By Bill Campbell
It’s difficult to put this past weekend in the NFL out of mind because so many unusual things happened and they all combine to make a football fan pretty anxious.
First, there was the deluge of errors committed by the Eagles against the Cowboys. Dallas entered the game 15th in the league against the run and 5th in passing defense. So I fully expected to see the Eagles give the ball to LeSean McCoy all day. It was a surprise to see McCoy carry the ball only 16 times and to see him total only 5.1 yards per carry. Only 2.5 of his carries came in the first half and 9 in the second. McCoy commented post-game, “We had some opportunities to win the game but we just didn’t get it done.” Indeed they didn’t – especially after yielding three scores in something like two-and-a-half minutes at the end of the third period and start of the fourth. That’s where the game definitely changed.
It also was unusual to see wide receiver Riley Cooper catch a TD pass – his very first of the season and only the third of his career. It was a terrific catch along the sideline on a smooth pass from Michael Vick, giving the Eagles a quick 7-0 lead. The play came on a fade pattern which the Eagles had stored in the books all season but had seldom, if ever, used. According to Cooper, “That play has always been in but we finally called it today.” As we all know, the Birds have not specialized in first period scores during this wretched season, in which they have now lost five straight games. For sure, that great Cooper grab raised a lot of hopes at Lincoln Financial Field. Short lived hopes, unfortunately. I’d like to be able to say that the Cowboys stole the game from the Eagles but the Birds gave it away. It was a disheartening 38-23 loss.
There were some unusual Eagles’ decisions even before the game began. Defensive end Phillip Hunt was listed as inactive for the first time opening a possible spot for second round pick Vinny Curry, but he wasn’t used either. Curry hasn’t played all season. Guard Danny Watkins missed his third consecutive game on Sunday too.
Of course, we can’t forget watching Michael Vick hit the ground, bouncing his head on the turf and being led off to be evaluated for concussion symptoms. Coach Andy Reid said later that Vick’s concussion is serious — so Vick may have made his last start in an Eagles uniform. Nick Foles replaced him, respectably if erratically, on Sunday and he will start against the Redskins this coming Sunday.
Vick wasn’t the only NFL quarterback who suffered head injuries this past weekend. In fact, as of Sunday evening three of the league’s QB’s are unable to play and “concussion” seems to be the name of the game. Chicago’s Jay Cutler and the 49ers’ Alex Smith, who was knocked out the in the first half of a 24-24 tie with St. Louis, were sidelined after they incurred head blows. San Francisco coach, Jim Harbaugh, said that Smith had thrown a TD pass despite experiencing blurred vision on the field after taking that hit. Thanks to these injuries, next week’s Monday night game looks like a quarterback mismatch between Chicago’s Jason Campbell and San Francisco’s Jason Kaepernick. That should really pack ‘em in.
That Rams-49ers game went into the books as the first NFL tie in four years. Both teams’ kickers missed field goals in overtime. Greg Zurlien of the Rams made a 53-yarder but the Rams were penalized five yards for delay of the game. When he tried a 58-yard kick it missed to the right. Shortly after that, 49ers kicker David Akers tried to ice the game for his team but missed on the kick to the left. It was that kind of day in California.
Elsewhere, Peyton Manning threw for 301 yards as Denver defeated Carolina, 36-14. Manning got his 420th career TD pass in that one. The New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees threw for 296 yards and 3 scores, knocking Atlanta from the ranks of the undefeated, 31-27. Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Ravens’ 51-20 victory over Oakland while the New England Patriots almost blew one to Buffalo, eking out a win on an interception in the end zone to prevail, 37-31. The New York Giants were routed by Cincinnati, 31-13, as Eli Manning suffered 4 sacks. The Giants now enter the bye week with almost as many problems as the Eagles. Not quite as many – but they’re gaining on the Birds.
Lots of anxiety to go around.
The football pros didn’t steal all the headlines last weekend. The college schedule ran more true to form except for the national rankings spot where Texas A&M knocked off Alabama, 29-24. Closer to home, Penn State had its chances against rugged Nebraska, holding the lead in the first half, but it couldn’t capitalize on it. A second-half rally by the Cornhuskers and a controversial official’s call made the difference for the Nittany Lions. Nebraska linebacker, David Santos, stripped Penn State tight end, Matt Lehman, of the ball at the goal line where Lehman fumbled the ball. The officials reviewed the play and there were many conflicting opinions as to Lehman’s location before the strip. But Santos’ recovery of the fumble was upheld and that decided the game. Nebraska prevailed, 32-23
This fumble was one of three turnovers in the game, dooming the Lions who now have a 6-4 record (4-2 in the Big Ten). The nationally-ranked Cornhuskers (at 18th) are now 8-2 (5-1, Big Ten). A disappointed Matt McGloin, Penn State’s quarterback, said after the game in Nebraska, “I know we’re not going to get that call here.” Penn State center, Matt Stankiewitz, said he thought the officials had been fair and described his buddy and best friend, McGloin, as “just emotional” about the way the game ended. Lions’ coach, Bill O’Brien, said simply, “Our coaches in the press box thought Lehman had reached the goal line before fumbling. Regardless, you can’t turn the ball over inside the red zone. But you’ve got to come away with scores when you play teams like Nebraska because you know they’re going to score some points.” You’ve also got to face some things in this one: Penn State fumbled twice inside the 10. As O’Brien put it, “That just kills you.” A tough loss for the Lions.
Elsewhere, Villanova really took it to James Madison, 35-20. Penn clinched at least a tie for the Ivy League title, 30-21, against Harvard. Syracuse rolled over Louisville, 27-20. Cincinnati made one big play after another and ran over Temple, 34-10. For the Owls, it marked their fourth straight defeat, making only 7 plays for 20 yards or more. Temple has a transfer player from Boston College, Montel Harris, a fifth-year senior from whom much has been expected. He played on Saturday but was hit on the left knee in the first half and didn’t return. So the Owls lost more than a game that day. The team also may be due for a change at quarterback. Juice Granger may be getting a shot to replace Chris Coyer, who really has had his troubles over the last three games. Granger replaced Coyer on Temple’s first possession of the second half on Saturday. He completed three straight passes, finished 7 for 16 for 66 yards and threw one TD. Coyer was 5 for 16 for 56 yards and an interception. Temple also has used young Kevin Newsome at QB but the Cincinnati game marked the fourth consecutive game in which Granger has replaced Coyer. A major QB shift could be in the cards up in North Philly.
Basketball is not only upon us, it’s here. With the hockey situation continuing to look bleak, basketball will take up a lot of the slack.
In case anyone should ask, the scene of this year’s NCAA finals will be the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The regionals will be held in cities like Washington, Indianapolis, Dallas and Los Angeles. The second and third rounds will be held at several venues including the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. March Madness. Something to think about. Until then, we know that every basketball season has a candidate for Freshman of the Year. This year, it could be Steven Adams, a seven-footer from New Zealand, one of 18 children who says he had to give up rugby because, “I was this tall, lanky kid and I’d get smashed” out on the pitch. He’s a center at Pitt now and hopes to have a significant impact on the Panthers’ future. The hot college team to watch has to be Indiana, which returns with all five starters. The pre-season polls rank them first for the third time. Years ago, Indiana’s coach was a guy named Bobby Knight, who went undefeated in 1975-76, his fifth season. Indiana was the last team to go unbeaten (32-0). The present coach is Tom Creean who’s entering his fifth season with the Hoosiers. They should be fun to follow.
Locally, it should be a terrific season in the Big Five. Drexel, though off to an uncertain start, figures to be very good as does St. Joe’s. Villanova, Penn and LaSalle also return with solid teams and challenging schedules. The Philadelphia area match-ups could be spectacular and the CBS Sports Network (Comcast HD channel 732 in our area) will televise 172 college games this season. The first will be on November 25th, sooner than you think, when Villanova takes on LaSalle. A big one, indeed, for an opener.
On the pro scene, the 76ers finally got around to saying something concrete about Andrew Bynum after misleading their fans for months. They made a big splash when they traded for Bynum but have repeatedly avoided all questions about him, even though he hasn’t had a practice with the team. Now they’re admitting that, thanks to his continuing knee problems, Bynum won’t be available to play until January, if then. The best advice is to forget him until he’s able to play. The Sixers will, at least, have the advantage of the home court as they begin the season, hosting 12 of their first 16, including 8 of 9, here. In most of their games so far, Coach Doug Collins has had to use Turner, Holiday and Young over 40 minutes each. But a healthy Jason Richardson has returned and both Darrell Wright and Kwame Brown should lend added help. Hockey is conspicuous by its absence so…we’ll watch the court games. Out west, the LA Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson, whose return seemed to be a given. D’Antoni came cheap: 3 years, $12 million. I wonder what Jackson wanted?
A salute to football coach, Darrell Royal, who passed away last week. On Saturday, the Texas Longhorns ran their first play from the wishbone formation in honor of Royal, who had introduced the line-up to major college football in 1969. Instead of a run, though, the team gained 47 yards on a pass off a lateral – a twist on what Royal had started more than 40 years ago. It all took place it he stadium that bears Royal’s name. I think he must have been looking down on his team with a smile.