Whether the defensive blueprint conjured up by Philadelphia coordinator Jim Johnson on Sunday night turns out to be a game plan adopted by the rest of New England's opponents, or becomes just another flawed strategy against the NFL's most lethal offense and its assault on the record book, remains to be seen.
But to Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who helped to scuttle the Eagles' upset plans, there was one primary reason why Johnson's terrific template ultimately failed to staunch the Patriots on their seemingly inexorable march toward the league's first 16-0 regular season.
"You're not going to fool [quarterback] Tom Brady, that's all there is to it," said Welker, who had 13 receptions for 149 yards in the Patriots' 31-28 comeback victory that stretched New England's unblemished record to 11-0. "As much as you try, it's not going to happen. Tom is simply too good and too smart ... and that's the bottom line."
Brady once again proved both sensational and savvy, completing 34 of 54 passes for 380 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, in rallying New England from a four-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter.
On the winning drive, which culminated with tailback Laurence Maroney's four-yard touchdown run over left guard, Brady made superb adjustments, eschewing the Pats' typical vertical game to Randy Moss, and instead zeroing in on his other talented receivers. Welker had three receptions for 39 yards on the drive, each catch moving the chain for first downs on an evening when he proved to be the one weapon in the considerable Patriots' arsenal that the creative Johnson and his ever-changing coverage scheme could not disarm.
Every catch was necessary because Moss did not have a reception in the second half and finished with just five catches for 43 yards. Sunday's nail-biter also marked the first time this season that Brady did not have at least three touchdown passes in a game, and in keeping with the preposterous tote-board style totals the Patriots have rung up, the 31 points actually represented their second-lowest output of the year.
"But the thing is," said wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who had six catches for 87 yards and one score, and who was especially effective in the first half, "we still won."
True enough. But one can now expect that the video of Philadelphia's defensive package from Sunday night will become about as meticulously scrutinized a bit of celluloid as the Zapruder film. Because even though the Patriots finally overcame Johnson's devious and diverse design, which featured a "Joker" blitzer and a wide variety of rush-fronts, the Eagles clearly were effective in forcing New England to work for everything it got.
And while Brady was characteristically brilliant, the Pats still needed two interceptions from cornerback Asante Samuel -- one returned for a touchdown just 1:22 into the game, and the other coming in the end zone, when Philadelphia quarterback A.J. Feeley got overly greedy with 3:52 left in the game -- to stay undefeated.
"They forced us into some things," acknowledged Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "They're a good team and they showed us a lot of different things."