphins eight days later, the grumbles started--something to the effect of trying to serve two masters. "Sure it hurt," Weis said on Sunday night, after the Pats' 24-21 Super Bowl triumph. "You can say that taking the Notre Dame job had nothing to do with the fact that we turned the ball over four times against Miami, but it still hurt inside."
So before he sent Brady out in the second quarter against Philadelphia, Weis told him, "We're going with four wide receivers. I want to spread them out so you can see where your pressure is coming from." Then he gave Brady the snapper: The first two plays were going to be screen passes to Dillon. "Now that really surprised me," Brady said. "In the four years I've been quarterbacking [the Patriots], I can't remember him calling a screen out of a four-wide formation. But that's Charlie. Expect the unexpected. It was a hell of a time to bring it out."
Another failed series, a punt from deep in its own territory, followed by a decent Eagles return and more points on the board could have been very strong medicine for a shaky offense to stomach. Instead, the Patriots got 29 yards out of their two completions, moving them out to their 42, and then drove deep into Philly territory. Brady wound up fumbling at the four, but the New England defense forced a punt and the Patriots put seven on the board on their next series. After the game many New England players said the two screens had turned the momentum.
Even better, the screens had put a hold on the Eagles' blitzes. The book says that when a team goes four wide, you blitz--and that's what Philadelphia did. But the screens knocked the Eagles back on their heels, made them scratch their heads before they sent the rushers in again.
At halftime the score was 7-7, and Weis did another unusual thing. He scripted the first 10 plays of the second half. "I was counting on the long, 25-minute halftime," he said.
This time the Patriots' first four possessions produced three scores--touchdown, touchdown, field goal--mostly from multiple-wideout sets, one time using five receivers. They worked Deion Branch, who had a Super Bowl--record-tying 11 catches, out of the slot. "Game plan stuff," wideout David Givens said in reference to what the Pats faced. "Man coverage against the slot receiver, zone against the outside guys." And New England went back to the screen pass; on the touchdown drive that put the Pats ahead to stay, Brady's two longest completions came on screens of 13 and 14 yards to running back Kevin Faulk.
Still in three- and four-wideout alignments, Weis ran Dillon and Faulk between the tackles for good gains. "They defended the stretch play outside too well," Fauria said, "so we hit them inside. We played their tendencies. Give Charlie two weeks to prepare, and he'll kill people."
"It's the end of my NFL career," Weis said. "I wanted to see it end right."
"He was a little emotional [after the game]," center Dan Koppen said. "Good for him. I'm just happy we could send him off the way we should." --Paul Zimmerman
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
Faulk set up the score that put New England ahead to stay by hauling in a screen pass from Brady (opposite).
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