In 2008, the Philadelphia Eagles overcame a midseason crisis to win four of their final five regular season games and two playoff games on the road, setting themselves up for an NFC championship game battle with the surprising Arizona Cardinals.
The Eagles ultimately lost, 32-25, largely because of the play of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who repeatedly torched the Eagles’ secondary for nine catches, 152 yards, and three touchdowns. It was perhaps the most dominant game I have ever seen a non-quarterback play against the Eagles since Andy Reid became head coach.
The Cardinals went on to lose the Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers, although Fitzgerald scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:58 to play.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Eagles would have advanced to the Super Bowl, and probably won, if they had Fitzgerald on their receiving corps instead of an injury-plagued Kevin Curtis, a rookie DeSean Jackson, an inconsistent Reggie Brown, and an ineffective Hank Baskett.
On Friday, Eagles fans learned that the team had tried to trade for Fitzgerald before the 2008 season, but the Cardinals rejected the deal and locked up Fitzgerald with a four-year, $40 million deal.
The Eagles had reportedly offered a first and a third round pick for Fitzgerald, who was just 24 years old and coming off a season in which he caught 100 passes for 1409 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Over the past four years, Fitzgerald has emerged as one of the best receivers in the NFL, and a lock for the Hall of Fame when he hangs up his cleats.
Had the Eagles traded away their first round pick in 2009 (I’m assuming it would have been in the 2009 draft because the Eagles didn’t have a first round pick in 2008), they wouldn’t have been able to select Jeremy Maclin with the 19th overall pick.
But they likely wouldn’t have needed to.
As good as Jackson and Maclin can be (and I honestly think they’re a little overrated), I think Fitzgerald and Jackson would make arguably the most unstoppable one-two receiving punch in the league.
Trading for Fitzgerald would have probably won the Eagles the Super Bowl in 2008. They thrashed the Steelers 15-6 during the regular season and I think they would have won again (Steelers fans probably disagree).
Who knows what would have happened in 2009 and 2010, when the Eagles’ offense was shut down in wild-card playoff losses?
Imagine Vick throwing a jump ball to Fitzgerald in the final minute of the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2010 instead of Riley Cooper. Fitz catches that ball, the Eagles win, and they have a pair of road games against two teams (Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears), who I truly think they would have handled. That would have set them up with another Super Bowl against the Steelers.
Maybe Fitzgerald would have been enough to get the Eagles into the playoffs last season, when they missed by one game (or one play, depending which loss you focus on). Could the Eagles have gone on a run like the New York Giants did?
Maybe it would be Kevin Kolb to Fitzgerald in Philadelphia, instead of Kolb to Fitzgerald in Arizona.
We’ll never know.
And maybe I’m completely wrong.
Maybe Fitzgerald wouldn’t have made the difference in any of those games.
Fitzgerald wouldn’t have been able to play right cornerback on the 2010 team or middle linebacker on the 2011 team.
It’s unfortunate that we will never know. All the Eagles can do is prepare to face Fitzgerald this week, who by the way, has caught 26 passes for 458 yards and eight touchdowns in four career games against Philly.