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NCAA Tournament appearances by Temple’s Fran Dunphy, tied for most by Big 5 head coach

After a devastating 53-20 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, the Eagles are staring at the reality that they’re not an elite team. They have lost their last three games to teams currently with winning records.

The Greek God of Wrestling explains how NXT Takeover: Chicago overshadowed Backlash in Chicago and what that might mean for NXT’s future. Achilles Heel also reviews Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship and other developments at Backlash, examines the good and bad of Impact Wrestling, and tells us about a connection between NXT champion Bobby Roode and the Nashville Predators.

After Allen Iverson didn’t show up for Sunday’s BIG3 event in Dallas, which comes two weeks after he didn’t play at the league’s event in Philadelphia, Eric Fisher expresses concern that Iverson is having difficulty handling the fact that, even in a 3-on-3 league for retired players, his days as a star player are over.

Archive for the ‘Eagles’ Category

Victory slips through Birds’ grasp

Posted by Eric Fisher On January - 13 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

After doing very little since the opening 11 minutes of the game, the magic appeared to be back in the air for the Eagles.

Nick Foles, the leading man in unbelievable riches-to-rags-to-even-greater-riches story, was leading the Eagles to another improbable winning drive. With only two first downs during the second half, the Eagles quickly picked up a pair of first downs and advanced the ball to the Saints 27-yard line.

Squeezing in another play before the 2-minute warning, Foles found Alshon Jeffery open on the left side. But the ball went right through the big man’s hands – perhaps the best hands on the team – and right into the waiting arms of cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

“That last play, that’s on me,” said Jeffery, who added that the play will stay with him the entire offseason.

The Eagles’ flickering hopes were then extinguished when the Saints converted on yet another third down, this time third-and-9, to prevent the Birds from getting the ball back.

Saints 20, Eagles 14. The season is over. The fairy tale is over. The dream of repeating as Super Bowl champions is over.

“It’s tough. It’s tough,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “There’s no more football for 2018.”

The 2018 season continues for the Saints, who will host the Rams in the NFC Championship Game next Sunday (3 p.m.) after rallying from an early 14-point deficit against the Eagles.

End of the line?

But there won’t be any more football this season for the Eagles. And there might not be any more football in an Eagles uniform for several players who have been integral parts of the Eagles’ recent success. That list includes defensive end Brandon Graham, left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles and, of course, Foles.

“We hate this feeling right now,” Jeffery said.

Foles wouldn’t say Sunday was his final game in Eagles green, but he spoke about how much he’ll missing playing with the same group of teammates.

“That’s the hardest part about this,” Foles said. “It stops.”

Foles also thanked Eagles fans for their support and talked about how much he’s enjoyed playing in Philadelphia, saying “The city means so much to me and my family, and it always will.”

It’s likely that Foles will be starting for another team next season. But his teammates won’t forget what he’s done for them during his time with the Birds.

“I love and respect that guy so much,” center Jason Kelce said. “… He’s one of the guys you’ll always remember.”

Fast start

It appeared that Foles, Peters, Graham & Company were going to get another chance to wear Eagles green again next Sunday when they raced out to a 14-0 lead Sunday. Eager to put a 48-7 embarrassment at the Superdome behind them, the Eagles built a 14-0 lead before the Saints even had a first down.

The Saints seemed intent on reminding the Eagles of the Nov. 18 humiliation, which dropped them to 4-6 and left their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, by throwing deep on the game’s first play from scrimmage. But Cre’von LeBlanc intercepted Drew Brees’ deep throw down the middle for Ted Ginn Jr., doubling Brees’ total for interceptions thrown at home this season.

The Eagles quickly moved the ball past midfield, and then Foles placed a beautiful throw in Jordan Matthews’ arms for a 37-yard touchdown with 10:41 remaining in the first quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out on the Saints’ second possession, Foles engineered a 75-yard drive, with Foles reaching over the goal line from the 1 for a 14-0 lead with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter. Foles was already 8 of 9 for 113 yards, with his eight completions spread around seven receivers.

“The first two drivers were great,” Foles said.

But the momentum changed early in the second quarter. The Eagles appeared to have forced another three-and-out, but the Saints pulled off a successful fake punt on fourth-and-1 from their own 30, with Taysom Hill picking up four yards. To make matters worse, Fletcher Cox was injured on that play.

One play later, Brees connected with Michael Thomas (12 receptions for 171 yards, TD) for a 42-yard gain down to the Eagles 24. Another moment of truth came on fourth-and-goal at the 2, but the Saints decided to go for the touchdown instead of kicking a field goal, and Brees found Keith Kirkwood in the left side of the end zone against Josh Hawkins.

Hawkins was in the game because Rasul Douglas was on the sidelines with an ankle injury. In addition to the injury that limited Cox’s playing time, right guard Brandon Brooks left the game in the first quarter with a torn Achilles tendon.

“That’s kind of been our season, fighting through injuries,” Pederson said.

The pattern the rest of the game involved the Saints controlling the ball, with the Eagles defense giving up big plays on third down, and the Eagles offense unable to generate anything positive.

“We just couldn’t get off the field defensively on third down,” Pederson said.

That was never more evident than on the Saints’ first possession of the second half. After the Eagles went three-and-out, the Saints put together an 18-play, 92-yard drive to take the lead, 17-14. The third-down conversions included a 20-yard pass to Thomas on third-and-16 from the Eagles 32. Fittingly, Thomas caught a 2-yard touchdown for the go-ahead score.

Magic resurfaces?

Another field goal gave the Saints a 20-14 with 10:28 remaining, but the Eagles received renewed life when Wil Lutz missed a 52-yard attempt with 2:58 remaining.

All of a sudden, memories of last Sunday’s double-doink by Cody Parkey resurfaced. Against the Bears, the winning touchdown drive came before the missed field goal, but who says the script has to be exactly the same very week?

“It just felt like that magic was going to continue,” Pederson said.

The Eagles hadn’t moved the ball with any success for more than three quarters, but, with Foles at the helm, the improbable becomes the routine. After an incompletion on first down, Foles recognized the blitz and found Zach Ertz for a 16-yard gain to advance the ball into Saints territory. A roughing-the-passer penalty advanced the ball to the 27.

After Sproles was limited to no gain on first down, the Eagles decided to run a play before the two-minute warning. Foles dashed off a quick pass to Jeffery, who was open … and that’s where the magic ended.

Jeffery was left lying on the field for nearly a full minute. When he got to the sideline, his face was full of shock and sadness.

“I told him to keep his head up,” Pederson said. “Don’t let one play define you.”

This year’s Eagles will be defined not by one play, but by their resilience. It would have been easy to pack it in after the 48-7 loss to the Saints, and the Saints certainly didn’t expect to see the Eagles again this season. But the Eagles fought back to win five of their next six games to reach the playoffs, and then beat the Bears on the road to earn another trip to the Superdome.

The Eagles won’t be going back to the Super Bowl, but it’s not because they didn’t give it their best effort.

“We went out there and gave it everything we had,” Foles said.

And that’s a fitting way to remember this Eagles team.

Eagles-Saints: It should be a different game

Posted by Eric Fisher On January - 12 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

When analyzing Sunday’s second-round playoff game between the Eagles and the Saints (4:40 p.m.), references to the Saints’ 48-7 humiliation of the Eagles on Nov. 18 probably should be banned. The Eagles are a completely different team than they were in mid-November.

Since that loss to the Saints, which dropped the Eagles to 4-6, the Birds are 6-1, including last Sunday’s crazy 16-15 playoff victory over the Bears. The Saints (13-3) aren’t quite the same team, either. They weren’t bad down the stretch, but they didn’t look like the juggernaut that won 10 straight games after losing their season opener to the Buccaneers. The Saints didn’t score more than 31 points in their six games after defeating the Eagles, a total they exceeded seven times during their first 10 games.

A more relevant comparison than the first Eagles-Saints game might be to compare the Saints to the Bears. The Eagles should have an easier time putting up points against the Saints than the Bears. On the other hand, the Saints have a much more dangerous offense than the Bears. Drew Brees is much better than Mitchell Trubisky, and the Saints have a more effective rushing attack.

The Saints are 8-point favorites, but, if we learned anything from last season’s playoff run, it’s that the Eagles relish the underdog role.

Can the Super Bowl champions pull off another upset? Here are 10 questions to consider prior to and during Sunday’s game.

Which team has the better quarterback from Westlake High School (Texas)?

Drew Brees and Nick Foles both attended Westlake High School, west of Austin. Brees has had a Hall of Fame career, and this season might be the best of his career. He completed 74.4 percent of his passes for 3,992 yards and 32 touchdowns while only throwing five interceptions. His quarterback rating is an incredible 115.7.  Still, that’s a drop from where Brees was before the first Eagles-Saints game (77.3 completion percentage, QB rating of 123.8). He’s thrown just seven touchdowns while giving up four interceptions since the win over the Eagles. After setting a franchise record with 471 passing yards against the Texans and tying an NFL record with 25 straight completions against the Redskins in the regular-season finale, Foles didn’t light the world on fire against the Bears’ defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL. But, after throwing two first-half interceptions, Foles led the Eagles on two touchdown drives during the second half, including the game-winning drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. Brees gets the edge, but not by much.

Why will the Eagles do a better job against Brees than on Nov. 18?

The defense is so much better than when Brees carved the Eagles up for 363 yards and four touchdowns, completing 22 of 30 passes. The defensive line, led by Fletcher Cox, has become dominant again. The secondary, which was in disarray last time against the Saints, has made dramatic improvement. If the defensive line can apply pressure and cut off passing lanes for the 6-foot Brees, it will make life much easier for the secondary.

Aside from the quarterbacks, what’s the biggest difference between the Bears offense and the Saints offense?

The Saints have a much more effective running game. Alvin Kamara has 194 carries for 883 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mark Ingram has 138 carries for 645 yards and six touchdowns. In the first game against the Eagles, Ingram gained 103 yards on 16 carries and Kamara added 71 yards on 13 carries. The Eagles must slow down the running game.

Who are Brees’ top targets?

Michael Thomas led the NFL with 125 receptions for 1,405 yard and nine touchdowns. Alvin Kamara was second on the Saints with 81 catches for 709 yards and four touchdowns. The scary element for the Eagles is that neither Thomas nor Kamara had his best against them. Thomas caught four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Kamara only caught one pass, a gorgeous 38-yarder at the end of the game that led to accusations that the Saints were running up the score. Both Thomas and Kamara could be more productive  this weekend than in the regular-season matchup, but it’s unlikely that rookie Tre’Quan Smith, who had 10 catches against the Eagles and only 18 the rest of the season, will repeat that production Sunday. Speedy veteran Ted Ginn Jr., who didn’t play in the first game against the Eagles, is expected to play Sunday.

Did the Saints run up the score against the Eagles in the first game?

Former Saint Malcolm Jenkins, who made a gesture toward Saints head coach Sean Payton after being burned for Kamara’s late receiving touchdown, certainly thought the Saints were running up the score. Jason Peters said this week that the Saint ran up the score. Whether the Eagles believe the Saints ran up the score may be more important than whether or not they actually did so.

Who are the Saints’ top defensive players?

Defensive end Cameron Jordan (12 sacks) receives most of the attention, but linebacker Demario Davis (team-leading 110 tackles, 5 sacks) deserved recognition. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple are both pretty good. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (8 sacks) is capable of generating pressure up the middle.

What has been an overlooked reason for the Eagles’ improvement?

The defensive line has received most of the non-Nick Foles credit for the Eagles’ improvement. The offensive line seems to have been overlooked. The Eagles didn’t run for many yards against the Bears’ top-ranked defense, but Foles received solid protection last week, with Khalil Mack held without a sack and the Bears notching just one sack.

How important is a fast start?

The Eagles can’t afford to have anything remotely close to the first meeting, when the Saints built a 17-0 lead before the Eagles had a first down by any means other than a penalty. The Eagles need to put more than the three points they scored against the Bears during the first half last Sunday.

Why are drafts important?

Let’s examine the Saints’ 2017 draft. With the 11th overall selection, they picked Marshon Lattimore, who is their top cornerback. They traded up to the 32nd overall pick, the final pick of the first round, to select Ryan Ramczyk, who is their starting right tackle. In the second round, with the 42nd overall pick, the Saints selected Marcus Williams, their starter at free safety. In the third round, the Saints hit the jackpot, trading up in the third round to select Alvin Kamara with the 67th overall pick. Later in the third round (No. 76), the Saints selected Alex Anzalone, who starts at linebacker. To sum up the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Saints drafted five starters, including two or three potential All-Pro players, and a current backup. For those who want to compare, the Eagles selected defensive end Derek Barnett (14th overall), cornerback Sidney Jones (43rd) and cornerback Rasul Douglas (99th) during the first three rounds in 2017.

Are the Saints unbeatable in the Superdome?

The Saints’ only two losses at home this season came in the season opener against the Buccaneers and in the final regular-season game, when they rested most of their key players. They’ve won their last six home playoff games, with five of them coming since Drew Brees teamed up with Sean Payton. If you want a positive sign, the Saints’ last home playoff loss occurred in 1992 – against the Rich Kotite-coached Eagles.

Prediction: The Saints are big favorites (8 points), but I expect a much closer game than the regular-season meeting. I would be surprised to see another blowout. The biggest difference will be the pressure the Eagles’ defensive line generates against Drew Brees. Nick Foles has proved that he is a terrific quarterback on the big stage. If there’s a problem for the Eagles on offense, it could be their inability to consistently gain yards on the ground. Former Saint Darren Sproles could alleviate that concern. Can the Eagles’ remarkable run continue? Maybe. But probably not. Saints 28, Eagles 25

Side angle of Cody Parkey's missed field goal