By Bill Campbell
Eagles – Bears
Who would have predicted 54-11, Eagles, at the start of that game last Sunday?
Not even Chip Kelly or Jeff Lurie or LeSean McCoy, as confident as they might have felt, would have foreseen that. But there was 1:10 left in the first half and the Eagles had a 24 point lead. McCoy already had two touchdowns. Alex Hennery kicked a 49 yard field goal. It really felt like it was over at the half. Once they returned from halftime, the Birds mounted a 36 point lead midway through the fourth period. Nick Foles threw across his body on the run for the first touchdown. He was 21 for 25 (84.7%), three of the four incompletions were throw-aways for 230 yards, two TD’s, no interceptions by game’s end. Trent Cole’s two first-half sacks allowed him to pass Clyde Simmons for second place all-time for the Birds behind only Reggie White (124). Cole sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler three times and now has 79 career sacks. We can’t forget Donnie Jones who set the Eagles’ record for punts downed inside the 20 with 22, one of them leading to a safety.
I also must give a nod to Michael Vick who appeared in a clean-up role in the fourth quarter to the crowd’s applause. He made a pretty good back-up and, perhaps, there’s a role for him here yet. In nine starts this year, Foles has thrown 25 touchdown passes as Mike Vick has stood on the sidelines. He has handled himself impressively this year, on and off the field. He might stick around.
One of the game’s more memorable moments came when the score was 40-11. Brendan Boykin grabbed a Cutler pass and ran it back 54 yards for a TD to make it 47-11 with 8 minutes left. By then, it was beyond over. In the last 10 minutes of the game, the crown began to chant, “We want Dallas” and by the evening’s end it was clear that they were going to get their wish. Considering how their fortunes have turned since that first game in Dallas when Foles started, it’s hard to remember the bad game he had. He had replaced the injured Michael Vick two weeks before and played brilliantly against the Giants: 16 for 25 for 197 yards, 2 touchdowns, no picks, 114.9 power rating. But he had a terrible game against Dallas, finally leaving in the fourth quarter due to a concussion. Foles healed and returned as a starter a few weeks later after Vick went out again with a hamstring pull. He has redeemed himself since Dallas and won the starting job. But he surely recalls that poor showing in Texas Stadium in October and will welcome the chance to redefine himself in front of that crowd. A win there, if it comes, will take the Eagles to the play-offs. It feels like a decade since the Birds have been there.
Kelly’s Pre-Game Reflections
Eagles Head Coach, Chip Kelly, made an interesting statement last week when asked about the differences between college and professional football. He said, “The big difference between college and the pros is that every single week is a big challenge. You’ve got to come to play every week,” Kelly said. I would imagine he thought the same thing about the college game when he was at Oregon, running up that impressive won-lost record which culminated in his hiring at Philadelphia. “But in terms of a surprise, nothing that’s really come out that’s been like, well, I didn’t think that was ever going to be that way.” Perhaps the definition of the “challenge” itself has changed for him. This is the NFL, after all, and the road to the Super Bowl has far more pitfalls than those leading to even the most prestigious college bowl. Kelly acknowledged there would be ramifications affecting the Eagles depending upon the results of the earlier Sunday game between Dallas and Washington. “Well, we have to play against them,” Kelly said but he would give no corner to the team’s commitment to play the Bears flat out, no matter the outcome of the Cowboys-Redskins contest. His strategy paid off.
Sometimes I think it’s tougher to play a big game at night. The waiting itself can sap a player’s energy or focus. When the competition is so closely related and, as it was on Sunday, played within hours of each other it can be a distraction. But facing the Bears, LeSean McCoy said that he wanted the offense “placed squarely on my back” and he meant it, particularly after not putting in a full day’s work the week before in Minnesota. McCoy has had six 100-yard games this season, tying his personal best. He’s carried the ball more than any other running back this year. He’s second in the NFL among running backs with at least 120 carries – which made it that much harder for him to swallow his performance against the Vikings. He went to the Bears game ready to carry the load. He turned in a remarkable performance.
The Eagles have the number 16 rush defense in the NFL and the Bears running back, Matt Forte, who had been helped by Chicago’s impressive offensive line, trailed only McCoy and Adrian Peterson prior to Sunday’s game. On passing, the Bears stood to be a test for the Eagles with two of the league’s best receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. Tight end Martellus Bennett was expected to be a force in the game. Their quarterback, Jay Cutler, was on pace to have the best season of his career before missing time due to a torn groin and a high-ankle sprain. Former Oregon footballer, Kyle Long, who played for Chip Kelly, is a big guard. Chicago has a top-notch offensive mind in Coach Mark Trestman. So Kelly was up for this week’s challenge and, admit it or not, waiting for the score of the Dallas-Redskins game before taking the field.
Although the focus still seems to be on football here, we have to talk a little college basketball before the season runs its course. The big story in town revolves around undefeated Villanova, which is rated 8th best in the land and taking no prisoners. The 11-0 Wildcats have a big game coming up against 11-0 Syracuse on January 2nd, next weekend on the Orange’s court.
Before the Christmas break, Villanova head coach, Jay Wright, was especially pleased to see his charges go head-to-head in a game against Rider College before a sell-out crowd at the Villanova Pavilion. The Wildcats shot 50% of their field goals, 78.6% of their free throws. Led by a career-high 19 points off the bench from freshman Josh Hart, No. 8 Villanova remained perfect with an 88-67 rout of Rider. As Wright put it, “When you have a big game coming up and it’s Christmas break time, it made me especially proud of them.” Villanova is off to its best start since the 1961-62 season. In the second half, the team shot 54% and outscored the Broncs 16-7 in the final minutes, scoring 14 points. JayVaughn Pinkston scored 14 points himself in the contest and guard, Darrun Hilliard, hit 4 for 4 frees and, with under 15 to go, stole the ball from Rider’s Shawn valentine in the backcourt and ended with a slam to give Villanova a 56-35 edge.
Temple played LIU Brooklyn on December 21st, outscoring the Blackbirds 33-13 in the final 16:05 of the first half to lead by 16 at halftime. The Owls shot 15 of 27 beyond the arc. Will Cummings scored 23 for Temple, while Quentin DeCosey chipped in with 19 to get the Owls back in the win column. Temple (5-5), who entered the contest off of consecutive 1-point losses, put this one away early. All five Temple starters reached double figures, with senior Dalton Pepper leading the way. Temple has scored more than 80 points in five out of the last six games, and topped the century mark for the first time Saturday.
St. Joe’s also had a successful night against Loyola, winning 88-77. Langston Galloway opened with a 3-pointer and the Hawks (6-4) led the whole way, exciting the crowd with a 17-0 run sparked by a 3-pointer by Isaiah Miles to finish the half with a 60-24 edge. The team’s leading scorer, Galloway had 14 points by 10:42, making 5 of 7 from the field and 4 of 5 3-pointers. Miles and Chris Wilson each scored 17 for the Hawks and Galloway finished with 14. The Penn women’s basketball team overcame Drexel on a jumper with 2.6 seconds left in the game. Senior guard Alyssa Baron hit it to top off Penn’s climb back from a 19-point first half deficit. The Quakers won, 46-44 at the buzzer. They will look to build on their five-game win streak when they fly south for the winter to take on Miami on New Year’s Day.
Sixers and Flyers
A couple of cellar dwellers got together recently and the inevitable happened. After scoring a decisive last-second victory the previous night over the Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers expected another win and, perhaps, the end of their road-trip miseries. Certainly, the 76ers would like to find a sense of belonging among the more competitive teams in the NBA. But they were not going to find that in Milwaukee on December 22nd. They played that game with much enthusiasm but, unfortunately, not much skill. They were out-worked, out-hustled and out-played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, losing 116-106 to the Bucs, the worst team in the league. The result of the game was hardly ever in doubt. This was the case even after Philadelphia opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run that cut Milwaukee’s halftime lead of 53-43 to just 2 points. Bucks Forward Khris Middleton took over to score 10 and lead Milwaukee with 27 points while making all 10 of his 2-point attempts. The Sixers had a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since surprising everyone with 3 consecutive wins earlier in the season. But this marked their 12th consecutive loss on the road since winning their first at Washington in November. The team also has a challenging post-holiday road trip coming up with stops in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver and Portland. If history teaches any lessons, it looks like they may not have a win for a while. The team seems capable of beating good teams at times and has taken advantage when their opponents have missed a starting player or two. Miami didn’t play Dwayne Wade, Washington was missing Nene Hilario, Houston was without James Hardee and Milwaukee lacked Brandon Knight when the Sixers faced them. The Sixers played respectably against those teams. Yet though the Bucks lacked several starters, the Sixers couldn’t match them. It’s a long season for them in this rebuilding year.
As for the Flyers, it took them nearly three months to get over the .500 mark and then they faced Columbus in back-to-back games. In the first game, played in Philadelphia, the Blue Jackets led 3-0 after two periods and 4-2 with 5 minutes left. But the Flyers scored five times in the third period for a 5-4 win. Columbus must have learned a few things from that one because last Saturday night on their home ice, Jackets Ryan Johnson and R.J. Lumberger each scored two goals and led their team which pulled away in the third period to beat the Flyers 6-3. David Seward sent a blast past Ray Emery to help pave the way for that Columbus win. The Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds called it unacceptable, adding that his team “sat back too much.” Frustrated, Simmonds admitted, “I don’t think we competed as hard as we did the other night. That’s what happens. They were definitely determined to win tonight. They looked like they wanted it more than us.” That’s never the way to feel at the end of a hockey game.
Temple’s Sports Programs
Neil Theobald became president of Temple University in January and, since those then, he wrestled with what to do about the sports program there. It quickly became apparent to him that something had to be done about the athletic program agenda. There were pressing problems centering on the financial foundation at the school and he had to find a solution. Although women outnumber men among the school’s undergraduates, only 42% of the scholarship money was going to females. Title IX, a federal law, requires that the money spent on sports reflect the gender proportion of the student body. He could not get around this disparity. Furthermore, several of the Temple teams were saddled with inadequate facilities or, in some cases, training at distant locations. The crew team’s boat house on the Schuylkill had been condemned in 2009. Replacement of that building alone would cost about $10 million. The men’s and women’s softball teams were training at the Ambler campus as they had no useable field in North Philadelphia. That added a two hour commute to those students’ days. Theobald knew, along with the Board of Trustees, that hard decisions would have to be made about the future of its 24 athletic teams to confront and solve these problems. It was clear that the funds for these solutions could not come from tuition, which Temple always has tried to keep affordable for qualified students at all income levels.
The solution became clear. Temple’s trustees unanimously accepted the recommendation, effective July 1, 2014, to eliminate 5 men’s sports: baseball, crew, gymnastics, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. It also agreed to eliminate 2 women’s sports: rowing and softball. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, Theobald acknowledged, “There is no ideal way to make major reductions when they directly impact people we value. We in the Temple administration know that most of the affected student-athletes and their coaches are devastated by this decision, and we are doing all we can to mitigate their pain. Students will keep their scholarships and will have access to academic support services. We will assist those teams that want to convert to club status, as well as athletes who choose to transfer to other universities.” The decision, however painful, stands.
Theobald also noted that many have pointed to the school’s football program as the root cause of the strapped athletic program or its elimination as the obvious solution. He answered that by saying, “Any potential savings from reallocating football scholarships to other sports would be more than offset by the resulting loss of television revenue from our conference’s new seven-year contract with ESPN and CBS Sports. Football is not the reason for this move.” Clearly, eliminating the Owls football team also would make no sense. The University president expressed his confidence in the decision while acknowledging the challenge of sustaining a quality athletic program at Temple for years to come. Agree with him or not, the explanation is credible even though its impact is more than difficult to swallow.
Kelly Then and Now
Last January 3rd, Chip Kelly celebrated Oregon’s win at the Fiesta Bowl. It was his last game there. Within months he had made a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles and started a new job in a new city. He feels at home in the league and has denied that he has talked to Texas or Southern Cal or anyone else about returning to the college game. But he’s noted that he used to spend part of his coaching time recruiting high school players , traveling to watch them play, meet their families. Now that time is devoted to the intense preparation demanded each week, the working of the roster for each game, the creation of plays to confront the next opponent. Those who have known Kelly say he took the same approach here as he used as offensive coordinator at New Hampshire or as head coach at Oregon: focus on one game at a time, one week at a time and keep the players calm and healthy. Now, however, he’s facing people like Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, and Adrian Peterson. But he does not express intimidation or anxiety over such challenges. He puts together a plan and works with his players. From my seat, it looks like he gets results.
The front office never had a concern about Chip Kelly’s transition to the pros or to this system. The personnel department needed time to replenish the roster but the organization never had a doubt about the new coach. When the record was 3-5, no one upstairs lost confidence in him but, rather, felt sure that the former Oregon coach was as right a fit for the Eagles then as they had concluded on the first day they met him. It looks like they were right. After rolling over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night to a 9-6 record, Kelly was asked about playing his starters for so long when the win was clear by the third quarter. He answered, “We’re from Philadelphia and we fight. If there is a game on, we’re playing, end of story.” That is sweet music to an Eagles’ fans ears.
At this writing, Tony Romo is recovering from surgery for a herniated disc. Nick Foles is hot as a firecracker. I don’t know about you but I’m counting the hours till the Eagles run on to the field in Dallas on Sunday night. Game on.