Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Well we had one of those dreaded Philly
sports days yesterday. All three teams in action lost and lost ugly. On
the "Scary to No Big Deal" spectrum, the Flyers take up the scary mantle
because they continue to play down to inferior opponents, making us wonder if they've lost what made them superior, and of course, the playoffs begin next week. The Sixers fall somewhere in the middle in that they got smoked by the Celtics,
but it didn't sting quite as badly because even though we're amped up
for them to be in the playoffs, the expectations aren't quite as high
for them as the Flyers. Plus, the Celtics are undeniably good. The scary
element really is just in that they could be the team that the Sixers
face in round one. Then there's the Phillies, who were slammed back to
earth with a 7-1 loss to the Mets. The opening series sweep is
officially over, and the first loss of the season came to the hated
rival. Otherwise, no big deal, but it was annoying, especially given
that the Flyers were crapping the bed up in Ottawa something fierce, and
the Sixers had the look of the one-and-done many people already thought
they were. 

So what do you have for us, Wednesday? 

At least for the Phillies, there's the hope of seeing some good
baseball. If last night's loss, ugly as it was, shook you at all, you
can get out. I try not to be one of these Fannier Than Thou types, but
seriously, leave. This team is so good that I'm genuinely excited to see
its fifth starter pitch today. It's Phillies-Mets. Screw last night.
Last night is dead. If you got a schedule magnet, take a quick look and
see how dead last night is. The Phils lost on an awful weather night,
which is no excuse considering that it didn't seem to bother the Mets,
but for some reason it makes it easier to discount for me. 

With the staggered start times, I got to see Cole pitch in the first
inning, get into a little bad luck, then pitch his ass off to get out of
it. It felt great to see him work with two runners in scoring position
and David Wright at the plate. It felt as good as seeing the Flyers
score an early goal on the power play. Unfortunately, both teams crapped
out shortly thereafter. The Phillies get a shot to redeem immediately
themselves, with Joe Blanton (he of the World Series W and HR Blantons)
facing Mike Pelfrey tonight. And for me, that inning alone was enough of
a reminder that there's nothing to worry about with Cole, who just had a
rough night. We also saw a few more glimmers from the offense,
especially Jimmy Rollins' continued work from the three hole. How about
that bunt single and stolen base? That was f*cking awesome. 

Tonight's opposing starter got blasted in his debut, including giving up a grand slam on his way to an opening day loss. (Side
note for people who like to say that fourth starters play other teams'
fourth starters, etc.: We're in the second series of the season, and
already, we're seeing a fifth starter play the opening day guy for the
other team. It's fantastic that the Phils have four aces and a pretty
good fifth, but with them and throughout baseball, the matchups are
going to vary based on days off, injuries, and skipped starts.)

But the ass-whooping at the hands of the Mets last night could be a
blessing in disguise (if you're still following along with my
Flyers-shame-and-coffee-induced optimism). If you listened to what Charlie Manuel had to say last night after the loss,
he wasn't down in the face like Peter Laviolette was, and with good
reason for both. Charlie knows he has a great hand, but he also knows
that some competition from the Mets now and throughout the season could
be a good thing. The Flyers got complacent somewhere around the All-Star
Game, and look where they are at the moment. The same could happen to
the Phillies if they don't have competition in the standings. Even
before the season, it was looking like the NL East had improved
throughout its ranks. Some competition could be exactly what the Phils
need to keep their minds off the magazine covers and on the field. 

This group hasn't really had a problem with staying grounded, but
we're now entering a third straight season of very lofty expectations,
amplified by the re-addition of Cliff Lee. Even without Chase Utley for a
while, the expectations are no less than a World Series win. 

While I'm no bandwagon Flyers fan, it does help to ease the pain of
one team's loss to know I can just put on another's game the next night
and know they have a damn good shot at winning, even if it's fifth
starter night. The Union also play a US Open Cup game against the DC United
before a huge early season matchup with the Red Bulls at PPL Park on
Sunday. And yes, I'm still really looking forward to the NHL playoffs
and fully expecting this team to show up in the first round.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”