Deflating was sort of the theme of the holiday weekend for the Flyers, Eagles and Penn State. Coming off a 6-1 win on Thanksgiving Eve for their third straight victory, the Flyers thought they had stolen a victory in a game in which they weren't at their best, only to get shafted on a horrendous call in overtime and lose in the ensuing shootout.
For starters, that's not a penalty. But even if the referees want to argue that it was a penalty thanks to the Avery rule — a penalty that's not even on the books — then why the hell did they wait some 5 seconds or more to make the call when Mike Richards and the Flyers were in possession of the puck the entire time? And why wasn't Miikka Kiprusoff whistled for a slash, when he very clearly hacked at Pronger's legs after the hand incident? Just horrible, horrible officiating. No two ways about it.
It was a tough loss, especially given the two dazzling goals the Flyers scored: the first by Nikolay Zherdev to open the scoring, and the second by Claude Giroux in the shootout.
To make the weekend even more deflating, the Flyers went out and lost again via the shootout the very next day to the lowly Devils. Despite outshooting Jersey 41-25 and dominating damn near every facet of the game, the Flyers couldn't solve Johan Hedberg, who made 40 saves and stoned all but one Flyer in the shootout. In fact, the only goal that beat him in regulation was a trick bank shot by Danny Briere, and only Zherdev took the open invitation through the five-hole Hedberg seemed to be providing to everyone in the shootout.
Yes, the Flyers managed to get a point in each game, but 4 points would have felt a whole lot nicer than 2, especially given the disallowed goal and the way they dominated the Devils. That's deflating.
And so was Penn State going out in the final battle for the Land Grant Trophy by losing to Michigan State in a series that the Nittany Lions have traditionally dominated.
Even though these two teams came in with very different seasons — Michigan State at 10-1 and tied with Wisconsin and Ohio State atop the Big 10, Penn State at 7-4 and going through a rebuilding year — I honestly had the feeling that Penn State would find a way to put it all together and ruin Michigan State's chances at the Big Ten title.
Despite Derek Moye's best efforts, that didn't happen. The Spartans were, just as they have been all season, better than Penn State essentially across the board. As tough as it is to go through a season like Penn State did, it was nice to see them fight to the very end. And that fight made things mighty interesting at the end, turning what was a 21-3 and 28-10 deficit into a thrilling finish before ultimately losing 28-22. Matt McGloin had another 300-yard game, but it was Moye who stole the show, almost singlehandedly getting the Lions back into this one.
He put forth a herculean effort in the forth quarter, catching several passes, almost making a miraculous touchdown catch, stripping Michigan State's Trenton Robinson after the safety foolishly tried to return his interception out of the end zone instead of taking a knee, thus keeping Penn State alive, and then hauling in a touchdown catch right after that. It was quite a performance from the junior receiver. For the day, he finished with five receptions for 65 yards and a score. Those numbers brought his 2010 totals to 48 receptions for 806 yards and 7 scores. He finished fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards, sixth in receiving yards per game (67.2), third in yards per reception (16.8) and his seven TDs were fourth most in the conference. Quite an impressive season for Moye.
Justin Brown, by the way, led all receivers with 6 catches for 106 yards on Saturday. That guy is gonna be a star. With Moye and Brown both back next year, not to mention the return of burner Curtis Drake from injury, track stars Devon Smith and Shawney Kersey, Penn State is loaded at receiver next year for whoever — McGloin, Robert Bolden, maybe even Paul Jones (if he doesn't transfer) — the quarterback is.
Still, it's kind of deflating to wrap up the season with a loss at home, and doing it in the final battle for the Land Grant. I really wanted Michigan State to come up short of sharing the Big Ten title with the Badgers and the Buckeyes.
As deflating as the Flyers' back-to-back shootout losses were, and as deflating as this season has been at times for Penn State, nothing was more deflating than the Eagles' loss to Chicago yesterday.
Sitting at 7-3, the Eagles and Michael Vick were the talk of the NFL. They had just won three straight games against the Colts, Redskins and Giants, had won five of their last six games including a 31-17 manhandling of the Falcons, and everyone alive was beginning to proclaim Vick as the league's MVP.
But the Eagles suffered a deflating 31-26 loss, bringing expectations a little bit more back down to earth.
With no Asante Samuel in the lineup, Jay Cutler torched the Eagles' secondary — a combination of Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson and rookie Trevard Lindley — for 247 yards and four touchdowns without turning the ball over once. The Eagles' defense is just not the same without Asante. That was made abundantly clear yesterday.
Meanwhile, Chicago's defense proved to be everything it's cracked up to be — athletic, fast, ferocious. Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher give the Bears two players no one else has to help contain Michael Vick, and that's exactly what happened. The Eagles weren't able to get the big plays that they have relied on this season thanks to that Chicago cover 2 defense. Conversely, it was the Bears who flipped the script, killing the Birds with deflating big plays — the 61-yard run by Matt Forte, the 39-yard and 34-yard passes to Devin Hester, the 20-yard touchdown and 34-yard pass to Johnny Knox, the returns by Hester and Danieal Manning, the 30-yarder to Edgar Bennett.
But the most deflating play in this deflating loss came relatively early in the game. Trailing 14-13, the Eagles' defense forced a three-and-out that included two sacks following a 19-yard kickoff return by Manning. The Eagles took over at Chicago's 46 with 6:15 remaining in the first half, and methodically began to drive. Facing a 2nd-and-4 at the Chicago 4-yard line, 1:50 remained. At worst, the Eagles would kick a field goal before the half and take a 16-14 lead to the locker room, at best score a touchdown and go up 20-14. All they had to do was protect the ball and be smart, and they'd take the lead.
Instead, Michael Vick went for the end zone. The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted, and even it wasn't it looked to be quite a tight throw for Vick. It resulted in his first interception of the season, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.
The only thing couldn't do in that situation was fumble or throw a pick. If the sure throw wasn't there, all he had to do was toss it out of the back of the end zone. Instead, Tommy Harris got his hand in the throwing lane, Vick fired it into the big defensive tackle's mitt, and Chris Harris picked it up, then returned it 39 yards, which then led to a 63-yard touchdown drive orchestrated by Cutler in the final 1:50 of the half. Instead of being up 16-14 or 20-14, the Eagles trailed 21-13 at the half. That was the play that changed the entire complexion of the game.
The Birds battled back and made it close, but it wasn't to be. A deflating interception was the first act that got the ball rolling in the wrong direction for the Eagles. Chicago took advantage, made all the big plays and won the game, leaving the Eagles feeling fat and lazy like the rest of us after a long Thanksgiving weekend.