By Bill Campbell
Eagles – San Diego Chargers
The Eagles lost a game they could have and should have won last Sunday. They couldn’t contain San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for 410 yards, completing 36 of 47 passes without an interception. That was their most significant failure. But what the game amounted to was third downs: that is, the Chargers’ ability to convert 10 of 15 straight including a third and 4 with 21 seconds remaining at the Eagles 37 yard line and the Eagles’ inability to get them off the field. After averaging almost 6 yards per play last week against the Redskins, the Birds averaged more than 8 yards per play in this game. The average could have been even higher if Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson had connected on 2 deep passes that were missed by inches. But that is just one more ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ in a game that was full of them, including a 61 yard touchdown in the third period that was called back. San Diego’s ability to control the ball in the first half, preventing the Eagles from getting in rhythm was a huge factor and we will probably see that again before this season ends. What we have seen so far is some high-pressure offense by the Eagles but some big holes in the defense, as feared on the home front since training camp opened.
Rivers’ three TD passes, all to Eddie Royal, were straight and sure. Tight End Antonio Gates led the Chargers with 8 catches for 124 yards and the Eagles really struggled with that match-up. As Cary Williams said after the game, “Rivers seemed to know everything our defense threw at him. He seemed to know everything we tried to throw at him. He seemed to know what we were doing on defense and he was calling it out to a degree.” Although the Birds moved the ball, they had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns on 3 tries. Trailing by 3 points late in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t get inside the 14 yard line and were forced to tie the game rather than take a 4 point lead. Vick missed play in that series because of an injured hand and was replaced by Foles. Coach Kelly could have called a time out to reinsert Vick although he said later that he thought he could not. Eagles’ kicker Alex Hennery missed a 46 yard field goal at the end of the first half which the Birds could have used when the final clock expired when Chargers’ kicker Nick Kovak scored the winning field goal with 7 seconds left for a final score of 33-30. As Coach Kelly commented post game, “We couldn’t get them off the field.”
The Eagles have a few days to work on their many defensive problems before Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chargers arrive following their 17-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. Reid is 2-0 in K.C. while Chip Kelly is 1-1 here. They will meet each other at the Linc on Thursday night. Out in Kansas City, Andy Reid told the press, “Time’s yours” following his second win. Where have we heard that before?
Poor D and Head Hits
The Eagles are playing 3 games in 11 days, which is hard to do even with a good defense. The trio of Vick, Jackson and McCoy did their job against the Charges but stopping people was not in their plans. The offense was effective in scoring quickly by making big gains that enabled them to pile up yardage, forcing the Chargers to do likewise. As Michael Vick said, “They did a good job of controlling the football which kept us off the field, particularly in the first half, and out of our rhythm and that hurt. We had to stay on the sidelines by order of the officials.” That hurt too. In the NFL these days, everyone is concussion conscious. An official can force a player to the sidelines after he received a head-rattling jolt like Vick did from San Diego’s Jarius Wynn in the first half. As Jason Avant put it, “Mike was hit hard although he seemed fine when he came back in. It was just one of those plays where they knew we were going to throw the ball.” The Chargers went after Vick. After that jolt happened, Vick insisted his head was clear but he had to stand aside and wait to return while watching the defense try to cope.
After an uneven start, Vick was surpassing Rivers who had a 124.23 passing rating compiled on 631 yards and 4 TD’s in 2 games without an interception. You just knew they were going to miss him, if only for one pass. In came Nick Foles to throw an incomplete pass. Then Vick returned for another incompletion and the rhythm had been broken. We can’t forget that Vick found DeSean Jackson for a 61-yard TD pass and could easily have thrown 3 more. But there were several times when the Eagles needed touchdowns to put the game out of reach, and had to settle for field goals. That turned out to be the story of the game. When Rivers left the field at game’s end on Sunday, he’d thrown 36 for 47 for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns. As Vick summed up the frustrating day, “We just didn’t do enough. We wish we could go back and do things differently. But we can’t hang our heads over what should have happened. We should have made it happen.”
Eagles head coach, Chip Kelly, not only had a foul-up with the rules in losing his first home game to San Diego 33-30. He also found himself being out-coached by Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ quarterback. In his day-after press conference, Kelly admitted that he was in error when he failed to call a time out in the fourth period. The referee made Michael Vick leave the game for one play after he received a hard hit and was shaken up a bit. But Coach Kelly didn’t realize that an injured player can return to play without sitting out if the team is charges with a time out. Kelly could have reinserted Vick into play, saving a time out and using the clock more on the offense’s final drive. He was playing by college rules rather than those of the NFL. With the benefit of hindsight, Kelly acknowledged that he could have used the clock to much greater effect and maintained the offense’s aggressiveness. While noting he didn’t know the rule, Kelly also admitted, “That’s on me. I should have asked.” After the Birds tied the score with a field goal, the Chargers drove downfield for the game-winning field goal The Eagles wanted to score a TD to go up 4 and then force San Diego to drive the long way for 7. It didn’t work out that way. Kelly acknowledged, “Obviously, when you look back on it, we probably should have run the clock down.” Unfortunately, they just ran out of time.
We had another quarterback contest last week featuring some sterling games by solid players. In the Manning Bowl up in North Jersey, Peyton Manning is now 3-0 against younger brother, Eli, in regular season games after the Denver Broncos returned to beat the New York Giants, 41-23. This brotherly competition is over now for the next 4 years and Peyton said after the game, “I think that both of us are glad it’s over with for a while and I don’t think I’ll make it to the next meeting in 4 years.” Peyton Manning threw for 2 touchdowns in this one, getting a big burst from Knowshon Moreno who rushed for 2 TD’s and 93 yards in just 13 carries. Denver (2-0) has won 13 straight regular season games and the Broncos ran for 109 yards altogether. Peyton Manning finished 30 of 43 for 309 yards. Eli Manning was 28 for 39 for 362 yards but he was picked off 4 times. Eli had 15 interceptions all of last season but has 7 already this season.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay over Washington, going 30-42 for a career-high 480 yards and 4 touchdowns. Receiver James Jones had a career-high 132 yards and James Starks ran for 132 yards in the Packers’ 38-20 win over the Redskins. The Redskins are now 0-2. It was the first time in NFL history that any team had a 450 yard passer and a 125 yard rusher in the same game. Robert Griffin III is still trying to find his footing in D.C.
Around the NFL, Ryan Tannehill threw for 319 yards and 1 touchdown as the Miami Dolphins held off the Indianapolis Colts, 24-20. Baltimore sacked Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden 5 times before finally knocking him out of the game. After yielding 49 points in an opening loss at Denver, the Ravens’ defense redeemed itself against the Browns as Cleveland failed to score in the second half. Weeden left with a thumb injury with 3 minutes remaining and was replaced by Jason Campbell who completed only 1 of 4 for 6 yards.
This Thursday night, it’s Kansas City at Philadelphia. On Sunday, Tampa Bay will play New England, Green Bay will be at Cincinnati, Atlanta at Miami and Chicago will travel to Pittsburgh. Sounds like a good Sunday of football to me.
Other Sports Notes
After 17 years with the Colorado Rockies and setting records in nearly every offensive category, first baseman Todd Helton will hang up his cleats and glove at the end of this season. He is 40 years old and his decision was announced after losing a 9-2 game to the Arizona Diamondbacks over last weekend. He’s been bothered by back trouble this year, which played a great part in his decision. Helton’s only hit in the game, a double, was the 586th of his career. Not too shabby.
A few days ago Detroit pitcher, Max Scherzer, struck out 12 in 7 innings but was denied his 20th victory of the season when Kansas City tied the Tigers in the 8th inning. Alex Avila answered in the bottom half of the inning with a homer off Drew Smyly allowing the Royals to tie it up. Scherzer has 2 losses and 2 no-decisions after a 19-1 start.
As his team mates dressed for their home game against Cleveland at M&T Bank Stadium around noon on Sunday, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco answered his cell phone. It was his wife, Dana, calling from a hospital in New Jersey. She had just given birth to their second son and wanted to let her husband know that she and the baby were doing well. After that it was back to business for Flacco, who threw for 212 yards and a TD in the Ravens’ 14-6 win over the Browns.
Temple’s head football coach, Matt Rhule, says he will fix the issues plaguing his squad. The Owls let another game slip away last weekend, losing to Fordham 30-29 on Fordham’s 29-yard Hail Mary pass with 4 seconds to go. Penn State also lost its first game of the season, 34-31, to Central Florida which is now 3-0. Temple plays Idaho this Saturday, while Kent State will be at Beaver Stadium to play the Nittany Lions. Lots of college games to watch as well this weekend.
In the ‘Not Surprising News Category’, we heard today that Andrew Bynum may miss the entire preseason with Cleveland as he continues to recover from the knee surgery he underwent last March while still a 76er. His return date, according to Cavaliers’ GM Chris Grant, “remains fluid.” Sounds familiar? This should be interesting.