Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Boring Games, a Drunken Night, a Shootout, the Pickle of Death and an Aggravating, Heart-Stopping Win

My weekend began with a few beers, a bottle of whiskey and a double cheeseburger prior to taking in one of the most boring basketball games I've ever witness in person in my life.

It ended with an abusive car ride after one of the most exciting, bizarre yet frustrating wins against a division rival to take sole possession of first place. And there was a bunch of shit in between.

The long journey of debauchery began with silver fox and a friend of ours heading to my house Friday evening to meet up and head down to the Sixers-Bucks game. They showed up with a bottle of Ezra Brooks in hand, and I was already two beers when they got to my door. Once that bottled was cracked open, it was already determined something crazy was going to happen Friday night.

After taking some swigs and starting feel pretty good, we made our way down to the Wells Fargo Center (that still doesn't sound right), picked up our fourth-row tickets and headed to our seats. As it turned out, our seats were one section over and two rows away from another guy we know and his wife, so we took a spot next to them and took in the game. In front approximately 8,000 people (generously), we watched as the Sixers somehow actually won a game. Truthfully, I wasn't very happy about it either, as bad as that sounds.

The main reason I chose Friday's game to christen my 2010-11 season in person was to watch Brandon Jennings, a personal favorite of mine. Sadly, Jennings failed to entertain on any level really, putting up a very unimpressive line of 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 3-13 from the floor and 0-5 from three. He was less than impressive, leading me to continue drinking pretty furiously, especially given that fact that as Jennings struggled, the Sixers took advantage.

I'm not normally one to root for any of my teams to fail, but with the state of the 76ers, wins are more detrimental than losses at this point. The Sixers need to rebuild and need to do it now. The best way to do that is to get another high lottery pick, hopefully in position to get a guy like Jared Sullinger, and shed some of the payroll in the form of Andre Iguodala.

However, there is certainly good to take away in the victory. For starters, as much as NBA fans these days like to see their teams tank to get a potentially franchise-changing lottery pick, continual losing can be just as harmful as being mired in mediocrity — the whole developing a loser's mentality. A win is good for morale, and it can lead to more confidence in younger players, which in turn can lead to better play. Perhaps just as importantly, Thaddeus Young continued to assert himself, leading all scorers with 23 points, and having an overall outstanding game. He shot an extremely efficient 8-13 from the field, 7-8 from the line and added 6 boards and 2 assists in leading the Sixers to the 11-point victory, just their third on the year.

The performance by Young was on par with his game of late. In the past few games, he's been more aggressive and assertive off the bench, providing a lethal scoring duo with Louis Williams. He's beginning to show flashes of the player that was arguably Philadelphia's best player two years ago before he got injured. The problem is he still isn't doing it consistently. On Friday, he was the best, most efficient player on the court. The game before that, a terrible 8-point loss to the lowly Raptors, he scored just 10 points while shooting 4-13. That came after a 17 and 8 performance on 8-12 from the field against Cleveland, and two games before that he also had 17 on 7-12 from the field.

If Thad can start stringing those good performances together and limiting the clunkers, he just may earn himself an extension. But if not, as much as I like the guy and what he can do when he's on his game, it really wouldn't be worth bringing him back. He needs to prove he can be the consistent contributor he looked destined to be in his second year.

Being totally honest here, even with Thad's performance, the Sixers game was the most boring part of my Friday night. Because afterward things got a little bit out of hand. When the game ended, the three of us went to meet up with our friend's girlfriend, who was at her friend's apartment in the city, not far from where I work actually. When we got there, we immediately began drinking our faces off. The bottle of Ezra, gone. A bottle of Red Label, gone.

Then we met up with another friend of mine, hit the bars and continued the excessive drinking. Next thing you know, we're back at the apartment, our friend whose girlfriend's friend's place we're at nowhere to be found. At this point, I'm drunk, tired and sick of the other people around us, so silver fox and I hop in a cab and head to my house, assuming our friend is somewhere with his girlfriend. When we awake the next morning to watch the Penn State game, silver fox checks his phone and has a message from our friend's phone from 7 in the morning. It's his girlfriend telling silver fox to call her if our friend is with us, because she's at the apartment, his phone is there but he's nowhere to be found. Great.

We try calling him furiously, to no avail obviously, until finally, at approximately 2 in the afternoon, he calls us. Turns out he somehow got lost all by himself when he went outside to smoke a cigarette or something, wandered around the city for a while, then ended up sleeping in his car.

By the time he called us, we had already thought the worst, thinking he was either locked up or beat down. Luckily, he was alive and well, at least given the circumstances, and even managed to make it to work on time Saturday night. But that didn't mean Saturday was exactly a fun day.

For starters, I was hung over as hell and feeling pretty god damn awful. The Penn State game wasn't making me feel any better. After going up 14-0 at FedEx Field on hapless Indiana, Penn State started to play like the pathetic team that took the field against Illinois. A 14-0 lead suddenly shrunk to a 17-14 halftime lead in a terribly boring first half.

To cheer ourselves up, silver fox and I went to Paesano's at halftime. When we returned, we watched as Indiana got into field goal range and tied the game on a 49-yarder. Matt McGloin answered nicely, moving the Nittany Lions right down the field and hitting Derek Moye for a 21-yard touchdown pass, but then Penn State gave it right back, and the game was tied at 24. It was awful. It honestly looked as though Penn State might lay their second true egg of the season, somehow losing to Big Ten basement-dweller Indiana, team that came in at 4-6 overall and winless at 0-6 in conference play.

Thankfully, that did happen because of this.

Now you might be asking yourself what the hell that was. It was Andrew Dailey's punt block, which was returned 20 yards by James Van Fleet for the go-ahead touchdown. From there it was all Penn State, as Collin Wagner added a field goal and impressive freshman running back Silas Redd scored from a yard out to give Penn State a 41-24 win.

The game itself was pretty awful. Penn State's offensive line was sloppy again. Michael Zordich missed more blocks in this game than he has in his two years at Penn State. And they let Indiana hang around. It was incredibly boring. But still, Matt McGloin bounced back from his horrid second half at Ohio State to throw for 315 yards and two scores with no turnovers, hitting eight different receivers. He's really making a case to be Penn State's quarterback in 2011 as well. Silas Redd gained 50 yards on just 9 carriers. Moye continued to have a really strong season, catching 6 balls for 90 yards and a score. The defense still left plenty to be desired, but Penn State did get the job done, albeit in fairly mundane fashion, the punt block excluded. That's 7 wins for the rebuilding Nittany Lions, with a chance to make it eight while simultaneously ruining Michigan State's bid for the Big Ten title this coming Saturday in Happy Valley.

After making a dreadful trek to drop people off, all I wanted to do was sleep. I did for a little while, waking up in time to watch the Flyers-Capitals game, well, most of it anyway.

Following the stupid 15-goal, 8-7 loss on Thursday, Saturday's game was another wild one. The Flyers came back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 3-1 lead, then blew that 3-1 lead in the third thanks to a steady stream of penalties that led to two power play goals, only to take the lead again with 6 minutes remaining, but then once again committing a back-breaking penalty in the final two minutes that led to the game-tying power-play goal. Finally, mercifully, the Flyers did manage to pick up two points by defeating the Caps in a shootout.

Oddly enough in a game in which 8 goals were scored in regulation, it was a defenseman who was the player of the game. Chris Pronger was a force, bouncing back very nicely from his awful performance against Tampa Bay. On several occasions, Pronger denied Alexander Ovechkin as the Russian sniper was trying to dance around him. He was physical and strong on the puck. And he had two assists to go along with his strong defense.

Richards, Giroux and Carter all scored goals, continuing to lead this team, and Andreas Nodl had a big one in the third to give the Flyers a 4-3 lead. Nodl has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers this year, and on his goal, JVR recorded an assist. Since he's been back in the lineup, van Riemsdyk has shown the fire that Nikolay Zherdev did before after his benching. It hasn't resulted in any goals for JVR as of yet, but his play has really elevated. He's getting lots of chances, working his tail off and showing the energy Peter Laviolette has been looking for. Hopefully he'll keep that up and it will eventually be rewarded on the score sheet.

As for the shootout, the once dreaded domain for the Flyers, it went rather well. Brian Boucher, who famously backstopped the Flyers in a shootout victory over the Rangers on the last day of last regular season just to get into the playoffs, blanked all three Capitals shooters he faced. Some guys by the name of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. And Danny Briere did the rest, scoring the game-winner on an incredibly quick, hard shot right through the five-hole of rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth.

It was a great win to stop their mini two-game slump, maintaining their spot behind Washington in the East. After that, I was spent. I didn't go out. I didn't drink. All I wanted to do was rest my body, recover and get ready for a little baseball workout before heading to the Eagles-Giants game on Sunday night.

See, the plan was to meet up with Toonces at his place in Roxborough and then meet a friend of ours at noon and get some baseball work in. Then I'd go home, shower and head down to the Linc to meet up with my roommates and friends to tailgate before the game. Things weren't quite that simple. Why? Because of the god damn Philadelphia Marathon.

Normally, it takes me about 15 minutes to get to Toonces' place from my house, so I left at about 11:15. Here's the catch: Unbeknownst to me, the Philadelphia Marathon was taking place, shutting down half of the roads in the entire city. Somehow I had no idea this was happening until I was caught in traffic, completely fucked. I feel like this thing should have been announced a little better. Maybe it was and I just missed it, but still, I feel like it should have been plastered all over or something all last week. I don't recall that happening.

That meant that a 15-minute ride turned into an hour and a god damn half ride. It was ridiculous. So many roads were closed that I wound up in East Falls, where I got somewhat turned around because who the fuck ever goes to East god damn Falls? It was awful. Luckily, we did end up getting to play some baseball, albeit an hour later than we wanted to, throwing off my whole schedule. Still, I got was home by 3:30 and met up with my friends down at the stadium by 4:20, a good four hours before kickoff.

Now, I'm not one of those people that goes and gets wasted at a tailgate before a game. I've never really understood the premise of that. I like to actually watch the game and remember everything, not go to get hammered and black out. I tailgate mostly for the food, and will drink moderately. Some of my friends are the same way, others not so much.

Having said that, there was a new tradition started when we all went to the Colts game two weeks ago, something even I couldn't resist. It's called the pickle of death, which essentially entails a flask of whiskey and a Jewish pickle. The premise is simple — drink from the flask, take a bite of the pick, pass it along. No one leaves until the flask and pickle are both finished. Let me tell you all something, it's pretty fucking awesome. There isn't a better chaser alive than a pickle, that's a fact. It completely overrides any other taste with the salt and vinegar. It's awesome.

We did it before the Colts game, it was delicious, and the Eagles won, so naturally we had to do it again last night. We did, it was awesome again, and the Eagles won again. A tradition is officially born.

About an hour before kickoff, my roommate and I go to our seats with another friend of ours, who just so happened to be taking in his first Eagles game in person. How this is possible for a 26-year-old male is beyond me, but such is life. He couldn't have picked a more bizarre game to pop his cherry.

The Eagles came out and completely dominated the first half. I mean sheer and utter dominance. They marched 68 yards in 7 minutes and 9 seconds on their second possession, going up 7-0 thanks to a ridiculous 4-yard touchdown run by Michael Vick. Then after giving up the lone good drive of the half for the Giants and yielding a field goal, Vick marched the Eagles right down the field twice, throwing two beautifully called, nicely thrown passes for sure touchdowns … that were both dropped. The first one was somewhat tough, a lower pass to DeSean Jackson in the end zone, but it was a ball DeSean, or any other receiver for that matter, should have caught. He didn't, he knew he fucked up and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal.

The next one was even worse. Facing a third down at the New York 6, the Giants sent the house. The Eagles had the perfect call, as Vick lofted the ball to a wide open Jason Avant all alone in the back of the end zone. Every single person I know could have and would have caught the ball, but Avant, the surehanded Jason Avant, dropped the god damn ball.

Again, the Eagles had to settle for a field goal instead of touchdown. That's 8 points left on the field right there, and instead of being up a commanding 21-3, the Eagles held a much less imposing 13-3 lead. It was maddening.

However, the defense was playing outstanding. They gave the vaunted Giants rushing attack absolutely no room to run, and Eli certainly wasn't having the best game of his career. Already leading 10-3, Asante Samuel did what he does best in the second quarter, intercepting Eli to give the Eagles the ball at New York's 13. That's when Avant dropped the ball, wasting great field position and a perfect play call, but it did lead to three points. And the Eagles didn't relent on defense at all.

Asante was the one leading the way. Not only did he get a pick and generally do a very nice job on Hakeem Nicks, but he also jacked up Derek Hagan.

Of course, because the NFL sucks has made me no longer enjoy it, it was a personal foul penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact. Sitting in the same seats as the Colts game, I had the exact same reaction, letting loose on a expletive-laden tirade and booing like I've never booed before. Flag football is a mere few seasons away, believe that. Regardless, even with the penalty, the Giants couldn't get anything else going, as the Eagles continued to stifle the run game and Eli continued to suck.

The Eagles got the ball back with 1:43 remaining, miraculously with all three timeouts left, and began to drive. Vick hit Jeremy Maclin for 35 yards on the first play, then gained 9 on a run and then hit Maclin for another big play, this time for 21 yards. Three plays in and the Eagles were already at the New York 15. Then a personal foul penalty backed the up 15 yards, and Maclin dropped yet another touchdown pass, as Vick made a great throw to Maclin, but the second-year speedester couldn't haul it in. In fairness to Maclin, his drop was a much tougher catch than either DeSean's or Avant's, especially with a defender on him. It's tough to say Maclin should have caught it, but he had a chance. To make matters worse, the Eagles attempted a 42-yard field goal as the clock wound down, but it got blocked. I was furious.

Here the Eagles were, completely and utterly dominating the game, yet they held just a 10-point lead. The defense was suffocating, and the offense was moving the ball at will, yet the Eagles just kept making absolutely killer mistakes. DeSean's dropped touchdown. Avant's dropped touchdown. Crippling penalties — the Eagles finished with 10 penalties for 119 yards, inexcusable. And a blocked punt. They left 11 to 15 points on the field in that first half. Realistically, the score should have been 24-3 or 27-3. Instead it was 13-3. I was really beginning to get an uneasy feeling.

Then the game slowed to a grinding halt after Ellis Hobbs was clocked with a helmet-to-helmet hit and wasn't moving. Everyone in my section was screaming for a flag, but none came. There was no flag despite the much more malicious intent than Asante's hit, proving just how incredibly inept and pathetic the NFL's rules are on hits to the head. I'm not even joking, I hate how ridiculously unbalanced these kind of plays are. Receivers or quarterbacks hit to the head, automatic penalty. Linemen, returners or defenders hit to the head, nothing. At all. It's completely absurd.

Once the game finally ensued, the Eagles did exactly what they had been doing all game. Michael Vick meticulously led the Eagles down the field. The Eagles got all the way to New York's 10 on a long drive. But the Eagles stalled yet again, this time mostly due to the fact that pretty much every play, Vick was dropping back to pass. We all know the history of Andy Reid and his unbalanced play-calling, but it reached new highs last night. Coming off a game in which the Eagles ran all over Washington, and with LeSean McCoy having a brilliant year, not to mention the Eagles adding the very talented and capable Jerome Harrison, Reid and Marty completely abandoned the running game. With a lead. In the second half. I hate when they do stupid shit like that.

Still, the Eagles added another field goal to go up 16-3, and they had milked more than half the quarter on one drive.

Then, one huge penalty changed the entire game. With the Giants down by 13 and facing a 3rd and 14, Eli Manning threw up a jump ball down to the Philadelphia 2. That's when Quintin Mikell made one of the worst plays I've ever seen in my entire life. Getting beat, Mikell was trying to recover on the ball. As the New York receiver was jumping and looking up, Mikell didn't even try to turn his head. He just ran right into the receiver. If he had turned around, not only would there have been no pass interference, but Mikell would have had a great shot at intercepting the pass. It was a horrible throw by Eli, literally much easier for Mikell to catch than his intended target. But Mikell chose to just run through the receiver and draw a 31-yard penalty. Quintin Mikell sucks. Like, really, really sucks. He is absolutely nothing without Brian Dawkins lined up next to him.

With Dawk, the guy looked like a Pro Bowler. Last year, without him, he was arguably the worst player on the defense not named MachoVictor Harris. This year, he is absolutely the worst starter on this defense. Later in the game, he missed a crucial third-down tackle that would have essentially iced the game. He fucking sucks, and I hate him. I'd rather have the unproven Kurt Coleman out there.

Of course, on the very next play, Eli throws a touchdown pass to Travis Beckum and all the sudden a game that's been owned by the Eagles sits at 16-10. On Philadelphia's ensuing possession, they commit another penalty, back themselves up and wind up with a 3rd and 11. That's when Vick finally made his first crucial mistake as an Eagle, holding on to the ball way too long despite tremendous protection from the line, finally fumbling the ball for his first turnover of the season. The very next play, Eli hits Brandon Jacobs for a 22-yard gain, then connects for Hagan to give the Giants a 17-16 lead.

I was beside myself, killing Vick for not getting rid of the ball, cursing Mikell with every ounce of my being and dead certain the Eagles were going to lose. They had already blown so many opportunities to pull away, and now they were trailing. It was atrocious.

And just to piss me off even more, after not running the ball all damn game with a lead, Andy and Marty call a running play on first down when they're trailing. Then, after picking up a crucial 3rd and 9 on a nice play by Jason Avant (I still can't believe he dropped that TD) for 24 yards, the Eagles commit a 15-yard penalty, three plays later get a sack and have to punt.

Thankfully, the defense continued to play great, held the Giants and forced a punt. Starting at their own 10, the Eagles began to drive again. Vick hit Owen Scmitt for 10, then Maclin for 19 and faced a third-and-1 at the 50. Andy and Marty decided to call a pass play, because they're retarded. It didn't work, 4th and 1 with 4:38 remaining, two timeouts left and trailing by 1. Punting never even crossed Andy's mind. The Eagles went for it, on 4th and 1, their kryptonite in the Andy Reid era.

The play couldn't started out any more ominous, with Vick bobbling the snap. But he gathered it, and as he was being hit pitched it to McCoy. One nasty cut later, and LeSean was gone, 50 yards for the score.

I lost my god damn mind. Just completely lost it. An entire game of aggravation and obscenities turned into pure joy. I was jumping, hugging, high-fiving. And as Vick hit Avant for the two-point conversion to give the Eagles a 24-17 lead, I couldn't believe it. Euphoria had set in, and it got even better when on the first play after the kickoff, Eli threw yet another pick to Asante. Game over. Until it wasn't because stupid as shit Asante was returning it, and instead of just going down, fumbled courtesy of a great play by Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants got the ball right back, starting pretty much at the same spot, and still had life. Unreal.

But then things got even weirder. Facing a 3rd and 6 with 3:10 left, the seas parted on the Eagles defense, leaving nothing but green in front of Eli Manning. Not known for his running acumen, Eli took off, dashed for 16 yards, and inexplicably dove forward. When he hit the ground, the ball came out. No Eagle had touched him. That meant the ball was live, and Darryl Tapp astutely picked it up. No one quite knew what happened, but it was true, the Eagles had the ball. Eli had fumbled. Tom Coughlin challenged because he had to, but it didn't matter. The play was rightfully upheld, as Eli made the worst fumble this side of the Miracle at the Meadowlands in NFL history. I'm so incredibly glad Eli Manning is not my quarterback. He sucks.

The Birds then gave a steady dose of LeSean McCoy, who gashed the Giants yet again, this time for 40 yards, milked the clock and kicked the game-sealing field goal with 22 seconds left. That was all she wrote in the most wild, absurd, and aggravating victory I've been to in a while.

As six of us piled into a car to get a ride home and Adam EatShit got abused the entire way, none of us could really believe what we saw. The Eagles are in first place all by themselves. Only the Falcons, who they've already beaten, have a better record in the NFC. Michael Vick has been the best player in the NFL. And this team looks better each and every week, even finding ways to win when they're killing themselves with mistakes.

But what I learned most of all in that game is that the Giants kind of suck. I was not impressed with them at all. Eli looked like shit. The Eagles completely stifled New York's running game. And the offense moved on that vaunted Giants defense at will. The Eagles let the Giants stay in it with mistakes, but the Eagles were definitely the far superior team.

Thanks to Michael Vick, more speed than one offense should be allowed to have and a defense that comes up with big plays, a season that was expected to be a rebuilding year has suddenly turned into much, more more. Though Quintin Mikell still sucks balls.

1 comment:

  1. Word is The League actually contemplated discussing eliminating kick and punt returns, due to player safety. Just the fact that the idea even came up is cause enough to show the NFL is going to hell.

    The way you feel about Mikell is the way some Cowboy fans felt when Darren Woodson was no longer on the team, thus leaving Roy Williams back there.