By Bill Campbell

Nick Foles Has a Big Day

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The story of the past football week, if not of the season, was written last Sunday by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles. He joined 6 other NFL quarterbacks who have thrown 7 touchdown passes in a game, becoming the second Eagle to do it. The other was Adrian Burk. For good measure, Burk and Sid Luckman were the only QBs to achieve this feat on the road before a foreign audience. At the end of the that day, Foles obtained a passing rating of 158.3, which is perfect. He did it in a little more than 3 periods as he led the Birds to a 49-20 rout of the Oakland Raiders on the Raiders home field. Foles completed 22 of 28 passes for 406 yards and 7 incredible touchdowns. Someone in the post-game press conference asked Foles if he was adding up the TD’s as he played.  He answered, “No. I just kept looking at the board. We’ve got to put this game out of reach so we can get the win. It’s a long flight back to Philadelphia.” The way he was going, Foles could probably have set a new record of 8 or more touchdowns on Sunday and Coach Chip Kelly admitted that he thought about letting him continue. But further play also could have gotten him injured and unavailable for future games, which would have been a foolhardy risk. For the third straight week – since QB Michael Vick is still recovering from a hamstring injury — Matt Barkley was called into service. When asked who would be his starting quarterback going forward, Kelly replied, “We’ll just see what happens. I’ll pick the QB in the future who is healthiest that day.” It will be quite a surprise if Foles doesn’t start the next Eagles game – a contest at the storied Lambeau field against the Green Bay Packers.

It remains to be determined which quarterback Nick Foles really is. Is he the one who was truly spectacular against the Raiders? Or is he the guy who completed just 11 out of 29 against the Dallas Cowboys a couple of weeks ago? Can he convince Chip Kelly that he is the starting Eagle quarterback of the present and future? Or will he stumble again and send Kelly back to Michael Vick as soon as he is available? We’ll be watching along with the coach to see if Nick Foles is the real deal.

There were a few other developments to mention after the Raiders game. Riley Cooper had the game of his career on Sunday, catching a career high 5 times for 139 yards and 3 touchdowns after being thought over-rated by many. The defense held its fifth straight opponent to 17 points or less. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ improving defensive unit will be put to a big test when it faces the Packers in Green Bay this weekend. Questioned about his side’s improving numbers, Davis said after the game, “The only stat that really interests me is the one that says who won or lost the game. I never think about the stats that go along with the result.” Left tackle Jason Peters left the game in the second half with an injury to his pectoral muscle. Kelly said he could have returned but, if it’s torn, it’s big trouble for a guy considered the best in the league at his position.  Recent reports say that Peters is practicing this week and expects to play on Sunday.

The Surprising 76ers

The most surprising news of the pro basketball week was written by the Philadelphia 76ers who started the season under their rookie coach Brett Brown by stretching their winning ways to 3: they beat the Miami Heat, the Washington Wizards and the Chicago Bulls. In the Bulls contest, they rallied from a double-digit deficit for the win. It’s a youthful bunch of inexperienced fringe players who weren’t expected to beat anybody. In fact, they were expected to tank most if not all of their games which could only improve their chances in the player draft.  The 107-104 decision over the Bulls last Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly was the first time the team had opened a season with 3 straight since the start of the 2006-07 season. It meant the Bulls were off to a 1-2 start as well. Said Coach Brown, “We understand what everyone has said about us. Our guys have put in the usual day-to-day stuff, which was always our message. We just want to knock out the gray days. And I think that those days have added up.” The Sixers overcame numerous mistakes in the Bulls game, battling back just as they had against the Heat despite miscues and some poor transitions. After coming back from a 20-point deficit, Evan Turner made the second of 2 foul shots to take a 105-104 lead. Spencer Hawes then hit a jumper for 3 points and the Sixers were on their way. Their clutch shots meant a lot but Michael Carter-Williams was the star of the game. As he did on opening night against the Heat, the rookie point guard outplayed the opposition to show his team mates the road to a thrilling win both against the Wizards and the Bulls. Turner had 20 points while making 6 of 7 foul shots. Hawes had 18 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 2 assists. For the Bulls, Carlos Boozer had 22 points. Chicago did open the final period with a run of 11-2 for a 93-84 lead with 8 ½ minutes to go but the Sixers pushed the tempo to get back into the game. With 3:29 left, Carter-Williams made a put back to give them back the lead. The Sixers then took over and led the game both offensively and defensively to run out the clock. Through the first 3 games Carter-Williams scored 62 points, reminding one of Alan Iverson who scored 69 as a rookie in as many contests in the 1997-97 season. All of this has to be more fun than tanking. Even if the tide turns and the team takes some losses, it’s a fun ride while it lasts.

Beating the Washington Wizards 109-102 before 17,000 got them off to their best start in 5 seasons. The Wizards were expected to play well this year but stood at 0-2 after that loss. Post-game, Coach Brown said, “It’s only 2 games but we’re sure happy and I’m very proud of them. The way we won tonight was the same we won last night [against the Heat].” Both Thaddeus Young and Evan provided some heroics, Young with a game-high 29 points and Turner with 23. Their fourth opponent, the Golden State Warriors, ran all over the Sixers for a reality check, with a final score of 110-90. Former Sixer Andre Iguodala had 32 points, including 9 for 11 free throws. Maybe the ride is slowing down, or coming to an end. But the Sixers have piqued our interest and may be in for a better year than expected.

The Flyers

Many thought the Flyers looked like winners in the pre-season. It was the 76ers who looked like “tankers” but, to most fans’ surprise, they’ve played like real pros. The Flyers have been a different and unexpected story.

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The Flyers added right wing Steve Downie from the Colorado Avalanche to their roster on the day of this season’s second game. They traded Maxime Talbot to get him. Downie, known as an emotional guy, was expected to give a real shot in the arm to the Flyers. He’s always been a fighter and is frequently in some sort of trouble, having been given a 20-game suspension in 2007, the longest in NHL history. In Downie, they got a guy who engages in frequent fights, plays “on the edge” and is very physical. In his first game with the Flyers last week, he got into it with Capitals’ tough guy, Aaron Volpatti, and was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital where it was determined that he had suffered a concussion. Downie’s departure was followed by the Wells Fargo crowd erupting with cries of, “Fire Holmgren!” That night, the Washington Capitals took the Flyers apart, 7-0, even though their superstar, Alex Ovechkin, did not play. When the Caps lead went to 6-0 the crowd repeated its demands for GM Paul Holmgren’s departure and even booed when the PA announcer said, “The Flyers are taking a PECO power play.” No one in the arena was willing to accept the Flyers’ horrendous performance.  At this writing the Flyers are 3-9, their worst start in franchise history.

Andre Iguodala

          Golden State’s Andre Iguodala is with his second team in as many years since leaving the 76ers in the summer of 2012 in a trade that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia from the Lakers. Though Bynum was the key man in the trade in which 4 players were moved, the thinking was that this trade would open up the way for Evan Turner. While Iguodala is a good guy a lot of people didn’t like him as a player and didn’t feel he fit in well with the team. He and Turner were opposites and they created controversy. Without Iguodala, the expectation was that Turner, with more freedom on the court, could become the small forward. Turner liked the change. He kept trying to improve and make his own situation better. Yet the Sixers let the October 31st contract extension for Turner pass by without resigning him.

In his time in Philadelphia, Iguodala never really impressed on offense, though he could do so on the defensive side. Back in town this week, his shooting against the Sixers was special. He scored 32 points against Philly the other night, going 7 for 11 on three point shots. A lot of folks were surprised after his lack of success as a Sixer but he had the hot hand the other night and he let the Sixers know it. Discussing the Golden State trade for Iguodala, head coach Mark Jackson said, “The reason we got him is because he’s a playmaker, a big time defender and one who does not need to score a lot to be a big time player. We are very fortunate to have him here. The things he is able to do on the court, the stat sheet doesn’t produce.”

Jackson also praised the play of young Sixer Michael Carter-Williams noting, “He can help a team and he did a super job against us for the Sixers.” Talking about Carter-Williams last week, Sixer coach Brett Brown also stated, “I said from the get-go he’s better than I thought. He is a really good young player and he gets it.” Going further, the coach added, “I think he’s grounded. We try to help him stay grounded. He helps himself be grounded. He is very young and somewhat exaggerated at this early stage. But he is a talent and I’m glad he’s mine.” Coach Jackson values Iguodala and Coach Brown does Carter-Williams. Interesting comments from 2 coaches on what possibilities they see in the new faces on their squads.

NFL Notes 

          The world of medicine made some headlines in the NFL this past week.  Houston Texans coach, Gary Kubick, was hospitalized for a few days after collapsing on the field at halftime during the Houston-Indianapolis game. Kubik, 52, experienced dizziness before fainting. It was later disclosed that he had suffered a mini-stroke.  Wade Phillips has taken over as the fill-in head coach until Kubik is released to return.  That date is uncertain at present. Kubik, who had no history of health problems, has been head coach since 2006 in Texas. He’s a former quarterback and he calls the team’s plays. This team was a trendy Super Bowl pick in the off-season and started 2-0 but, having lost 6 straight, things have taken more than a downturn. The Texans were up 21-3 at halftime when Kubik collapsed and they struggled in the second half as the Colts rallied to win it, 27-24.

Meanwhile, after feeling light-headed while playing golf on Saturday last weekend, Denver coach John Fox was taken to a hospital and later underwent surgery to replace an aortic valve. Fox had been told of his heart condition and was hoping to delay the procedure until the off-season. But tests revealed he couldn’t put it off any longer. Broncos’ defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, ran practices once Fox was hospitalized. The 7-1 Broncos will play the 4-4 San Diego Chargers on Sunday as they seek their 19th win in their last 2 regular season games.

In Miami this week, twenty-three-year-old Eric Rivera was convicted of second degree murder in the 2007 slaying of Washington Redskins safety, Sean Taylor. Taylor was shot outside his own bedroom after witnesses said he had confronted several young men who had broken into his home searching for money. The jury deliberated about 16 hours over 4 days before reaching a verdict in the trial. Four other men were charged in the case. One of them, Venjai  Hunte, previously pled guilty to second degree murder and burglary charges in a deal that called for a 29-year prison sentence. At the trial the jury heard that another man charged in the slaying, 25-year-old Jason Mitchell, had attended a birthday party a few weeks earlier at Sean Taylor’s home which was held for Taylor’s half-sister, Sasha Johnson. She knew Eric Rivera. She testified that her brother, Sean, had given her a purse containing $10,000 in cash at the party, which was witnessed by all the guests. That put the wheels in motion for the burglary plot that led to Taylor’s shooting. The now-convicted Rivera was 17 at the time of the murder and faces a potential life sentence.

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See you next week.