24
Jan
10

flyers round-up

Lotsa games I haven’t written about.  Sorry, but it’s been a long week so you’ll just have to DEAL with it.  Anyways, the Flyers played 5 games since I last wrote about them so here’s a snapshot of the major developments: 3 wins, 2 losses. Ray Emery back in goal (and he got better and better as the week wore on), the team’s power play continues to click (they’re 3rd in the league), they’ve stepped up their physical play (a bunch of fights this week but no real stupid penalties), and Darroll Powe has replaced Claude Giroux on the top line with Giroux back to centering James van Riemsdyk and Arron Asham on the 3rd line (seems to be working as Giroux & JVR have had great weeks).  As far as the games themselves:

  • MAPLE LEAFS 4, FLYERS 0 – Well the streak had to end sometime.  The Flyers 4 game winning streak came crashing to a halt at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.  In all fairness the Flyers really didn’t come to play in this one.  The Leafs jumped all over our boys from the first minute and actually had a goal taken off the board because the player in question pushed it over the goal line with his hand.  But all that did was slow down the inevitable.  Though the score was still tied at 0 after the first period, the Leafs were definitely the better team on this night.  They were rewarded for their perseverance halfway through the 2nd period when Tyler Bozak made a sweet move to get around Ole-Kristian Tollefson and then roofed the puck past goalie Michael Leighton.  The Flyers defense would fail Leighton 3 more times before things were all said and done.  Though Leighton takes the loss none of the goals were his fault and he should not be blamed.  That being said I expect Ray Emery (now that he’s healthy again) to return to the net tomorrow afternoon against the Washington Capitals.  The last time the Flyers played Washington was Coach Peter Laviolette’s first game in charge of his new team and the final score that night was 8-2.  The Flyers owe the Caps one…
  • CAPITALS 5, FLYERS 3 – The Flyers welcomed back goalie Ray Emery with a very poor defensive outing and as a result dropped their second straight game in regulation 5-3 to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.  Though the Flyers scored first again (for the 11th time in 13 games), they simply couldn’t hold a lead in this one.  Jeff Carter scored on a beautiful wrist shot to put the Flyers up 1-0 but the Caps quickly answered to tie the score.  Super rookie James van Riemsdyk also scored on a nifty wristshot later in the period, but the Caps managed to answer that one too, tying the score shortly before the end of the first period.  The second period was tightly played and while the Caps took the lead the score was only 3-2 headed into the third period.  In need of a spark to overcome a very determined Capitals squad playing in front of some very rowdy fans, the Flyers came out flat and basically fell apart.  5 minutes into the 3rd period Matt Carle had an AWFUL giveaway just outside his own blueline and Brooks Laich skated in alone on Emery and roofed a shorthanded goal past him bringing the score to 4-2.  To add insult to injury, with about 5 minutes left in the game, Braydon Coburn grabbed Ovechkin on a mini-breakaway and the referee awarded Ovechkin a penalty shot.  Up until that point Ovechkin had actually been 0 for 5 for his career on penalty shots.  Any guesses as to the result?  Yup.  5-2.  Though the Flyers added a Danny Briere power play goal with about 30 seconds left in the game, it was of no real consequence.  The Flyers have now lost 2 games in a row and have a very important week ahead.  They can’t afford to keep breaking down defensively in their own end or they’re going to continue losing games.  Emery’s back and that’s good but you can still tell he’s rusty and the Flyers need their defense to pick him up while he works himself back into game shape. 
  • FLYERS 5, BLUE JACKETS 3 – Now that’s more like it!! The Flyers, needing a win after dropping 2 straight, came out ready to attack in this one.  Less than a minute into the game, Jeff Carter picked caused a turnover deep in the Columbus end, skated in on goalie Mathieu Garon and roofed a beautiful backhand shot past him to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead (another game where the Flyers drew first blood – 12 times in 14 games now).  They would go up 2-0 thanks to Arron Asham (off an INCREDIBLE pass from Claude Giroux) but then they took their foot off the gas pedal and thanks to former Flyer RJ Umberger found themselves tied at 2 with about 10 min left in the 2nd.  Happily though, their funk didn’t last very long and they rebounded with 2 more goals to take a 4-2 lead into the 3rd period.  One of those goals was absolutely breathtaking.  Jeff Carter scored off the faceoff.  Literally.  The ref dropped the puck and as soon as it hit the ice Carter shot it on net and it squeaked by Garon.  It’s the kinda move you try in a video game but NEVER see in real life.  Carter said after the game that while he does practice that shot the couple times he’s tried it in a game it’s never worked.  It happened so quick and was such a bang bang play that the crowd didn’t even realize what had happened for a few seconds.  Anyways, the Flyers actually increased their lead to 5-2 about halfway through the 3rd period on a beautiful wrist shot by Daniel Carcillo.  Happily, the Flyers defense held on in this one and though they conceded a late goal, pulled out the victory 5-3.  While it was by no means a perfect game (too many turnovers and Emery looks like he’s still working out the kinks) the victory put an end to the 2 game skid and sets the Flyers up nicely because they’re set to play their next 5 games at home.  Win at least 4 of them and the Flyers will be in a great position heading towards the Olympic break.
  • FLYERS 2, RANGERS 0 - NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT BOYS!!!  A hell of an impressive win for the Flyers tonight.  Last month the Flyers shut the Rangers out 6-0 at MSG in what Rangers coach John Tortorella considered possibly the worst game of the season.  So the Flyers knew going into this one that the Rangers were gonna come out amped up and ready to play.  But the Flyers were ready for it.  The first period was very physical but had a lot of back and forth action to it, with a real playoff-like atmosphere.  It was a lot of fun to watch.  With a little less than 5 minutes to go in the period James van Riemsdyk took a loooooong outlet pass from Chris Pronger, skated in on Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist and after having his initial shot stopped, smacked the rebound into the net for a 1-0 Flyers lead.  It was a great pass by Pronger (even if it may have missed its intended target) but an even better play by the rookie forward.  His grit & determination got him the goal.  The 2nd period was where things really ratcheted up a notch because there were 3 fights in the period.  First, Dan Carcillo pummeled Marion Gaborik.  Now I realize Carcillo’s a fighter and Gaborik’s a scorer, but Gaborik dropped his gloves first!!  After the game the Rangers (including Tortorella) were pissed at Carcillo but I don’t know what they expected him to do.  If they were that pissed about it, there were 4 other Rangers on the ice who could’ve jumped in and gone after Carcillo instead.  The second fight saw Scott Hartnell DESTROY Sean Avery.  Avery is widely hated by the Philly fans and Hartnell crushing him DEFINITELY made the fans’ night.  Also, Avery was acting up all night so seeing him get his ass beat was fun.  The 3rd fight was a draw between Carcillo and Avery (which you knew was coming).  The Flyers headed into the 3rd period up 2-0 thanks to a Mike Richards power play goal with about 3 seconds left on the clock (courtesy of a Marc Staal deflection).  The 3rd period was a tight period that saw only 1 more fight (Arron Asham and Aaron Voros fought to a draw) and a lot of back & forth action.  The Rangers actually pulled their goalie with about 2 minutes left in the period but the Flyers defense stood tall and prevented any damage.  Ray Emery pitched his first shutout since coming back from injury and the Flyers defense deserves a lot of credit for that because he wasn’t tested all that much.  A special shout out to captain Mike Richards – he was everywhere in this game.  He laid a bunch of hits, got to loose pucks, played the power play, the penalty kill, and even scored a goal.  Best game I’ve seen him play in a while and a good way to shut the Philly media up.  Overall, a GREAT win by the Flyers against a hated division rival and a team they’re looking up at in the standings (the Flyers have actually shut them out twice in a row now, outscoring them 8-0 in the process).  The next game between these two (Sunday March 14th) will be a doozy!!
  • FLYERS 4, HURRICANES 2 -    The Flyers keep on rolling.  They capped off a long week with a pretty thorough dismantling of the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Flyers haven’t lost to the ‘Canes in a long time and they weren’t about to start today.  Much of the credit for today’s victory goes to goalie Ray Emery who was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC all game and really stood on his head in the 3rd period to preserve what was a 3-2 cushion at the time.  Defensively the Flyers probably played their worst game all week but it came on a day when Emery was playing his best.  So things worked out nicely.  Dan Carcillo got the first goal of the game when he stole the puck from a ‘Canes defenseman, skated in on Manny Legace, made a nifty little move and beat him top shelf.  Eric Staal tied things up on a power play with a minute left in the period.  But unlike previous games where that kinda thing might’ve adversely affected the Flyers, they came out in the 2nd period and really took the game to Carolina.  Goals from Chris Pronger (on the power play) and Jeff Carter 1:45 apart increased the lead to 3-1 heading into the 3rd period.  Though Carolina would get to within 3-2 very early in the period, the Flyers, led by Emery’s stellar play, held on throughout the period and Jeff Carter added an empty net goal VERY late in the period to lock things down.  The win wasn’t the prettiest of the week, but it still counts for 2 points in the standings.  By far the best part was seeing Ray Emery make great saves – he seems to be rounding back into form at the perfect time. 

NEXT UP: THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS - That’s right.  Good old Cindy Crosby and his Penguins come to town tomorrow afternoon for the 4th game of the season series.  Curiously, this will be the 2nd time this season that the Flyers have to play the Pens when they played a game the day before.  In both instances the Pens were off the day before playing the Flyers.  While some might call this a scheduling quirk, I call it BULLSH*T!!!  It’s totally not fair that the Pens keep having the day off before playing the Flyers while the Flyers are playing a game.  Some people might even think that the NHL is trying to help the Penguins (who, me?  just because I think commissioner Gary Bettman sucks?  Ok.  Well maybe you have a point).  Regardless, the Flyers bucked tradition last time out and really took it to the Penguins from the opening whistle, eventually winning the game 7-4.  Games against Cindy and his team are always tight and competitive and I expect tomorrow to be no different.  The fact that it’s the NHL game of the week on NBC tomorrow afternoon (before the NFL conference championship games) makes it that much more important.  The Wachovia Center is bound to be loud & crazy and here’s hoping the Flyers kick the Pens’ ass just like they did the last time.  The only question: who starts in goal?  Ray Emery – who’s been great all week but is only just returning from injury or Michael Leighton – who beat the Pens the last time out but who hasn’t played in a little while?  We’ll know in a few hours….

21
Jan
10

Eagles’ front office moves…

There were 2 moves the Eagles made on the front office/coaching side of the ball last week that were basically lost in the shuffle thanks to the Dallas mess.  My thoughts on both:

  • HECKERT TO THE BROWNS – Last week Mike Holmgren hired former Eagles General Manager Tom Heckert to the same position with the Cleveland Browns.  This move seemed a long time in coming.  Only 2 years ago Eagles owner Jefferey Lurie had recommended Heckert for the GM job in Atlanta & last year Heckert actually interviewed for the Browns GM job before it was given to George Kokinis.  The funny thing about Heckert leaving is that no one really knows how much sway or input he had in shaping the Eagles’ roster.  Though his title would seem to indicate he had final say over the roster, most observers in Philadelphia think that Andy Reid is the one who makes all the football-related decisions.  If that’s truly the case, then I’m not sure fans will miss Heckert all that much.  Though he’s certainly presided over some very good draft picks (Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Jeremiah Trotter, Trent Cole, Brent Celek, Stewart Bradley, Desean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, to name a few), Heckert cannot claim sole credit for those.  My only concern would be if it came out later that he was the one guy in the organization who actually said no to Andy Reid.  I’m always leery of one guy having too much power & the thought of Andy Reid making every major decision as it relates to the football team scares me a bit.  The Eagles have done a phenomenal job over the last several years keeping the discussions of the front office truly secretive so there’s really no way of knowing how strong a voice Heckert had.  VP of player personnel Howie Roseman will be promoted to GM in Heckert’s place.  Roseman’s elevation to GM could have a very profound impact on the franchise.  While the offense seems to be in pretty good shape (save for the need for some depth along the O-line), the defense needs a lot of work.  A pass rushing specialist to create havoc opposite Trent Cole, a run-stuffing linebacker, and a strong cover corner who ACTUALLY TACKLES are just 3 of the Eagles’ needs this offseason.  With no salary cap in place and the Eagles continuing to make quite a bit of money, the Eagles can be big players in free agency and should also have some room to maneuver during the draft.  In order to ensure that the team is right back in the race for NFC supremacy next year, Roseman and Reid need to hit a few homeruns this offseason.  By early May (when both Donovan McNabb & Brian Westbrook are due large roster bonuses), we’ll have some insight into what we can expect from the brand new Roseman/Reid regime.
  • WELCOME BOBBY APRIL – Last week the team quietly fired Special Teams coordinator Ted Daisher and hired Bobby April to replace him.  April comes to Philadelphia from the Buffalo Bills (where his contract ran out) and actually interviewed with both the Steelers and Redskins before the Eagles hired him.  This is a HUGE win for the Eagles.  April is considered to be one of if not the best Special Teams coach in the entire league.  His units in Buffalo were consistently ranked at or near the top of the league in just about every category and he was responsible for helping Roscoe Parrish become such a dangerous return man.  When I saw that April was available I was hoping the Eagles might take a run at him but assumed they probably wouldn’t.  Then when I saw him interviewing with the Steelers and the ‘Skins, I figured that was that.  Imagine my surprise then when the Eagles sent out a press release announcing that they’d hired him.  I was impressed by the fact that the Eagles were able to keep their courtship of him under wraps until the announcement.  I really do think this is a phenomenal hire by the Eagles.  Too many times this season the Eagles were undone by turnovers on special teams or really horrid field position.  With April taking over, maybe he can convince Andy Reid to sign a new punter (Sav Rocca’s pattern of shanking every other punt he makes is simply unacceptable) and finally get some consistency out of the kickoff return unit.  I fully expect the Eagles to be in the top 5 of all Special Teams categories next year.  I’m even more excited by the thought that now Desean Jackson (who’s already the most dangerous return man in the league) has a coach to match his skill level.  Hell…Desean might be even better next year!!  The hiring of Bobby April is just one step in what’s going to be a very long and important offseason for the Eagles, but I think it’s a pretty big one and I look forward to seeing the effect he’ll have on the Birds. 
18
Jan
10

mcgwire, his admission, & how baseball can move on…

This past Monday former A’s & Cardinals 1B Mark McGwire admitted in an interview with Bob Costas that he took steroids & Human Growth Hormone at various points in his career.  What was most startling about the admission was not the admission itself but rather the timing of it.  We’ve basically heard nothing from him on the topic since the Congressional hearings back in 2005.  When the Cardinals announced in late October that they’d hired him to be their hitting coach for the upcoming season people knew that McGwire would evenutally have to face the media and address the steroids issue.  Last Monday he did.  McGwire said that he took them because he was tired of being injured all the time and thought they would help keep him healthy and prolong his career.  He denied ever shooting up in bathrooms with former teammate Jose Canseco and said that steroids did not help him hit home runs.  He talked about how he’d always had a gift for hitting home runs dating all the way back to little league and that the steroids he took were solely for health reasons.  He expressed sincere regret and remorse for his actions and even went so far as to say that he wishes he never played in the “steroid era” of baseball.  He also added that he wanted to come clean during the Congressional hearings back in 2005 but that because the US government would NOT grant him immunity, his lawyers advised him against admitting his guilt in the interest of protecting himself and his family.  He ended the interview by discussing his apologies to his family, his friends, and even his phone call to the Maris family (something he told Costas he needed to do because they’d believed in him and embraced him so much).

Immediately following his statement, the vultures descended.  Sportswriters and pundits all over the country came out and trashed him saying that his admission was too little too late and that the reasons he outlined for his steroid use were bogus.  Everyone weighed in with an opinion and most were negative.  To all of those people I say the following:

SHUT THE HELL UP!!!  SERIOUSLY.  STOP RUNNING YOUR MOUTHS AND FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT. 

I also think the general public would agree with me on this one.  It’s not really surprising anymore when a player admits to taking some form of PED’s.  It just isn’t.  Whereas a couple years ago it sparked huge outrage, nowadays fans greet steroid admissions mostly with a shrug of the shoulders.  In truth, I think that most casual fans would be impressed with what McGwire had to say.  Why?  Because he was the first one to show genuine remorse and embarassment.  Palmeiro, Pettitte, Ortiz, Ramirez & Rodriguez all have had various opportunities to respond to and discuss their own steroid stories.  NONE of them sounded truly remorseful or ashamed or upset when they spoke (if they spoke at all) but McGwire went the other way.  Not only was his embarassment and shame very clear to see, but the tears he shed were absolutely real.  I commend him for his admission and the class with which he’s handled things so far (unlike Canseco who was on TV again the next night to try and poke holes in McGwire’s admission – why??). Because so many outlets had more questions they wanted answered after Monday night’s interview, McGwire went on ESPN on Tuesday and spoke to Bob Ley.  Though McGwire’s appearances and statements have been carefully planned and thought out, he’s clearly not ducking the issue anymore.

What angers me most about this whole situation are the sportswriters and “pundits” who continue to have a “holier than thou” approach to the Steroids issue.  They trash McGwire and all that he stood for when they were equally culpable in creating his legend and his mystique.  Baseball was dying after the lockout in ’94.  Fans weren’t coming to the games, teams were losing money, and the sport as a whole was in real trouble.  In other words, the sport was BEGGING for someone to save it.  Along came McGwire & Sosa and the great home run chase of ’98 and BOOM – Baseball had not one but two heroes.  How many stories were written extolling the virtues of these guys and building them up to demi-gods? Thousands.  And now, the same writers who followed that season, swallowed it whole, and wrote story after story glorifying McGwire and his baseball feats are the first people to trash him when he admits what everyone has been asking him to admit for years.  It makes me sick.  The sportswriters are treating McGwire like an outcast who deliberately mislead them and the public and made it his personal mission to make them look foolish.  But the reality of the situation (as we have now discovered) was that he was just doing what so many of his peers were doing.  He was trying to get an edge and be a better player.  Does it excuse the behavior?  Of course not.  But remember that even back then he was camera shy.  He didn’t like being the constant center of attention – he just wanted to play baseball.   The sportswriters who followed “the chase” called him things like “savior” and “hero.”  He never gave himself those names but there’s simply no way he could’ve ignored all the expectations that those sportswriters put on him.  The added weight of those expectations had to have been a factor when it came to taking whatever he took.  No longer could he just play baseball – he had to “save” the sport while the whole country was watching.

So the media created a monster.  Now I’m not condoning what McGwire did.  Taking steroids is illegal and has proven to be very dangerous and even fatal.  But to come out and trash the guy after making what was clearly a very difficult decision to admit his guilt is just sad.  Given the state of the world today, this country has proven time and time again that it loves redemption and comebacks.  I have no doubt that because McGwire showed true and genuine sadness over his actions, people will forgive him in droves.  The sportswriters who continue to bash him just don’t get it.  As fans we no longer care that they cheated because we believe that so many of the guys playing back then were cheating.  Plus, show me any multi-billion dollar industry (sports or music or movies or business) and I’ll show you people cheating and bending rules to get ahead.  It’s just the nature of the beast.  But as fans of baseball, we don’t need people telling us that taking steroids is bad.  We’re already well aware of that fact.  We also don’t need writers telling us why certain guys were worse than others and why they should never be forgiven.  We’d prefer to make that decision for ourselves.  Truthfully, what we really want is the admission of guilt and then the remorse.  Okay, the guy made a mistake and did some stuff he shouldn’t have done.  We all make mistakes.  But does he really feel bad about it?  Would he do it again?  Is he going to use his indiscretions as a way to help educate and teach?  McGwire’s admission makes it abundantly clear that he’s incredibly sorry and would definitely NOT do it again.  The public will forgive him.

For me the saddest aspect of this whole story is the fact that McGwire wanted to tell the truth back in 2005.  I haven’t really seen anyone tackle this angle.  According to McGwire he went to Congress fully prepared and hopeful that he would be able to admit his steroid use during his testimony.  He was anxious to get it off his chest and thought that would be the right place to do it.  The day before the hearing, McGwire met for 3 hours with the Chairman of the committee, Rep. Tom Davis.  In that meeting, McGwire admitted to Davis that he took steroids and wanted to tell the committee but was afraid of the legal consequences of his admission.  Davis even said last week in an interview with the AP that “[McGwire] was candid and honest in our interrogation of him.”  But when Davis approached Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez about granting McGwire immunity in the hearing so that he could come clean, the A.G. refused.  Herein lies the true tragedy of this whole saga.

There was really no reason NOT to grant McGwire immunity.  Prosecuting him for taking steroids several years earlier would only have proven to be a HUGE waste of taxpayer money.  So long as he didn’t lie and commit perjury (which he never did), there was no reason to hold a potential future prosecution over his head.  Plus, the hearings were designed to shed light on the steroid problem and hopefully provide a blueprint for how MLB could begin the process of cleaning up its sport.  What better way to show that baseball knew it had a problem and was truly committed to fixing things than by getting McGwire to admit his past transgressions on the record and in front of the whole country?

Let’s imagine for a moment that Gonzalez granted McGwire immunity.  The hearings, instead of a mockery full of denials, face-saving statements, and people proclaiming not to speak English very well, actually have weight.  McGwire gets up there and instead of looking like a tragic figure who keeps hammering the same statement over and over, becomes a tragic hero.  He becomes baseball’s version of Jeffrey Wigand - a very credible whistleblower on the entire steroids era.  He admits the steroid use and talks about HGH (which we still don’t know enough about) and shows the same remorse and sadness that he showed Monday night.  If that happens, the media explosion that followed wouldn’t have trashed him.  Rather, I wager that they would have universally applauded him.  Much like Clinton in Congress, all people wanted from that hearing was blood.  They already assumed everyone testifying was guilty but they wanted someone to confirm it.  Had McGwire been able to do that, who knows what the last 4 years would have been like?  Maybe other players would have come out, attacked the issue head on, and admitted their guilt (instead of waiting until their name is leaked off the Mitchell report).  If Congress truly cared about the sport and cleaning it up they could’ve given anyone who wanted to admit their steroid use immunity from future prosecution so long as they told the truth.  McGwire, having been the first, would have been praised for his courage and his bravery rather than attacked for his cowardice and avoidance of the question(which we now know he only did to protect himself).

But that never happened and we’re left with a whole bunch of what-ifs and maybes.  Even if McGwire had been able to admit his guilt that day, maybe nothing would have changed - I don’t know.  Still, I would bet that there are plenty of other players who’d like to come out and admit what they did but they’re afraid.  Afraid of being prosecuted and afraid of the stigma that will permanently be attached to them.  This is what truly makes me sad.  Congress is an institution that’s supposed to protect the people and enforce the people’s institutions to abide by certain rules and regulations.  But in this particular instance, Congress didn’t do it’s job.  The government chose to hold possible future (pointless) prosecutions over the heads of the offenders rather than invite them to admit their wrongdoings in the hopes of cleaning up the sport.  Instead of the hearings leading to a stringent anti-doping policy and a renewed attempt by MLB to educate its fans about the dangers of steroids, the result has been 4 years worth of papercuts.  One guy here, one guy there.  Each admission stings, but less and less so and now we’re at the point where none of the admissions really hold that much weight anymore.  Baseball has stricter testing policies & penalties than it used to but guys only face the issue when their name is leaked off the Mitchell report.  No one is tackling the issue head on and so we’re forced to sit back and just twiddle our thumbs until the next name is made public.  Once a name leaks, the player usually comes out with some carefully crafted statement or press conference, the national media gets its panties in a bunch, decries the steroid era, trashes the reputation & the legacy of the player, spits them out, and then the story disappears a few weeks later. 

I for one am sick and tired of that stupid cycle.  If baseball were really serious about fixing this problem, they’d leak all the names on the Mitchell Report once and for all.  Put out a huge disclaimer that says these guys VOLUNTEERED for the testing and did so only because they were told the testing was CONFIDENTIAL and would not lead to any future legal proceedings.  Reinforce the notion that MLB didn’t really know how bad the doping was (a lie that most people will see through but a necessary one from a PR standpoint) and that most of the substances weren’t banned at the time.  Then add that MLB has a duty to protect the legacy of ALL of its players and seeing as there were over 300 players NOT on that list, it remains unfair for those guys to be associated with steroids.  Sure, the ensuing media firestorm would be something akin to baseball’s version of Watergate.  ESPN would probably devote an entire day’s worth of programming to it (or more) and Bob Ley would work more consecutive hours in one day than he has in years.  But eventually the furor would die down and baseball could put the final nail in the coffin of the “steroids” era.

I don’t know what the future holds.  When someone has a ton of money and plays a sport for a living, they’re always looking for an edge.  Players will continue to look for designer drugs or blood doping or whatever they can find to prolong their careers and make more money.  That’s just the culture we live in.  But it doesn’t always have to be this way.  Changing the culture of a sport takes time, but it can be done.  The only way to move forward is by learning from the past.  Find out who did what and instead of stigmatizing them, thank them.  Get to the heart of why they did what they did and attack the problem at the grassroots level.  I’m not saying you should deify these guys or hold appreciation days in their honor, but forgiving them for their mistakes will go much further than frothing at the mouth anytime someone tries to be honest about their past.  Unfortunately, baseball just doesn’t get it.  Releasing a brief statement applauding McGwire’s admission doesn’t go nearly far enough; MLB should be vigorously defending his admission.  Without condoning his behavior, MLB could certainly be supporting him and trying to quiet the sportswriters and pundits who continue to trash him.  The backlash that McGwire has suffered, along with MLB’s allowance of it only serves to discourage the next guy from making his own admission of guilt.  Here’s hoping that when Bud selig retires in 2 years the new commissioner will understand that to make a better future for the sport, he (or she) needs to come to grips with baseball’s dirty, ugly past…

16
Jan
10

Eagles’ season DIES in Dallas

Okay…the long awaited Eagles post.  Many apologies for the fact that this has taken so long to post but this week turned out to be surprisingly busy for me so deal with it.  I’ll post the wrap-up in traditional form here.  I’ll eventually post an entirely separate entry with my reflections on what the Eagles need to do this offseason.  Here goes…

COWBOYS 34, EAGLES 14 – Ugly.  There’s just no better word to sum up this game from the Eagles’ perspective than ugly.  We all thought that the week 17 shutout loss was bad, but somehow 6 more days to prepare for the same opponent gave us an even worse loss.  The Eagles were outplayed in EVERY facet of the game and their season died accordingly.  Face it, folks: the Cowboys are better than the Eagles right now.  As much as saying that makes me wanna vomit, it’s true.  This game actually had the most competitive 1st quarter of any of the weekend’s games.  Dallas came out and drove right down the field on the Eagles but thanks to some stupid penalties and a defensive stand, ended up punting.  After the Eagles went 1-2-3 punt (shocker, right?) Dallas drove right back down the field but the Eagles’ D held and the Cowboys punted again.  This time the Eagles ran 4 plays before they punted and Dallas turned its next drive into 7 points (helped by a VERY DUBIOUS Sheldon Brown 40 yd pass interference penalty in the endzone).  But the Eagles answered right back with a 76 yard TD from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin (who caught the ball, made a great move, and blew down the sideline untouched) and tied the score.  On Dallas’ next drive, QB Tony Romo floated a ball into the secondary that was intercepted by Eagles safety Sean Jones.  The Eagles were gonna get the ball DEEP in Dallas territory & were in prime position to take a 14-7 or, at the very least, a 10-7 lead.  Unfortunately, Dallas challenged the ruling on the field.  DESPITE THE FACT THAT EVERY REPLAY SHOWN WAS NOT CONCLUSIVE ENOUGH TO EASILY OVERTURN THE CALL, the referees overturned the call (screwing the Eagles twice in 5 minutes) and Dallas retained possession.  That was the moment the game turned.  Dallas never looked back and the Eagles never seriously threatened again. Though the score was 0-0 after one quarter it was 27-7 after 2.  That’s right – the Eagles defense gave up 27 POINTS IN THE SECOND QUARTER.  Words really can’t describe how badly the Eagles were outhit, out-thought, and just generally outplayed.  The Cowboys knew the Eagles’ psyche was very fragile coming into the game and they showed no mercy.  Had the Eagles scored on their first drive of the 3rd quarter they might’ve been able to make things interesting.  But they didn’t and actually fell behind 34-7 before grabbing a too-little-too-late TD to Desean Jackson.  So sad to see a game that started out rather competitive dissolve into an abject disaster of a blowout.   Here’s the basic review:

THE GOOD – Nothing.  Absolutely nothing was good about this game.  But there are 2 not totally awful things I will remember;

  • Jeremy Maclin – 7 catches, 146 yards, TD. The kid’s a player.  He got better as the season wore on and I think he & Desean will come out like gangbusters next season.  Throw in a hopefully healthy Cornelius Ingram and a hopefully re-worked, rejuvenated, and HEALTHY offensive line and the offense might be even better next year.
  • Desean Jackson – Though he had his usual quiet game against the Cowboys (3 catches, 14 yards, TD), one play stuck out for me.  As the blowout raged on in the middle of the 3rd quarter, Donovan McNabb threw an INT to Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins.  As Jenkins attempted to return the INT, Desean caught him from behind and STRIPPED THE BALL, forcing a fumble which the Eagles actually recovered.  When a team is getting blown out as badly as the Eagles were at that point, you look for the guys who keep playing hard no matter the score – those are the guys you wanna go to war with.  With that play Desean proved he’s one of those guys.  He could’ve easily packed it in and given up, but that play told me everything I needed to know about him.  Not only has become one of the most dangerous weapons in the entire league, he’s more mature than people give him credit for.  Though few people will remember this play, his teammates surely will.

 

THE BAD – For the second straight week, I don’t know where to begin. Here are the lowest of the low:

  • The refereeing was atrocious.  23 penalties for 228 yards combined and I think the teams set a playoff record with all of that malfeasance.  HOWEVER, while the numbers show the Cowboys had more penalties called on them, most of those calls came late in the game after the outcome was never in doubt (a cynic – not me, I swear – might say they were of the “even up” variety so that the numbers wouldn’t look biased in favor of the home team).  The truth is that ALL of the early calls went against the Eagles to the point at which I had to ask whether Jerry Jones bought off the refs when he bought his stupid stadium.  Sheldon Brown’s pass interference penalty was VERY borderline and the Sean Jones INT-that-wasn’t should not have been overturned (especially when using the criterion that 50 drunk guys in a bar would need to agree that the call was wrong in order to overturn it).  Though the Eagles would probably have lost the game anyway, the refs certainly helped Dallas out early on.
  • 13 rushes for the Eagles, 35 for the Cowboys.  Enough said.
  • Didn’t think it was possible, but the Eagles offensive line actually played WORSE than they did in the Week 17 game.  Much will be made about McNabb’s performance but his line really gave him no help whatsoever in this game.  Demarcus Ware absolutely TERRORIZED him all day and while he bounced some of his passes, he never had consistent time to throw the football (which they were doing way too much anyway).
  • The inability of the offense to sustain any type of drive.  During the Eagles’ 6 game winning streak, they actually managed quite a few lengthy drives that took time off the clock, resulted in points, and gave their defense a nice long breather.  Against the Cowboys, the Eagles offense repeatedly failed to mount any type of drive and as a result, left the defense twisting in the wind.  No wonder Romo was so easily able to pick it apart 2 weeks in a row. 
  • The Defense in general.  Gave up at least 20 points in 8 out of its last 10 games (& that includes the 6 game winning streak).
  • The pass rush.  Anyone seen it?  Trent Cole is a great player (and the Eagles’ only 3 down lineman) but the Eagles will continue to waste his talent until they find somebody to consistently provide pressure on the QB from the other side of the field.
  • The linebackers.  Stewart Bradley tearing his ACL in training camp really did kill the defense this year.  The whole season was a revolving door of linebackers and schemes and the last 2 weeks against the Cowboys (much like last year against the Cardinals) exposed all of the holes.  Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott has a lot of work to do this offseason.

 

THE VERDICT: An ugly finish to the season.  But the fact of the matter is that right now the Cowboys are a superior team.  Yes, it makes me nauseous as hell to admit that but there’s no denying it.  Dallas straight up ABUSED & DESTROYED the Eagles 2 weeks in a row.  Romo is playing better than ever, they have a nice mix of run/pass on offense, and their defense is playing as good as any defense in the league right now.  On the defensive line Ware, Anthony Spencer, and Jay Ratliff get consistent pressure on opposing QB’s and as a result, they cover up a lot of the potential flaws in their secondary.  The Eagles offense stalled for 2 straight weeks against these guys, so they must be doing something right.  The Eagles should be ashamed of themselves for the effort they put out in Week 17 but the playoff loss will sting more because of the early season promise the Eagles showed.  Dallas exposed a lot of the Eagles’ flaws and now they have a whole offseason to figure out what the hell to do about it.

UP NEXT: Golfing and soul searching.  The Eagles have a serious problem on the defensive side of the football.  By my estimation they need at least 3 new impact players next year (a shutdown cover CB who’s over 6 feet tall and ACTUALLY TACKLES, a pass rushing specialist opposite Trent Cole, and a young LB who can stop the run effectively) to help fix it.  I’ll be doing an entire separate post on what I think the Eagles need to do this offseason so I won’t get too much into that now.  Looking back on this season though, it’s truly a shame that the Eagles managed to rip off a 6 game winning streak, finish 11-5, and yet are 1 and done in the playoffs.  But if you look at their schedule a little more closely, they beat a lot of bad teams.  Now while they have no control over that, they DO have control over how they play the good teams.  This year?  They beat one team that finished over .500 (a Falcons team that was missing half its starters when they played the Eagles, finished 9-7 & missed the playoffs).  So perhaps the Eagles weren’t quite as good as we thought/hoped.  A long offseason awaits (and a LOT of questions must be answered), but I fully expect the Eagles to be one of the best teams in the NFC next year.

13
Jan
10

flyers continue to roll…

I’ve fallen so far behind on my posting that I’ve missed discussing not one but TWO Flyers games.  I will rectify that now:

  • FLYERS 4, LIGHTNING 1 – Lost in what turned out to be a disastrous Saturday night for Eagles fans was that while the Birds were getting abused by the Cowboys, the Flyers were in the process of ripping off their 3rd straight win and 7th victory in their last 9 games.  The Flyers jumped on the Lightning early and really took control of the first period thanks to some physical play and a fight by Scott Hartnell.  I’ve been ragging on him for the last couple weeks because he’s been playing so poorly but he came out determined in this one.  The Flyers scored first again thanks to a Claude Giroux Power Play goal off a great feed from Mike Richards.  No scoring in the second period but the Flyers controlled the pace of the game and continued to play very well.  They were rewarded for their play 4 minutes into the 3rd period when Hartnell took a great pass from Danny Briere on a 2-on-1 break and fired the puck past Tampa goalie (and former Flyer) Antero Niittymaki to make the score 2-0.  It was Hartnell’s first goal in 17 games and a long time in coming.  Though the Lightining made it 2-1 with about 7 minutes to go, the Flyers hung tough and added 2 more goals courtesy of 3rd line center Blair Betts.  His first was off a rebound and his second was an empty netter.  All in all it was a great night for the Flyers.  They really seem to be adapting well to coach Peter Laviolette’s attacking system and continue to get excellent play from goalie Michael Leighton.  Leighton actually became the first Flyer goalie to go unbeaten in his first 8 starts with the team (he’s 7-0-1) since Dominic Roussel (remember him? I DO!!) 16 years ago.  Nice to see the Flyers give Philly fans a little something to cheer about on what was otherwise a miserable evening. 
  • FLYERS 6, STARS 3 – And the Flyers just keep on rolling.  Last night, with the city of Philadelphia still in mourning over the Eagles’ loss, the Flyers crushed the visiting Dallas Stars for their 8th win in 10 games.  They’ve scored first in all 10 and are really beginning to show why so many people picked them as early season favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup.  Their 4th straight win was much like the previous 3 in that they were all over the Stars early.  My favorite target Scott Hartnell actually got them on the board first with his 2nd goal in as many games chipping home a rebound on a Flyers power play.  Though Dallas tied it up in the first minute of the 2nd period, the Flyers then scored 5 straight goals in the next 28 minutes worth of hockey to go up 6-1 with about 9 minutes to play in the 3rd period.  The Flyers offense is absolutely on FIRE right now!!  They got 6 goals from 6 different players last night and those included 2 power play goals and a shorthanded goal.  Though 14 out of the 18 guys in the lineup got a point, Ian Laperriere, Simon Gagne, and Darroll Powe stood out with a goal and an assist each.  One of the most remarkable stretches of Flyers hockey in recent memory has been made possible by 3 things: the players are getting healthy, the goalie has been playing beautifully, and the Flyers’ special teams have been firing on all cylinders.  The health of the team is as good as it’s been all season and that’s exactly why all 4 lines seem to be functioning so well.  Being able to run out the same lineups night after night is definitely a key to playing consistent hockey.  Goalie Michael Leighton is as hot as any goalie in the NHL right now (he’s 8-0-1 in his last 9 games) and he’s relegated starting goalie Ray Emery (who’s now healthy enough to return) to backup duty.  Finally, I can’t say enough about the Flyers’ special teams.  The power play has climbed all the way back to 3rd in the league and the penalty kill has killed off 30 out of its last 32 shorthanded situations.  As the NHL gears up for the Winter Olympics, it’s imperative that the Flyers continue to rip off wins.  They play 6 of their next 8 games at home and will see the Rangers, Capitals, and Penguins again before the month is over.  Hopefully by the end of the month, the Flyers will have climbed all the way back into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.  They’re currently 7th but only 2 points back of 5th place Boston.  It’s great to see the team doing its best to make the city of Philadelphia forget all about the Eagles. 
  • NEXT UP: THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – The Flyers have scored 23 goals in their last 4 games and look to continue their hot streak tomorrow night in Toronto.  Last week the Flyers blew the Leafs out 6-2 at home in a game that was marked by 4 fights and 2 misconduct penalties.  The Leafs aren’t going anywhere fast so look for them to try and be very physical with the Flyers and take them off their game.  Here’s hoping they fail just as miserably as they did last week!!
13
Jan
10

wild post wednesday!!!

Okay…so I realize I still owe everyone my Eagles/Dallas post-mortem.  It’s coming I swear.  But there have been so many crazy sports stories running around the last few days that trying to keep up with all of them is driving me nuts.  So I’m just gonna throw things out one post at a time at various points during the day today.  I wanna take my time with the Eagles post so that one will probably show up last and later on this evening.  If you wanna know what’s coming up today, here’s the list:

  • FLYERS KEEP ON ROLLING
  • MCGWIRE & HIS STEROIDS ADMISSION
  • CARROLL TO THE SEAHAWKS
  • KIFFIN BACK TO USC
  • HECKERT TO CLEVELAND
  • EAGLES/DALLAS DEBACLE
13
Jan
10

wild-card weekend (part 3)

CARDINALS 51, PACKERS 45, OT - Best game of the weekend by far.  All 3 of the other games were basically over by halftime and this one was definitely headed that way with Arizona leading Green Bay 17-0 at the end of the first quarter.  But the Packers didn’t give up and to borrow from Bill Simmons, “[with] balls, heart, and resourcefulness” made a game of it.  The Packers, down 31-10 when they got the ball in the 3 rd quarter, could have easily folded up the tents.  But after a TD, a surprise onside kick (which they RECOVERED), and another TD, the score was 31-24 Cardinals with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.  At that point anyone who was watching had the feeling that the last team to have the ball was gonna win the game.  After trading TD’s to make it 38-31, Arizona had the ball with about 12 minutes left in the game.  For the only time in the second half, a defense held.  The Packers forced a punt and now all of a sudden Green Bay had an opportunity to tie the game.  They quickly cashed in (thanks to long completions to TE Jermichael Finley and WR Donald Driver) and with 10:57 to go, the game was all of a sudden tied at 38.  After a relatively boring and lackluster start to Wild-Card weekend, fans finally had a game with drama.  QB Kurt Warner (more on him shortly) led the Cardinals on a 6 minute TD drive to take the lead 45-38 only to see the Packers answer right back with a TD of their own to tie the score at 45.  With 1:52 left on the clock just about everybody expected Warner to lead the Cardinals to a game-winning score.  He did his part and with 9 seconds left the Cardinals lined up for a 34 yard chip shot field goal.  So of course what happens? K Neil Rackers MISSES THE FG!!  He’d only missed one FG from inside 40 yards ALL YEAR but in the biggest game of the season, he straight up shanks the game-winning kick.  Like most unbiased fans I was excited for overtime.  I figured because both defenses had done nothing of note in the 2nd half that whoever won the coin toss would probably win the game.  That prediction looked to be right on when on the first play of OT, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers ran a play-action pass and threw deep down the middle for WR Greg Jennings.  Jennings was WIDE OPEN and had his man beat and would’ve easily raced the length of the field for the game-winning TD…but RODGERS OVERTHREW HIM!!  Crazy stuff.  The ending 2 plays later was even more bizarre.  Cardinals CB Michael Adams comes untouched on a blitz of Rodgers who fumbles/passes the ball into the waiting arms of LB Karlos Dansby who grabs the ball and scampers 17 yards for the game-winning TD.  All that offense, all those yards, and all those points and the game ends on a DEFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN!! Absolutely nuts.  As crazy as the game turned out to be, a few things stood out:

  • WARNER IS THE MAN – As bad as Joe Flacco was in the Ravens’ victory, Warner was that good in the Cardinals’.  His stat line was ridiculous: 29 of 33 for 379 yards, 5 TD’s, and a passer rating of 154.1.  No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – HE HAD MORE TD PASSES THAN INCOMPLETIONS!!  A truly remarkable performance by a truly remarkable QB.  Going into the weekend I was on the fence about his future Hall-of-Fame candidacy but after that performance Sunday night, there’s no doubt in my mind.  Kurt Warner BELONGS in the Hall-of-Fame.  Period.
  • FAVRE WHO? – Even in a losing effort, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers proved that he belongs among the elite QB’s in the NFL.  His stat line – 29 of 42 for 422 yards, 4 TD’s, a rushing TD, an INT, and a passer rating of 121.3 – though not as gaudy as Warner’s, was still as impressive as any we’ve seen in a while.  The fact that it came in a loss certainly isn’t a reflection of his play.  He, much like the rest of the team, could’ve gone in the tank early when they were down.  But like all great QB’s past & present, he rallied his troops around him, got them to fight back, and even had a legit shot to win the game.  You can’t ask anything more of your franchise QB.  Looks like the Green Bay front office knew what they were doing when they said goodbye to Brett Favre. 
  • PACKER TRIPLETS – Besides Aaron Rodgers, 2 other Packers players had fantastic days – WR Greg Jennings (8 catches, 130 yards, TD) and TE Jermichael Finley (6 catches, 159 yards).  Packer fans have got to be excited at the potential of these 3 guys next year.  People knew about Jennings because he was a Favre favorite in Favre’s final years, but nobody knew what to make of Finley.  They knew he had size and talent and skill but weren’t sure where it would lead.  As the year went on, Finley gained Rodgers trust and his emergence was definitely a factor in the Packers’ late season run.  With Rodgers, Jennings, and Finley, the Packers offense looks to be in very good hands. 
  • NO BOLDIN, NO PROBLEM – With Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin sidelined by injury, many people thought the Cardinals offense might suffer.  Apparently, their fears were COMPLETELY unfounded.  WR Steve Breaston filled in for Boldin earlier this year and did quite well so there was little doubt about him.  However, Sunday night’s game saw the emergence of WR Early Doucet.  Doucet, an LSU product, has been “in development” for quite some time but was basically the forgotten man amongst the WR’s (happens when you’re 4th on the depth chart).  Cameras even caught Kurt Warner chewing him out early in the game for screwing up a play.  Doucet rebounded quite nicely finishing with 6 catches for 77 yards and not one but TWO TD’s.  Add Breaston’s 7 catch, 125 yard, 1 TD performance and Larry Fitzgerald’s 6 catch, 82 yard, 1 TD performance and I’d say that the Cardinals offense didn’t really miss Anquan this weekend.  Makes you wonder if after the season Boldin might find himself on a new team.  His contract demands continue to be a pain the Cardinals’ ass and clearly their offense functions just fine without him. 

UP NEXT: THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS.  In what’s sure to be the divisional round game with the highest expectations, the Arizona Cardinals travel to New Orleans on Saturday to play the Saints.  Considering the Saints had the #1 offense in the league this year & the Cardinals just hung 51 points on the Packers, this game is fixing to be a shootout.  The Cardinals defense couldn’t stop the Packers offense last week and the Saints offense is even better than Green Bay’s.  The Saints defense wasn’t all that bad this year but it was by no means elite.  Teams were able to throw on the Saints’ secondary and had a lot of success moving the ball up and down the field.  For all of their early season success and talk of going undefeated, the Saints actually limped to the finish line losing their last 3 games by a combined score of 67-23.  The fact that 2 of those losses came at home and in games that the Saints were trying very hard to win should concern every Saints fan.  Arizona is a playoff-tested,veteran team peaking at the right time who won’t be fazed going into the Superdome, especially having watched the Buccaneers win there last month.  Despite the short week, Arizona has got to be feeling good about its chances.  The Saints haven’t won in over a month and history has shown that it’s very difficult for teams to just “turn it on” come playoff time.  While people think this will be the most exciting game of the year, games with the huge expectations like this one always seem to fail to live up to the hype.  I expect New Orleans to come out looking a little rusty & Arizona might even come out looking a little tired.  I hope it turns out to be the wild shoot-out we’d all like it to be, but I have my doubts.




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