As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #1: A New Hope

Look up the word “hope” in the dictionary, and you will find its meaning to be “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  In that sense, Eagles fans have been hoping for a very long time.

It has been fifty-seven years since the City of Brotherly Love last experienced an NFL championship.  The year was 1960, a year in which the United States had just entered the Vietnam War, and John F. Kennedy had just been elected President of the United States.

The Flintstones cartoon was shown on television for the first time, and Cassius Clay (who later took the name Muhammad Ali) would win his first professional fight and go on to become the greatest boxer of all time.

The Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers, 17-13, at Franklin Field on a cold December day that season to win the 1960 NFL Championship, in what would turn out to be the only playoff loss of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s illustrious career.

Fifty-seven years is a very long time, especially when taken in the context that there are those who were crawling around and practicing the art of ‘babytalk’ on that December day who are now nearing retirement age and still haven’t experienced an Eagles championship.

And yet, Eagles fans continue to hope.  And hope.  And then hope some more, even when the team’s prospects seen daunting.

There have been Eagles coaches that have given the fans no hope, mostly during the lean years following the 1960 championship all the way up to 1975.

There were those who started out with promise, but whose early successes were merely a result of the leftover players from the previous regime (Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Chip Kelly).

There were those who had the roster of a championship caliber team, but who were more “bark then bite” once the playoffs arrived (Buddy Ryan).

And then there were those (Dick Vermeil & Andy Reid) who gave Eagles fans the most hope, taking them to the brink of the promise land, only to disappoint once again.

But through it all, Eagles fans continue to persevere, continue to hope, that one day, they will see the fruits of their devotion realized, much like all the other teams in their division have on more than one occasion.

The great Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon once remarked that Eagles fans could “teach loyalty to a dog”, which is probably the most accurate description one could give to this city’s rabid fan base.  And perhaps, they now have a  quarterback who has given them reason to believe.

The Eagles took a gamble to move up to the #2 overall draft pick last season to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz, who, on first impression, looks like he could throw an interception and, instead of cursing or yelling, would just say “AW SHUCKS!”

But one should not confuse Wentz’s small town, seemingly relaxed demeanor in any way to a lack of football acumen.  Wentz has a strong arm and seems to have a good grasp of the mental side of the game, which is essential to the success of an NFL quarterback.

Carson in his rookie season was very much like Luke Skywalker in the “Empire Strikes Back” movie.  Luke, as you may recall, was then a budding jedi knight who took his lumps (and got his hand chopped off by his father in the process)  while learning the ways of the force from master Yoda.  But Luke returned as a seasoned jedi in the sequel (aptly named “Return of the Jedi”) who could handle anything thrown his way while becoming a major force in helping the Rebel Alliance defeat the Evil Empire.

This season is Carson Wentz’s “Return of the Jedi” moment.  After one year of experience under his belt, it is now his time to be the unequivocal leader of this Eagles team.  And while he won’t have to worry about any familial violence on the field, he will have to be concerned with the pass rush from opposing defenders.

Wentz is the “New Hope” of the Eagles, and this team will only go as far as he can carry them.  To make his life easier, the front-office added some wide receiver weapons to his arsenal in the form of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, which were sorely lacking in 2016.

Assuming that the team can stay healthy, there is no reason to expect anything less than a 9-7 record at worst, and a possible playoff birth.  And while a Super Bowl may still be a couple years away, stranger things have happened in the NFL.

The Birds start the season on the right foot this Sunday, defeating the Washington Redskins, 30-20, for the first time in six tries.  In the meantime, Birds fans will watch with excitement and HOPE, that maybe, just maybe, this season will end with a different outcome then so many in the recent past…

What is your prediction for this Eagles season?  Feel free to post in the comments section!

2016 Week #12: Packers at Eagles

“They are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook!”

Such were the words of a disgruntled Dennis Green, then coach of the Arizona Cardinals, after a 2006 loss to the Chicago Bears in which his team led by 20 points.

And while Green’s tirade became one of the most well known postgame outbursts in NFL history, the same phrase he made so famous could also be used in explaining the Eagles loss to the Seahawks last Sunday.

The Birds knew going into the game that they would need to play mistake free football to beat a dominant Seattle team at home.  But knowing and doing are two distinctly different things, and there were two plays that took place in the 2nd quarter that turned the tide in Seattle’s favor.

With the Eagles leading 7-6 and the Seahawks faced with a 3rd & 16, defensive lineman  Brandon Graham was called for offsides on a play which resulted in an incomplete pass.   His offsides was totally unrelated to the play and would have resulted in Seattle having to try a long field goal or punt.  Instead, on the very next play, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, while scrambling to avoid being sacked, hit tight end Jimmy Graham  on what turned into a 35-yard touchdown to give the Seahawks a 13-7 lead.

On the Eagles next drive, the offense responded with a Carson Wentz to Zach Ertz 57-yard catch and run touchdown pass (and miraculously, Ertz never fell down while running with the football) which should have tied up the game.  Instead, wide receiver Nelson Agholor (or more appropriately, “Awful-or”) was flagged for an illegal formation penalty, nullifying the touchdown.  Once again, his penalty, like Brandon Graham’s before him, had nothing to do with the play itself, but those two plays in the span of three minutes turned a close game into a 14-point swing for the Seahawks, and the game was basically won right there.

If one did not watch the game and only saw the final score (a 26-15 Seahawks victory), they may have had the impression that the Eagles hung in till the end. But that was not the case at all…the Birds were manhandled after those two plays, and with ten minutes left in regulation, ending the misery to watch Bruno Mars on 60 Minutes seemed like a much better alternative.

But in keeping this Eagles season in perspective, and especially considering the holiday we are celebrating this week, we should be thankful that the Birds are 5-5, in a season in which not much was expected.

While Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz looked lost at times and played his worst game of the year, he will have days like that as a rookie, especially against a foe like Seattle.  Personally, I am thankful to not have to see Mark Sanchez playing quarterback in midnight green again.

So what are the Eagles playoff chances with six games left in the regular season?  Here is everything you need to know about the playoff picture as it stands right now (but were afraid to ask):

The Dallas Cowboys sit at 9-1 and hold a four game lead over the Eagles for the NFC East division lead.  The Birds have about as much chance to win the division as Melania Trump and Michelle Obama duking it out in a sanctioned boxing match on inauguration day.

The Eagles best chance to make the playoffs is by earning one of the two NFC wild-card spots, currently held by the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.  The “G-Men” hold a 2-game lead over the Birds while the ‘Skins hold a 1.5 game lead due to having one of their games end in a tie.

The Eagles would have to do no worse than 4-2 just to have a CHANCE at a playoff spot (to quote Jim Carrey from the “Dumb & Dumber” movie – “So you’re saying there’s a CHANCE??”).  Even that would require the Redskins to do no better than 2-4 and other teams to falter as well, so a 5-1 finish might be more realistic of what the Birds need to get in.

There are currently four teams on the “outside, looking in” for those two wildcard spots: 1) The Lions OR Vikings at 6-4 (one of them would currently win their respective division, 2) The Eagles at 5-5, 3) Tampa at 5-5, and 4) the Cardinals at 4-5-1 (perhaps it’s time for the NFL to just abolish tie games?).

The Eagles would greatly help their cause by winning their four remaining home games against the Packers, Redskins, Giants and Cowboys.  Doing so would not only cut the Giants and Redskins lead for the wildcard, but give the Eagles a 3-3 division record, which could factor in as a possible tiebreaker should the teams be tied with identical records at the end of the season.

The Eagles should root for the Cowboys to win their next five games.  This is not a typo….I repeat, this is not a typo.  Yes, an Eagles fan rooting for Dallas is about as likely as Bernie Sanders campaigning for Donald Trump, but in this case it is warranted.

Should the Cowboys do that, their last game of the season against the Eagles would be rendered meaningless from their standpoint.  They would probably end up resting most of their starters and play some guy named Romo at quarterback, giving the Eagles an easy shot at victory, and perhaps securing a playoff birth in the process.

Today’s Thanksgiving games will factor heavily into the playoff picture, with the Lions hosting the Vikings and the Cowboys hosting the Redskins.  Eagles fans need to root for both “hosts” (Detroit & Dallas) to secure a victory…got all that???  There will be a pop quiz right after you’ve inhaled your third piece of pumpkin pie.

As for the Eagles, they will look to rebound this Monday night at home against the Packers, who are playing themselves out of the playoffs due to various injuries on their defense.  The Eagles are a perfect 4-0 at home this season and will continue that this week, keeping the playoff race interesting with a 30-20 victory.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Redskins at Cowboys 4:30 PM FOX (Thurs) – Game of the Week

Vikings at Lions 12:30 PM CBS (Thurs)

Chiefs at Broncos 8:30 PM NBC

The Last Word:

Be thankful for what you have.  You may not think your life is ideal, but there is someone out there who would gladly trade places with you in a heartbeat. Happy Thanksgiving!

2016 Week #6: Eagles at Redskins

Surely, the fairy tale couldn’t last forever?

Surely, the folklore going around that Carson Wentz could 1) Save the country’s burgeoning debt crisis, 2) Cure every form of cancer, 3) Be the perfect husband for your sister/daughter AND 4) Never throw an interception could not all be true?

The last theory was debunked last Sunday in Motown when Wentz, with enough time to lead his team down the field for a winning field goal, threw an ill-advised pass downfield to Nelson Agholor who, when in tight coverage with a defender for a pass, looks more like he’s doing the “limbo dance” than actually fighting for the ball.

As the Lions celebrated and their fans, who seemed comatose and disinterested for most of the game, actually came to life, Wentz walked off the field presumably humming the Human League’s 1986 hit song “Human” playing in his head (cause frankly, he’s only human…of flesh and blood he’s made).  The throw was young Carson’s first interception of the year and negated what had been an Eagles comeback from two scores down in the 2nd half to take the lead, before Ryan Mathews fumble on 3rd &2 eventually led to Detroit kicking what was the eventual winning field goal.

No one expected the Birds to go 16-0, and it’s not necessarily a surprise that they lost a close game to the Lions.  But it was more HOW they lost it that hurt the most.

If the Eagles were not coming off a bye, the Lions contest could have easily been labeled a “trap” game, considering that they were coming off a big win against the Steelers and facing a division foe in the Redskins this week.  But I thought the bye would work to negate any kind of letdown against a Lions team that has not won anything of significance since the 1950’s.  I was wrong.

Perhaps this kind of wakeup call is exactly what the Birds needed.  The expectations for this season have changed significantly after four games, and a 8-8 season will no longer be considered a success as it was before the Eagles took the field against the Cleveland Browns on opening day.

The Birds face a tough test on the road this week.  The Redskins have rebounded from an 0-2 start to win three straight and are in the thick of the NFC East race at 3-2.  Don’t look now, but the NFC “Least” is currently the best division in football, with three of the four teams (Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins) with winning records, and the Giants not far behind at 2-3.

The Eagles would do well to run the ball against the ‘Skins, who possess the league’s 30th ranked run defense.  Last week, both Wendell Smallwood & Kenjon Barner looked like they had been placed in the witness protection program by coach Doug Pederson, as both seemed to be conspicuously absent from the running game. Mixing in both Smallwood & Barner into the running back rotation would help to keep Darron Sproles & Ryan Mathews fresh as well, especially as the game wears on.

Any division game the Eagles play always seems to be a tough game no matter the record of either team.  But I don’t think the Redskins are as good as their 3-2 record suggests.  And coming off a tough loss to the Lions, the Eagles will not take Washington lightly.  Birds win 27-17 and the “ying and yang” is in balance once again in “Eagleville”.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Eagles at Redskins 1:00 PM FOX

Cowboys at Packers 4:25 PM FOX – Game of the Week

Falcons at Seahawks 4:25 PM FOX

2016 Week #3: Eagles vs. Steelers

Repeat after me – A 2-0 start does not a season make.

A 2-0 start does not guarantee a winning season.

A 2-0 start does not guarantee a playoff berth.

It is still possible for the Eagles, after beating up on two bad teams, to lose the rest of their games against better competition and end up 2-14.  And while that is highly unlikely, the Birds did start out 3-1 in 2012, only to end up 4-12 at the end of Andy Reid’s last season.

I say that not to dampen the spirits of those who are yearning for winning in this town, as this team, and the situation that they find themselves in, is quite different than the one in 2012.  Only that while we are downright “giddy” after two weeks of football, there is still a long season that remains ahead with much tougher competition on the horizon.

With five minutes left in the 3rd quarter, on what was a beautiful and practically balmy Monday night with kickoff temps still in the 80’s (unheard of for a September Chicago night), I sat in my seat in the “spaceship” known as Soldier field with teeth clenched, watching the Birds precariously hold on to a  9-7 lead and wondering if that would be enough to hold off the Bears in their home opener.

And while nine points did not prove to be enough, the Eagles scored three touchdowns to effectively put the game away and send the Bears fans home early with ten minutes still left in the game.  No matter how nice the weather, the play of Jay Cutler, coupled with a worknight/schoolnight for most Bears fans, was not enough to keep them in their seats when their hometown team was down by 22 points.

As for the Birds, they couldn’t have asked for a better start after two games in Doug Pederson’s inaugural coaching season.  But this season will not continue to be all “roses and rainbows” for young quarterback Carson Wentz, and their undoubtedly will be a game or two where he looks up at the home crowd to hear nothing but the bellowing of the famous Philadelphia “BOOOOOOO” and thinks to himself “Toto, I don’t think we’re in North Dakota anymore”.

Let’s hope that happens later than sooner, but the first real test for this team will come this Sunday in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While not quite cross state rivals due to playing in different conferences, the Steelers present a huge challenge for the Birds, as many have them slated to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Pittsburgh still has “Big Ben” Roethlisberger  at quarterback, and with receiver Antonio Bryant as his top wide receiver, the Eagles secondary will have their hands full.

The defensive line would do well to pressure Big Ben, but even then, Roethlisberger has the ability to sidestep the rush and throw the ball downfield.

The Eagles will play a very competitive game and keep it close, in what should be a raucous crowd at the Linc.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the outcome either way, but while my head tells me the Steelers are definitely the better team, my heart tells me that the Birds will find a way to pull it out.

Birds win 23-20 in a nail biter where the fans make all the difference….

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Texans at Patriots 8:25 PM CBS/NFL Network (Thurs)

Broncos at Bengals 1:00 PM CBS (Game of the Week)

Vikings at Panthers 1:00 PM FOX

Steelers at Eagles 4:25 PM CBS

Jets at Chiefs 4:25 PM CBS

As Broad & Pattison Turns: Let the Eagles Preseason Began…

The Eagles preseason began Thursday night with more uncertainty than in past years about which direction this team was heading in.  But there was no doubt as to who the faithful really wanted to see…

Eagles starting quarterback Sam Bradford started the game, but if you were in attendance and happened to miss it, who could blame you?  Sam was in the game for an entire three plays, which wasn’t even enough time for your cheese cup to be infiltrated by a single Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fry.

Enter Chase Daniels, expensive backup to the stars (or at least to the Philadelphia Eagles), who looked hesitant every time he dropped back to throw.  Perhaps his timidness in the pocket was due to being with a new team.  Perhaps it was the heat and humidity which had him shaky in the pocket.  Or perhaps it was the Seasons Pizza sign which had Chase thinking about a large pepperoni to go following the game.

Whatever it was, his ineffectiveness had caught the fans ire.  It may have only been preseason, but when it came to the natives showing their displeasure, they were in mid-season form.  A reign of boos showered down upon Daniels’ multiple times during the first half, followed by chants of “We Want Wentz” (in reference to Eagles first-round draft pick Carson Wentz).

One can only suspect that Chase Daniels, not accustomed to such treatment from the Chiefs home crowd, must have walked back to the sideline and told Doug Pederson, “Coach – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

With less than two minutes left before halftime, the fans finally got their wish.  Wonder-boy Wentz was supposed to come in at the start of the 3rd quarter, but even rookie coach Pederson must have sensed that keeping his backup in for another series was an exercise in futility, and instead put in the rookie to run the two minute offense.

To Wentz’s credit, he came in and played rather well in the time he was in the game.  The young quarterback showed pocket presence and an ability to throw the ball away when there was no play to be made, something that many young quarterbacks struggle with early in their careers.  Wentz did throw an ill-advised interception in the end zone, but considering that it was his first NFL action, not too shabby.

The question automatically becomes – how much action will Wentz see when the real games began?  Those playing the role of devil’s advocate will rightfully point out that many of the defenders chasing him on Thursday night may be slicing your deli meat at your local Acme or Giant a month from now. How will he fare against the starters and all-pros of the NFL?

That is a question that may remain unanswered for some time, but at least on this night, Wentz showed that he had the tools to play in the NFL.

On the defensive side, Jim Schwartz may turn out to be the defensive coordinator we have been searching for since Jim Johnson passed away back in 2009.  He has the experience to run a defense and has a stalwart on the defensive line in Fletcher Cox to anchor it.

But this night was all about Carson Wentz.  In a season where the expectations are not quite on par with past years, he may be the one who holds the key to this team’s future beyond 2016.

The Last Word – Perhaps this should be retitled the most RECENT word.  Carson Wentz suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs in the 4th quarter of Thursday’s game and the Eagles are hopeful he returns before the end of the preseason.  Setback #1 for Wonder kid Wentz…hopefully not a sign of things to come for your 2016 Eagles….