By Bill Campbell
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After the Eagles’ loss to the Redskins on Sunday, the question echoing through the halls of the NovaCare Complex should be, “Does anyone have the slightest idea what they’re doing?”
Most times, that query would be part of bad joke dialogue in a silly movie. But that is precisely what the Eagles have become these days: an extremely bad joke. The thing is, what we’re watching here every Sunday isn’t a movie — and no one is laughing. The Eagles are 3 and 7. They’ve lost 6 straight games. They gave away the game on Sunday to the Redskins, 31-6. No team ever has rebounded from 3-7 to make the playoffs. No one seems to know what they’re doing — and none of this is funny.
Redskins’ rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, completed 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards, scored 4 TD’s and even rushed for 84 yards. The Heisman winner did whatever he wanted, throwing touchdown passes against the Birds when receivers were open and when they were double-covered. It didn’t seem to make any difference and it went downhill from there.
Rookie Nick Foles, making his starting debut, threw interceptions on his first 2 drives, forcing his team to play from behind almost from the start. He completed 21 of 46 passes for 204 yards and was sacked four times. Even Foles acknowledged after the game that he hadn’t played well, but neither did the rest of his team or his coaches.
What really hurts is that the Redskins were the perfect test for a rookie like Foles. They ranked 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, 29th in third down efficiency and 30th in sacks. But the Eagles failed the test on both sides of the ball, playing without focus or fire.
After this debacle, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the start of a campaign for Juan Castillo’s return as defensive coordinator. Since Todd Bowles took over a few weeks ago, opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 910 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Castillo is too loyal of a guy to be enjoying this, but he should be.
One of the Eagles’ biggest problems, and there are many, involves mastering the Wide Nine technique. Former Eagle players like center A.Q. Shipley, guard Mike McGlynn, tackle Winston Justice, who couldn’t play for Mudd, now are regulars with the Indianapolis Colts. Clearly, it’s not a system for everyone but the longer this season goes on the clearer it becomes that it’s not one for the Birds either. Yet the head coach doggedly hangs on to it.
While Reid talks a lot about going forward, this is a team that appears to be going backward. Brent Celek said post-game that he doesn’t know if it can get worse with his team. Unfortunately, if history is a teacher, we know it can. The Eagles’ next date is on Monday night against the 2-8 Carolina Panthers at home. The Panthers are having their problems too, having blown an 11-point lead in their last game against Tampa Bay with 6 minutes to go, losing in overtime, 27-21. Considering the way both teams’ seasons are going, this one doesn’t figure to be a Southern Classic.
On top of it all, LeSean McCoy suffered a concussion on a running play in the final two minutes of the game when the Eagles were behind by 25 points. He took a vicious hit at a time when he really should have been on the sidelines watching the rout of his team come to an end. Reid’s justification for the play call, that he was trying to make something happen at that stage of the lopsided contest, was just another inexplicable note on the day.
It’s difficult to remember that at the end of September, following victories over the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, the Eagles were 3-1 and very much in the NFL East hunt. On Sunday, they yielded 31 points to Washington, the most they’ve allowed all season. The Eagles would have to run the table to better last year’s 8-8 record now, winning their last 6 games. Based on what we saw on Sunday, it seems impossible.
The best phrase describing last week’s game came from veteran sports writer, Bob Ford, who wrote after Sunday’s contest, “The contrast between Foles, a third-round pick, and Griffin, a top-rated rookie, was obvious. The Eagles are a team looking for a quarterback. Griffin is a quarterback looking for a team.”
I hate to say it, but so are we.
Old School, New Story
My favorite football player in this 2012 season doesn’t play for undefeated Notre Dame or for powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State, Indiana, Nebraska. He plays for Penn State and considers himself lucky to be doing just that. When the NCAA lowered those sanctions against PSU a few months ago, they could have wiped out the meaning of football for the Lions of Mount Nittany.
Overall, 14 young men on scholarship or oral commitment took their talents elsewhere. But the Lions hired Bill O’Brien to replace Joe Paterno and went about the business of starting a new season — and a young man named Michael Mauti, an outside linebacker entering his senior year, stayed. He was the first player to speak out after the sanctions, to support the school and to urge people to look ahead. He looked around the locker room at practice and made a ton of phone calls asking his team mates, “Who stays here and who goes?”
The heart of the defense, perhaps of his team, Mauti motivated the remaining guys to stick together and play for O’Brien and the future of football in Happy Valley. Earlier this season, a fellow Lion described Mike Mauti as the perfect teammate. His toughness and smarts clearly have inspired his team to give Lions’ fans a lot to cheer about at a time when they didn’t think it would be possible.
In 2009, Mauti missed the season with a torn right ACL and took a red shirt. Last year, he tore the left ACL and missed a lot of time. On Saturday against Indiana, he took a chop to the left knee before the game clock had ticked off 7 minutes. After being carted off and examined, Mauti returned to the sidelines on crutches to stay with his team until the final whistle when Penn State sealed it, 45-22.
In a season where he has made 96 unassisted tackles, 3 interceptions and forced 3 fumbles, Bill O’Brien has described him as the embodiment of a Penn State player, “smart, tough, a fantastic kid”. But thanks to that hit on Saturday, Mike Mauti has played his last game as a Nittany Lion. O’Brien has announced that Mauti will not play next week in the Lions’ finale against Wisconsin. He will appear with his senior teammates on the field, but will watch the game from the side lines. I predict a very loud ovation for this guy.
Despite the season-ending injury he suffered, Mike Mauti was there at the end of the Indiana contest on crutches, standing with his team mates in the end zone singing the Alma Mater with a crowded student section as the sun went down. He stood with the guys who had stayed to play with him and they sang out his name as well. You’ve got to hand it to this young man whose father and brother also played for Penn State. He’s a credit to them, to the Lions, to the game. He’s old school at a place where a new story is being written. Mike Mauti, my football player of the year.
The Andrew Bynum Saga
Let’s hope that the 76ers perform better on the court than they have in their front office, at least when it comes to center Andrew Bynum. Not too many teams can make a trade in August for a player with one bad knee only to discover in November that he probably has two of them. I guess the Eagles shouldn’t feel too bad about drafting all those players who can’t play – at least most of them seem to have workable knees.
We are told that, after experiencing a setback in his rehab, Bynum recently visited Dr. David Altchek, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, entirely on his own. He underwent an MRI that revealed to Dr. Altchek a few new developments: cartilage swelling in both knees and a bone bruise on the right knee, to boot.
Then he sprang the news of the consultation and MRI findings on his team. The physician has advised that Bynum delay his return until sometime in January. Understating it, Bynum acknowledged, “I had a little setback”. He also confirmed that the injury to the right knee happened while he was – incredible as it may seem — bowling.
“I really don’t know what’s going on but the doctors are saying it’s in a weakened cartilage state,” the center explained.
He didn’t explain why he took his bad knees to a bowling alley. Of course, rehabbing his right knee will be much more difficult for Bynum, considering that he will have a hard time putting weight on his other leg. Even 7-foot basketball players need two good knees.
Doug Collins has to be more than a little frustrated at this latest turn of events with his maybe-someday center.
The 76ers General Manager, Tony DiLeo, said the team would re-evaluate Bynum in mid-December and schedule MRI’s on both knees. He did not change the new time frame for Bynum’s return but acknowledged that it’s the knees that will guide the team’s decisions on the player’s future. The pity of it all is that, since the recent change in ownership, the Sixers have done a great job with public relations, certainly better than the other pro sports franchises in town. The Bynum business looked like a masterful stroke when his acquisition was announced in the summer. Now it could implode on them. The truth is that Andrew Bynum might never wear a Sixers uniform – and the team will be the butt of more than a few jokes around the NBA. We’ve had enough bad jokes in town lately. Let’s see what happens.
The wildest overtime game of the season, and maybe the wildest one ever, was played in Arlington, Texas last Sunday. The Cowboys’ Dan Bailey kicked a 38-yard field goal in overtime, overcoming a critical Tony Romo fumble, giving Dallas a 23-30 win over the Cleveland Browns and bumping them to a 5-5 record. It was the 12th straight road loss for the Browns. I wonder how Joe Banner is feeling these days.
New England’s Tom Brady threw 3 scoring passes against Indianapolis on Sunday. There were two touchdowns on interception returns in that game and the Patriots scored another on a punt return. They also tied their own single-game scoring record as they routed the Colts, 59-24.
Meanwhile, the New York Jets ran a turnover free offense and ended a 3-game losing streak by beating the St. Louis Rams, 27-13.
The Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan nosed out the Arizona Cardinals, 23-19, overcoming five interceptions (a career worst for him), turning the ball over six times. But Ryan also set up Atlanta’s first lead in the game and held on for the win.
The Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions, 24-20, on Aaron Rodgers’ two TD passes and a 39-yard field goal smacked through the uprights by Mason Crosby in the last two minutes.
Houston defeated Jacksonville, 43-37, in overtime when Andre Johnson ran 48 yards on a screen pass, taking the Texans to a 9-1 record.
And finally, A.J. Green caught a touchdown pass in his ninth straight game and Andy Dalton accounted for 3 touchdowns as the Cincinnati Bengals downed the woeful Kansas City Chiefs, 28-6. Green had six catches for 91 yards and put in another brilliant performance.
These days, it seems like everyone is having fun on Sunday afternoon but us. Stay tuned.