Monday, December 21, 2009

Not Quite Snowed In

Not sure if you heard, but we got quite a bit of snow this weekend in Philadelphia. Something in the range of 23 inches.

With word of the storm rolling in and plenty of sports on to watch, I stayed in Friday night and watched as the Sixers somehow defeated the Celtics 98-97 to end their 11-game winning streak. In Boston. I know, I was stunned too. I called it a night relatively early and got set for what I anticipated would be a long day of laying on the couch and watching sports. The snow was falling at a rapid rates, the roads quickly deteriorating and my house nice and warm. As I headed down the stairs around 11 a.m., still in a post-wakeup haze, Adam EatShit tells me he has two extra tickets to the Flyers-Rangers game at 1 and asks if I'd like to go. Of course I said yes, and uncle jellyfish gladly accepted the other free ticket. We hardly knew what we were getting ourselves into.

The two of us trekked to the el, watching as the snow piled up with no end in sight. But once we got word that the game was still on, there was no turning back. To Broad and Pattison it was. Truth be told, the worst of it had yet to hit, so it wasn't all that bad on our way there. But it quickly turned bad once we entered the Wachovia Center. It was a sparse crowd due to the weather, so we did upgrade our seats down low, but immediately as we entered the building, Chris Drury put the Rangers up 1-0. We were still walking to our seats thanks to a slow-running SEPTA, so we missed it, but that didn't change the fact the Flyers were down 1-0 already to another struggling team. Not good.

Minutes later, the Flyers went on the power play and set up. Claude Giroux got the puck to Simon Gagne on the boards near the circle, and uncle jellyfish quickly said, "Get it back to the point." As the pass was on its way, you could clearly see a great shooting lane and traffic in front, so naturally, as thousands of other fans in the building did, I yelled, "Shoot it!" Pronger gladly obliged and found the back of the net, tie game.

A few minutes after that, Arkansas Fred called me and asked if I wanted to go the Eagles game on Sunday. I gladly accepted. The funny thing is, earlier in the day, uncle jellyfish told me how before he left to meet at my house for the Flyers game, a buddy of his called and asked him to go to the Eagles game too. Both of us woke up on Saturday with no tickets to anything and no plans, and then we both wound up going to not only the Flyers game, but the Eagles game as well. It was kind of eery to say the least.

The two of us then watched as the Flyers completely and utterly dominated … but couldn't find the back of the net. It's become an alarming trend for a team that scored so many goals last season and was scoring at an awesome clip early this year. Meanwhile, the Rangers throw some garbage at the net and scored their second goal, and the Flyers trailed 2-1 heading into the third despite the fact they were controlling the game. That's annoying.

Still, even with Henrik Lundqvist and the team's scoring slump, it felt like the Flyers were on the verge of exploding. I predicted a 4-2 Flyers victory, with the final goal coming via empty net. I was dead wrong. The Flyers played their best period of the game in the 3rd, outshooting the Rangers 16-5 and pretty much keeping the entire play in the Rangers' zone, but nothing. Lundqvist was just too good, making saves any way possible. With his glove, his stick, his leg, even his face.

So despite outplaying the Rangers the entire game, despite outshooting New York 37-24, the Flyers still lost 2-1, falling to 14th in the East. Pathetic. Once again, Chris Pronger was the best player for the Flyers, playing sound defense and scoring the team's only goal. While I'm thrilled with his play this season, it would be nice to be able to say someone else actually played better than him on this team for once. But that just hasn't been happening. The forwards aren't scoring or forechecking enough, though they did get in on the forecheck pretty strong Saturday, and something just isn't right. Meanwhile, just about everything was right for Lundqvist. While Pronger was the best player for the Flyers on Saturday, Lundqvist was the best player period. He stopped 36 of Philadelphia's 37 shots and never once looked out of position. He stole the game for the Rangers.

To be fair though, he was giving up plenty of fat rebounds, but the Flyers, as they have been for two months now, were a step slow in getting there or couldn't find the net when they needed to. It's really a troubling trend — a team with so much offensive potential not scoring any goals. Something needs to be done, but I really don't know what else the Flyers can do. Despite the fact I was never a John Stevens fan, he did all he could to try and spark the team: change the lines, take away some ice time, etc. None of that worked, so the Flyers canned him. Peter Laviolette has also tried just about everything in the book, reuniting players who used to play together regularly, juggling the defense pairings, double shifting players, everything. Still nothing. I honestly think the only thing that can wake these guys at this point is to make a trade or sit a prominent player as a healthy scratch. Those are about the only two things the Flyers haven't tried, and nothing else seems to be working. This team is too talented and too much was expected for them to be sitting in 14th place in the East 34 games into the season.

Anyway, after the game, uncle jellyfish and I caught a ride back with Adam EatShit, who sat with us most of the game. The walk to his car was just brutal. As bearable as the walk to the el was on our way to the game, the shorter walk to the car after the game was equally unbearable. The wind was whipping, the temperature was well below freezing and the snow was still falling. I felt like my face was going to fall off. I was completely frozen. Then there was still the proposition of driving back to our house and getting there safely. Adam insisted to us that his car was a beast in the snow and would make it no problem, but with the roads a complete mess and the snow still falling, it was going to be interesting. Despite a few slips and slides, we made it back in one piece, but it was pretty much at the point that the roads were undrivable. I knew they were calling for a storm, but I didn't expect this. The snow would not relent. It was piling up by the inches, and my car was quickly buried in snow.

Again, I had no intention of braving the elements a second time, not after seeing cars stuck, the roads covered and unplowed, and the storm continuing. I stayed in again on Saturday and just watched sports, specifically watching the Cowboys somehow manage to not only win a game in December, but do it in New Orleans against the previously undefeated Saints. I was shocked. And I watched the Sixers lose to the Clippers at home a night after defeating the best team in the conference on the road, but I'll get to the Sixers in another post later today.

Point is, I was resting up and preparing myself for a long, cold day/night outside Sunday. I woke up some time around 11 and relaxed. When I finally went downstairs and looked outside, I was amazed. There was two feet of snow on the ground and not a single plow had been run down Girard Avenue. The roads in our neighborhood were a complete mess. Every car was snowed in, people were getting stuck left and right and driving looked ominous at best. If you wanted to get anywhere, or park anywhere, you had to plan a good 20-minute shoveling job just to dig yourself out of your parking spot or to dig yourself a spot to pull in to. With its tight budget, the city seemed to have no interest in even attempting to use its funds to clear the streets. That was fun.

I was all set to hop on the subway and meet Arkansas Fred down at the Linc. Adam EatShit had other plans. Since his car fared so well the day before in the snow, he decided to drive again. While the streets all around us were a mess, he heard that 95 and most of the main roads were cleared and good to go. Works for me. So he, his girlfriend and I ventured out to pick up uncle jellyfish, and we headed on down to the stadium with no problems. That is, until we actually were all set to go in.

After walking around a while waiting for Arkansas Fred, I went to go meet him. It was after 3 and the lines to get in were outrageously long. The Eagles had failed to clear the snow quick enough, so the gates weren't open yet. It was a shitshow, probably the worst clusterfuck I've ever seen down there for an Eagles game. The city and the Eagles knew this storm was coming, knew there was going to be tons of snow to remove, and the NFL even moved the start time back three-plus hours for them to adequately get the game in with no problems. Yet the Eagles and the city were still unprepared. In fact, when we got in, there were sections around midfield where the seats weren't even cleared of snow. Literally a few sections on each side were still completely covered in snow. Pathetic. Thankfully, our seats were cleared and we made it in well before kickoff. I would have been pissed otherwise.

Garbed in four pairs of socks, boots, a T-shirt, two hooded sweatshirts, a winter jacket, a winter hat and three pairs of pants, I was ready. Evidently, so were the Eagles. Quintin Demps, who should be the full-time kick returner so long as he is healthy just like he was last season (fuck Macho Harris), returned the opening kickoff 48 yards. Five plays later, Donovan McNabb hooked up with DeSean Jackson for a 19-yard touchdown, 7-0 Eagles. They never looked back, and you all saw the game, so I won't go with a play-by-play breakdown, but there are a few things I'd like to touch upon.

First and foremost, god damn, DeSean Jackson is a star. No two ways about it. For the second straight week, he was the difference in the game. Following up his beautiful performance against the Giants, DeSean had 6 catches for 140 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, and a 59-yarder that he could have taken to the house had McNabb led him a little more.

I think we can officially say DeSean is unstoppable. With all the weapons the Eagles have, he will get open one way or another, and he will make big plays. He is a certifiable stud, and while his receiving numbers aren't up there with the likes of the Giants' Steve Smith, you can sure as hell bet any Giants fan, or any fan of any team for that matter, would give up a boatload to have DeSean. He may not make the Pro Bowl after missing some games, but he should. He's the most explosive player in the division, and without question one of the most dynamic players in the entire league. How did this guy drop to the second round again?

Seriously, how? The Eagles even drafted Trevor Laws before him. The same Trevor Laws who has been inactive the past two weeks. What I'm saying is, DeSean was the biggest steal of his draft class. Glad the Eagles were the ones who nabbed him.

Second, sweet mother of god has Leonard Weaver won this city over in a short period of time, and rightfully so. Rarely has a fullback gotten this much attention anywhere, let alone in Philadelphia, but I think it's safe to say that Weaver has become the most beloved offensive player on this team besides DeSean. The fans can't get enough of him, and for good reason. He is the exact player this team has been missing — a big, bruising, versatile back. He can level people blocking, whether it's leading the way for LeSean McCoy or protecting McNabb's back. He can run with the ball like a tailback, catch like a wide receiver and make plays like a smaller, quicker player. Take one look at Leonard Weaver and the word athlete probably doesn't come to mind. But make no mistake, Leonard Weaver is a freakish athlete trapped in a fullback's body. And he's been incredibly valuable for this team.

Yesterday, he battered his way for 52 yards on 17 carries, softening up a very physical San Francisco defense. That allowed LeSean McCoy to average 5.3 yards a carry, gaining 48 yards on his 9 touches, and gave McNabb and the receivers plenty of room for them to wrack up 306 yards through the air, even in the frigid temperatures. What a great, understated signing.

Third, what in the hell is going on with coaches these days? Seriously. In the first quarter, with your team up 7-3, four points, you go for it on 4th-and-1 at your own 29-yard line? Really? What in the hell could the logic have possibly been. That was one of the worst go for it calls I've ever seen. I know all about the stats and the logic behind teams going for it and how statistically speaking, teams should go for it on fourth down more often. But sometimes it just makes absolutely no sense to do it, no matter how short of a distance you have to go to pick up the first down. That was one of those instances.

The Eagles were leading 7-3 in the first quarter. The 49ers had done nothing on offense since their first drive of the game. The defense was playing great. And you were leading. And it was the first quarter. And, on 3rd-and-1, you were just stuffed. Under no circumstance do you want to even remotely take the chance of giving the Niners a really short field, put them in field goal position without even gaining any offensive yards, yet the Eagles did anyway. This is not a team that you are confident will pick up those short-yardage situations, even after they've improved greatly. And sure enough, Leonard Weaver got stuffed, and the Niners got the ball. Dumb, dumb call. There is no way to defend it. None. I don't care what the statistics say, it was a horrible call. Luckily, Sheldon Brown is the man, forcing a fumble that was recovered by his cornerback mate Asante Samuel.

And that brings me to my next point. Sheldon Brown is this team's best defensive player, plain and simple. While Asante is a fine player in his own right and wracks up the interceptions (he got another one yesterday), Sheldon is a better player. There, I said it. For starters, he is a great tackler. Just ask Reggie Bush.

The man lays the wood and rarely ever misses a tackle. Asante, for all his INTs, kills you with missed tackles. Secondly, he makes a ton of great plays. This season alone, he has 5 picks, 152 returns yards off those picks, a touchdown and yesterday's forced fumble. He has 48 tackles, and more tips and breakups than you can count, such as the great tip in yesterday's game that almost turned into an interception by Quintin Mikell, who, oh by the way, actually did get a pick, finally not dropping the ball, and then almost came down in bounds on said tip by Brown. All I know is Sheldon is the leader of this defense, its best player, and it's time he got his due. The guy has played at a Pro Bowl level most of his career. This season, he finally deserves the chance to go. Because for the all the interceptions and great returns Lito Sheppard made to get to his Pro Bowls and Asante Samuel makes to get to his Pro Bowls, Sheldon is a better, more sound, more reliable player. I'd love to see him in Miami, one way or the other.

Oh, and Sean Jones, who friend of the site Spencer096 from Major League Jerk told me was a steal of a signing by the Eagles, sucks. Horribly. After hearing such a glowing endorsement from a guy who certainly knows his football, I was amped to see what Sean Jones could do. And in his first few weeks starting, he played very well. But the past few weeks, he's been awful, making a mockery of the safety position. Hell, his whiff against the Giants made Asante Samuel laugh, and yesterday, he missed Frank Gore so badly that I don't even think you could call what he did an attempt at a tackle. It was more like a person with vertigo trying to regain their balance on a rocking ship. I was embarrassed for him. Time to get him off the field and put 15-yard personal foul Quintin Demps out there for good. He may hit you in the helmet illegally, but at least he'll bring you down.

But Jones did have a nice game on special teams, making two great tackles. Not sure why he can't do that playing safety, but I've seen enough. Strictly special teams for you, Sean Jones.

All in all, good performance by the Birds. They won their fifth straight game, clinched a playoff berth and handled an inferior team, even if it wasn't the prettiest of performances. The snow was flying throughout the game, as people were pelting each other and the field, but the game went on with pretty much no terrible incidents. And to warm ourselves up after freezing our balls off at the Linc, Adam EatShit, his girlfriend, uncle jellyfish and I made an impromptu trip to Tacconelli's and dined on the most amazing pizza in the world.

So while the snow may have kept my car under wraps, it hardly kept me snowed in. Not even 23 inches of snow could prevent me from going to a Flyers game, Eagles game and Tacconelli's. That's how every weekend should go.

BallHype: hype it up!

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