Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Flu, the Flyers, the Beast Mode and the Letdown

My weekend began by waking up in a pool of my own sweat and ended with an ill-advised throw at the opposite end zone from where I was sitting. Needless to say, I began the weekend as sick as can be and ended it with a sickening feeling.

At some point on Tuesday night, I became incredibly exhausted way earlier than normal. I chalked it up to simply needing to catch up on sleep and thought nothing of it. Then on Wednesday, I felt like I was going to die at work. I was freezing all day long, no matter what I did to get warm, and I was mentally out of it all day. I felt weak and achy and tired. I knew I was getting sick.

I somehow managed to make it through the day, found some Nyquil in my house and again went to bed early. Thursday it was more of the same. Only this time I was alternating between freezing my nuts off and sweating to death. Again, I managed to make it through the day of work, but I was starting to think I may have the flu or something like it. Oddly, I began to feel pretty good late in the day, around 3 o'clock or so, and felt great the rest of the night … until I tried to sleep.

As a precaution, I did finally venture to CVS and pick up some more Nyquil and Dayquil, which I found out you cannot purchase unless you're over 18. That seems odd to me, and even more odd was that I actually got carded by some ancient lady. I'm 26, soon to be 27. And I got carded to purchase Nyquil. Weird.

Anyway, I got back home, settled in huddled under a blanket and was feeling pretty good. I watched the Flyers come back from a shaky first period to destroy the Devils 4-2 thanks to another ridiculous game by the Briere-Hartnell-Leino line, with Briere and Hartnell each scoring twice and Leino notching three assists.

Then I went to sleep, and in the middle of the night woke up with an awful sore throat, slight earache and again was freezing to death. Then I woke up again and was hot as hell, and by the time I awoke to my alarm, I was lying in an ungodly pool of sweat. Literally, it was like I had jumped into a pool in the middle of the night. I felt awful and finally relented, calling out of work. I then proceeded to spend the remainder of the day under a pile of blankets watching every episode of the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation on Netflix.

Mose Schrute and company do some damn good work writing for that show.

Given that I was feeling under the weather, albeit on the recovery side of things (evident by the sweating it out phase Friday morning), I decided to stay in Friday night to relax and recover, and figured I'd do the same all weekend. However, one of my roommates came home and told me he had an extra ticket to the Eagles-Packers playoff game Sunday and asked if I wanted to go, even as I was huddled under the covers and looking like death. I told him that I wasn't feeling so hot, and it probably wouldn't be in my best interest to go sit out in freezing weather on Sunday even if I was feeling better, so he should see if anyone else wanted it. On Saturday, he essentially told me I was going no matter what.

The good news is I was feeling a whole hell of a lot better come Saturday morning. The Dayquil-Nyquil combo had been doing the trick, and I didn't feel like death anymore. Still not 100 percent and still feeling pretty weak and tired, but not like death.

Thanks to the fortunate NHL schedule-makers, I watched the Flyers host the Devils at 1 in the second leg of the home and home series, and again the Flyers won, this time 2-1. The main reason? James van Riemsdyk was all over the place. For the first time in his NHL career, JVR was the best player on the ice. He used his size and speed to give the Devils fits, scoring the game's first goal and asserting himself the entire game. Danny Briere netted what turned out to be the game-winner on an incredible pass by Claude Giroux on the power play that chased Johan Hedberg, and Brian Boucher made 34 saves in the 2-1 win, continuing his awesome play this season. The only goal Boucher gave up came on an unlucky deflection off Ville Leino, popping up in the air and landing over Boucher's shoulder and in the net.

With those two victories over the horrid Devils (that feels so nice to write), the Flyers are back atop the Eastern Conference with 57 points, and they have two games in hand over the Lightning (55 points) and three games in hand over the Penguins (56 points). This team is really good, and they're only going to get better with the return of Chris Pronger.

During the Flyers game, uncle jellyfish came over, and he and my roommate were pondering where to go to watch the first NFL playoff game and get some food. As the Flyers game was drawing to a close, they suggested I come along. Feeling better, I agreed to drink a brew and finally decided to tag along. I have to say that I'm glad I did.

We waited for Adam EatShit to get to our house, and then the four of us headed out to Buffalo Billiards in Old City to watch the Saints-Seahawks game, play some table shuffleboard and eat a little grub. As you know, the Seahawks pulled off the upset against the Saints, thanks to Marshawn Lynch going all Beast Mode on New Orleans.

As that was happening, Adam and I were losing two close battles to my roommate and uncle jellyfish. Then when our food came out, the bar back stopped and asked uncle jellyfish, who was wearing a Mike Richards shirt, who his favorite Flyer was. A little confused, he responded, "Claude Giroux I guess." The bar back said, "Well, look over there. He's right there. I'm friends with him. He comes in all the time. A bunch of the Flyers do."

We looked over and wouldn't you know it, Claude Giroux is shooting pool with a couple of other guys. To be honest, if you didn't know what Giroux looks like, you would have never guessed he was an athlete. I guess that's the case with a lot of hockey players, especially the smaller guys. He just looked like your typical 22-year-old guy hanging out with some buddies. It was pretty cool. And a few moments later, in came Andreas Nodl and Danny Briere as well.

The funny thing is that Giroux is 22 and Nodl is 23, but Danny Briere, who is 33, looks younger than both of them. The cool thing about the atmosphere there is that no one seemed to be bothering the Flyers at the bar. As much as I would have loved to go over and chat the guys up, I also am not too interested in being a nuisance to professional athletes, especially after they've just finished a game. One guy in the bar was hopping around and acting giddy like a little girl, but the rest of the patrons, our party included, kept their wits.

As much as I wanted to stay and maybe challenge Giroux and company to a game of pool or skee ball, I started to feel pretty worn down and tired again. I needed to get home and get some more rest, especially since my other roommate had met us at the bar and point blank told me I'm going to the Eagles game. I walked right by Briere and Nodl on my way out, contemplated saying, "Good game," but instead just walked out the door and headed home.

I watched the Colts-Jets game from the comfort of my bed all Nyquilled up and fell asleep pretty early. By Sunday morning, I was feeling pretty good and preparing myself for the cold. I headed down to the game around noon with the crew and our tailgating supplies. Bundled up in three pairs of pants, four pairs of socks, a long-sleeve thermal T-shirt, a T-shirt, another long-sleeve shirt, two hooded sweatshirts, a jacket, gloves, a hat and boots, I was more than prepared for the weather and getting pretty excited. Truth of the matter is I had no idea what to expect from the game. I was terrified thinking about Aaron Rodgers feasting on the Eagels' secondary, but I also was excited to see what Michael Vick would do in his first playoff start as an Eagle. Turns out, it was a lot like his last playoff start in the Linc as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Vick got hit early and often on Sunday, getting sacked on the very first play from scrimmage, the first of three sacks, and threw a crippling interception that ended the game. At times, he again looked baffled by the blitz, but he also spent a good portion of the game running for his life. Winston Justice had his worst game since the whole Giants debacle, and the rest of the line struggled to contain an aggressive Green Bay rush.

The thing that was so aggravating was all week long we heard about how the best way for the Eagles to neutralize Green Bay's tremendous pass rush, specifically Clay Matthews, was to run the ball. LeSean McCoy hinted at the fact the Eagles would lean that way on offense. But of course this is an Andy Reid team, so it was all pass, pass, pass. LeSean McCoy carried the ball just 12 times all game. Jerome Harrison only had one carry. Of Mike Vick's 8 rushes, maybe three were designed. That's 21 runs altogether if you're counting, only about 16 of which were actually called runs. Meanwhile, Vick threw the ball 36 times. That's a 21-36 run to pass ratio, a 16-41 run call to pass call ratio. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Especially in the cold and windy conditions, and especially in a game where you'd prefer to keep Green Bay's potent passing attack off the field against a suspect defense.

But that's Andy Reid for you. He's a passing guy to the bitter end. And I mean that literally, because every fucking end with this team is bitter.

This one was just as bitter as all the rest. Right from the get-go it was evident this wasn't the Eagles' day. Vick was sacked on the very first play. Then, after being gifted tremendous field position immediately following that first drive thanks to a Packer inadvertently touching the ball on Sav Rocca's punt and the Eagles recovering, they couldn't do anything with it. David Akers missed a 41-yard field goal, and later a 34-yarder. The Eagles lost by five points, 21-16. You do the math.

No NFL kicker should ever miss a kick from 40 yards or fewer without a bad snap, hold or slipping, and honestly, an NFL kicker shouldn't miss from under 45 yards. They're supposed to be the best of the best. Yet Akers, after a great regular season, missed two from short distance in a playoff game. Hell, even if he just makes one of them, the Eagles are trailing by just 2 points on that final drive, actually one because they would have kicked the extra point instead of going for two after Vick's TD, meaning all they would have needed was to get in field goal position, which they did, to line up for the winning kick. Of course, given the way Akers kicked Sunday, he probably would have missed it anyway. He should be forced to give up his Pro Bowl spot and pay back his Pro Bowl bonus money after that horrific, inexcusable performance.

The man has been a really good kicker for a really long time, but now that his contract is up, I'd be more than willing to bid him farewell unless he's willing to take a significant pay cut. He certainly doesn't deserve $2 million or whatever he's making to miss crucial kicks in the playoffs.

To be fair, though, Akers was hardly alone in his ineptitude. The Eagles defense had absolutely no answer for Aaron Rodgers and somehow rookie free agent running back James Starks in the first half. The Packers marched down the field 68 yards in 10 plays on their second possession for a touchdown, then 57 yards on 12 plays on their next possession to take a 14-0 lead. It could have been even worse if not for a dropped ball by James Jones. Coming right toward the end zone I was sitting in, Rodgers threw a perfect deep ball to Jones, who was behind the defense, but Jones dropped it. That's another 7, if not 3 at least, points off the board.

The Eagles couldn't get any pressure on Rodgers, couldn't get a stop to save their life on third down and couldn't stop the run. This despite the fact that the Eagles have actually been pretty stingy against the run this year and the Packers have had no run game to speak of with Ryan Grant out for the year. Yet there they were, getting gashed by James Starks and getting picked apart by Rodgers.

I understand that Sean McDermott has been given little to work with this year thanks to key injuries to Ellis Hobbs, Nate Allen, Brandon Graham and Stewart Bradley, not to mention missed time for Asante Samuel and others, and I get that guys like Ernie Sims haven't produced the way you'd like. But still, McDermott needs to be held accountable for not putting his players in position to make plays. He's been dealing with these injuries for a while now, has had plenty of time to adjust and develop a scheme to suit his personnel or at least try to mask its mistakes. But he hasn't. Not one bit. And the guys he's plugged in have regressed, not progressed. Guys like Dimitri Patterson and Kurt Coleman. Hell, on one 3rd and 10, he played some sort of shitty cover 2 zone, something the Eagles rarely do, and let Greg Jennings, the best receiver on the Packers, get wide open for 20 yards and a first down. That just makes absolutely no sense.

To add to that, after the Eagels came out of the half and forced a turnover, then scored two plays later on a perfect throw by Vick to Jason Avant to make it 14-10, the Eagles turned right back around and let the Packers drive 80 yards in 11 plays for another touchdown on the ensuing drive to put Green Bay back up by 11.

If I had my way, McDermott would be fired today. But Andy has already said McDermott will be back next season, and I guess he deserves the shot to coach a healthy team that will hopefully be revamped — Nnamdi, Nnamdi, Nnamdi. But in two seasons now, McDermott hasn't shown a damn thing. These Eagles defenses are a far cry from the turnover-inducing, pressure defenses of Jim Johnson. In fact, they're the complete opposite. They get no pressure on quarterbacks, and are the worst red zone defense in the entire NFL, as opposed to one of the best in the Jim Johnson era. If he can't turn things around 2011, he should be axed, plain and simple. The guy just seems to have no clue.

Having said that, if you told me that defense was going to only give up 21 points to that offense and that quarterback, I would have felt pretty damn good about the Eagles' chances. Aside from not doing a very good job getting off the field on third down and letting the Packers answer in the third quarter, the defense wasn't completely awful. In fact, you could argue they did their job, giving the offense a chance to win the game.

Unfortunately, blunders prevented the victory from happening. Despite Akers missing two crucial kicks, despite Avant dropping a key third-down pass, despite DeSean Jackson getting banged up, missing lots of time and not catching a single ball in the first half, despite the protection problems, the skewed playcalling, the terrible timeout call on the 4th-and-goal from the 1 that ended up with a QB sneak by Vick for a touchdown, the failed two-point conversion, everything, the Eagles had a chance to win the game.

The defense, even after giving up a first down on Green Bay's final possession, got a stop, and the Birds started to drive. DeSean, who was invisible most of the game, almost broke one, gaining 28 yards and just getting tripped up. The thing is, if he went outside, he would have gained just as much, maybe even more, and been able to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Vick then hit Riley Cooper for 11 more yards after two incompletions to get to Green Bay's 27, which would have been in field goal range to win the game if Akers had hit just one of those two horrible misses. The Eagles rushed to the line after that first down, and there was only one thing and one thing only to do: spike the ball to stop the clock. There would have been around 38 seconds left at Green Bay's 27, time to huddle up and get the right play. But instead, Vick showed he still has a long way to go as far reading defenses and knowing the right thing to do in situational football. He didn't spike it. He called an all go play. And then, with the season on the line, he threw a jump ball to the end zone to the Eagles' 4th wide receiver. And he threw it badly, underthrowing it severely, getting picked off by Tramon Williams.

Not only was it a horrible decision, but it was a horrible throw. If you're going to throw that ball, you have to put it over the back shoulder where only your guy can get it or it's out of bounds. Instead, it was underthrown and Williams ended the game. To make matters worse, DeSean was wide open right in front of Vick, and apparently LeSean was open in the flat. Even worse, none of it should have ever happened, because Vick should have clocked the ball. I don't care what he says about going down swinging, about feeling like he had Green Bay's defense on its heels, you have to clock that ball. You have to. Vick has done so many amazing things this year for the Eagles, turned in a season no one expected and no one will ever forget, but he made his worst play and his worst decision at the most crucial time.

It was disgusting. I was disgusted. And I felt sick again.

Oh, and Gerard Lawson sucks just as much Jorrick Calvin. Nice hold, asshole. Sean McDermott and Bobby April need to go away. I hate everything and everyone.

The Eagles never fail to disappoint, and never fail to amaze at the horrid ways they find to end their seasons.

Update: Claude Giroux has been named an All-Star. Oddly, he's the only Flyer named to the all-star team. It's tough to point out just a couple guys to be named given the incredible balance and depth of this team, but I think Danny Briere with his 21 goals, Andrej Meszaros with his NHL-leading plus-25 and Mike Richards with everything he does probably deserved a nod as well. Oh well, congrats Claude.


  1. When I didn't see a recap yesterday, I initially thought you were too heartbroken to write. Granted, the flu isn't anything to sneeze at, but I'm glad you're coming around.

    With all the props you gave me about predicting what Vick would do, I have to give you your props on why you constantly reminded me, for the past year, why I shouldn't get too high on the Eagles.

    You told me your O-Line was suspect (maybe you said shitty; I don't remember), and you weren't lying. You told me about the secondary, and you were correct. It was just awful, and once I saw Vick get killed on the very first play, I knew it would be a long day.

    That game was a disgrace, but not because they lost, but HOW they lost it. I hate that it was my boy who threw that God-awful pass, which was totally inexcusable, to end the game. There's no way in life, without stopping the clock, that I'm putting my faith in a rookie WR. No way in hell. No way on Earth, and yet, for all the greatness of the man, he decided to do just that. I hate it, hate it, hate it.

    Well, what happens now? Do you give him the franchise tag? Do you move Kolb? What are you gonna do about the offensive line, so this doesn't happen again (it wasn't just yesterday, so much as it was since the first Giants game)? There's a whole lotta work to do, brother.

  2. My take on what to do now is, ideally, sign Mike Vick, not franchise him. The man was amazing, but $14 million is a lot of money. If they have to, definitely. He is the quarterback.

    As far as Kolb, I don't think they'll move him unless they get blown away by an offer. If someone offers a top 10 pick maybe, to get someone like Patrick Peterson or some other defensive stud, I'm on board. Otherwise, might as well keep him with the way Vick gets beat up and with the uncertainty about the future.

    The o-line will be addressed through free agency and the draft. The Eagles always take care of the o-line, and this will be no different. Defensively, they need help too, badly. Nnamdi would be ideal, but depends on the money. They need a linebacker too, and some help for Trent Cole. Still a lot to be done, for sure.

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