Monday, December 19, 2011

A Beatdown, a Meltdown, a City Showdown and a Touchdown (Record)

This was one hell of an eventful weekend here in Philadelphia. Saturday was jam-packed with action, as the Flyers hosted the Bruins, Temple took on Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl in football while the basketball team headed to Austin to take on Texas, and Villanova traveled down Lancaster Avenue to St. Joe's for this year's rendition of the Holy War.

Then, the Eagles took on the Jets yesterday to try and keep their playoff hopes alive, and in between, Jimmy Rollins re-signed with the Phillies and Matt McGloin got punched out by teammate Curtis Drake and suffered a seizure.

After a relatively sports-free Friday night, I awoke on Saturday to a text message from my buddy at 10 a.m. that simply read, "Flyers/Bruins at 1. You in?" That might as well have been a rhetorical question, because of course I was in.

As I was waiting for my friend to get out of work and pick me up, I nabbed a couple hoagies from Slack's and got ready for a busy day of sports. Running a bit behind, we got to our seats just as the puck was being dropped … and literally as I plopped my ass into my seat, the Bruins scored the first of many goals in a 6-0 route.

Nothing was going right for the Flyers at all. They couldn't make a simple pass, couldn't defend whatsoever, couldn't really do anything. The only guy on the ice that looked remotely alive was Max Talbot.

Ilya Bryzgalov got hung out to dry on most of the four first-period goals he let in, though he also let in a huge softy by Zdeno Chara.

Chara, by the way, was an absolute force on the ice in his first game back in about a week. While the Flyers were missing their big defenseman, Chara showed up and dominated. He had a goal and an assist, both power play points, completely shut down any and all Flyers' chances, and also rabbit-punched Jody Shelley to death in a fight.

Now, even though Shelley clearly was bested by the enormous Chara, I'll take that trade 100 times out of 100. It's way more detrimental to the Bruins to lose Chara for five minutes than it is for the Flyers to lose Shelley for five minutes. Although that really wasn't the case here, as the Bruins scored almost immediately following that and forced the Flyers into perhaps the worst period of hockey they've played all season.

To make matters even worse, Sean Couturier took a Kimmo Timonen slap shot right off the head, dropped to the ice and laid motionless for a while. It was a frightening scene that added to the already worrisome head injuries sustained to Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn.

Thankfully Couturier did get up and skate off under his own power, but he clearly didn't look right. He was taken to the hospital and stayed overnight, and he's currently listed as day to day. Hopefully he's OK. As I've said before, Couturier has become one of my favorite players on the team. In fact, I was just telling my friend on the way down to the arena that Couturier sort of reminds me of a young Rod Brind'Amour, minus the face-off dominance. He's incredibly responsible defensively, a tremendous penalty-killer, and while he doesn't have incredible speed or awe-inspiring puck-handling skills, you can see he has the scoring touch to development into a pretty decent goal scorer. Plus, he's only 19, so he's only going to get better.

Beyond wishing him a quick recovery, his injury also brings more concern over the PK. Without Giroux and Couturier, the Flyers are without two of their top four PK forwards — not exactly good for the team that leads the NHL in minor penalties.

We knew it was only a matter of time before the injuries would harm the Flyers at least for one game. Saturday, that was the case, and that first period was about as disastrous as it gets. With a few minutes left in the 2nd, as it became clear the Flyers really had nothing to generate a comeback and fell behind 5-0, we departed so we could watch the Temple action.

I checked in on Temple's bowl game and saw the Owls were trouncing Wyoming behind a big game by Bernard Pierce. Thus, I focused my attention on the basketball team's game in Texas. Early on, things were going well with Temple leading virtually the entire first half against a young Texas team. But then they let the Longhorns go on a run and tie it before Khaliff Wyatt hit a tough three at the buzzer to put Temple up 3 at half.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. The Owls couldn't buy a buck and Texas got out in transition rather easily to pull away. To make matters worse, Juan Fernandez limped off the court after getting tangled up. Ugly all around, though not as ugly as the what I was seeing on Twitter — that Penn State wide receiver Curtis Drake punched out his quarterback Matt McGloin in the locker room after practice and that McGloin suffered a seizure.

Not good. At all. The football program clearly could have done without this as the Nittany Lions prepare for their Jan. 2 bowl match-up with Houston given all the turmoil this season. Damn.

That was a pretty bad start to Saturday, but good news was sprinkled in. Beyond Temple winning its bowl game, news also circulated the Jimmy Rollins re-signed with the Phillies, keeping him in the only professional uniform he's ever worn for at least three more years.

Then, we were all given a tightly contested first half between Villanova and St. Joe's before the Hawks trounced Nova in the second half behind the shooting of Langston Galloway and Carl Jones, and especially the shot-blocking of C.J. Aiken.

Aiken, who had four blocks Saturday night, leads the nation in blocks, averaging an insane 4.7 blocks per game. This is fascinating to me. I had the opportunity to watch Aiken play a few times in high school for Plymouth Whitemarsh. He was clearly a very good player and used his size and length to block shots, but I never thought he'd turn into the premier shot-blocker in the nation in college. Yet that's exactly what he's become this year, absolutely owning the paint and altering shots.

On Saturday, you could see the Wildcats were hesitant to challenge Aiken inside. The sophomore, who set a St. Joe's freshman record for blocks last year, was in Nova's head all night long, and he was a big reason the Hawks blew away the Cats in the second half.

It's clear that St. Joe's is the real deal and will be among the A-10's best teams, on par with Temple and St. Louis behind Xavier. And this game showed that right now, Villanova is at best the third best team in the city.

Yesterday was a little less crazy, though plenty exciting. The Redskins went out and upset the Giants pretty easily, giving the Eagles' slim playoff hopes a boost. Then the Eagles went out and trounced the Jets at the Linc despite their best efforts to allow New York back in the game.

After going up 28-0 behind a defensive touchdown and an interception by Asante Samuel, the Eagles started their own turnover brigade to put the Jets back in it. But it didn't matter. LeSean McCoy continued his MVP-type season, scoring three touchdowns and gaining 102 yards to break the franchise record for single-season touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, passing Steven Van Buren for both.

McCoy has 20 touchdowns on the season, 17 on the ground, setting new franchise marks. The man is incredible.

Brent Celek also had a huge game, hauling in five catches for 156 yards and a score.

But even more impressive than the offense in this 45-19 win was again the defense. Suddenly, the Birds don't look as horrid on that side of the ball as they have for most of the year.

The Eagles held the Jets to just 241 yards of offense, forced four turnovers and got the off field on third down time and time again. Jason Babin had three sacks. The secondary looked really good. And Casey Matthews even had a nice game, flying all over the field and making plays. It was crazy, almost like these guys care about playing defense all the sudden.

Even more crazy, the Eagles really are alive for the playoffs despite this whirlwind of a season, though they still need help. First and foremost, the Birds have to win their remaining two games, next week at Dallas and home against the Skins on New Year's Day. Then the Jets have to beat the Giants next week, followed by the Giants beating the Cowboys in week 17. Still a lot that has to happen, and probably still unlikely, but certainly not impossible. Unreal.

Watch this be the dumb year where the Eagles back in and then win the whole damn thing. Wouldn't that piss off everyone after a steady chorus of "Fire Andy!"?

I can't even believe this team has even a remote chance at the postseason, yet here were are. Crazy.

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