No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

During his infamous press conference meltdown after the home loss to the
Magic in late February, Doug Collins offered a fairly simple
explanation for downturn the Sixers had taken in the '12-'13 season. "We
made a huge deal and we have nobody playing a part of that deal,"
claimed Collins. "How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala,
Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and have nothing in return playing?
That’s tough to overcome. That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any
outs. That’s a fact."

This remark of Collins rubbed some people
the wrong way--especially as he went on to isolate Spencer Hawes'
production that night versus Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed 19 rebounds to
Spence's one--and some of those claimed that blaming injuries was a
cheap excuse for a coach who had simply lost his team. But really,
Collins was just stating the facts--the team had traded away its
most important player and its two best prospects, and also parted with
key players like Lou Williams and Elton Brand at least partly in
anticipation of making such a trade, and as of January 18th
(Richardson's last game as a Sixer before his season-ending knee
surgery), they were getting absolutely nothing in return. No coach,
regardless of command over his team, could overcome that without it
taking its toll on the team's win-loss record.

The Sixers dropped to six back of the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night
with their loss to the Miami Heat, with only six games to go and the
Bucks owning the tiebreaker between the teams--meaning that, officially,
the Sixers will be lottery-bound for the first time in Doug Collins'
three seasons in Philadelphia. It's a sad, but unsurprising way for the
season to end--despite residing in the #9 spot in the East standings for
most of the season, the Sixers haven't really been within striking
distance of the playoff picture since the All-Star break, and for a
while there it seemed a near-certainty the team would drop to the bottom
third of the standings.

One word is likely to appear in just about every story about the
Sixers' soon-ending season: Disappointing. This was supposed to be the
year we took the great leap forward, with an exciting, developing young
core (led by the recently acquired star big man Bynum) pushing the team
into the upper strata of the Eastern Conference, maybe getting a playoff
series win that wasn't injury-assisted, and maybe even winning a game
or two against those damn Miami Heat at some point. It didn't happen,
obviously, and now a team that once seemed like one of the rising teams
in the league goes into the off-season with far more questions than
answers.

Injuries are obviously the primary culprit here, since Richardson
missed more than half season after starting off the year very
promisingly, and of course Bynum never played a minute for the Liberty
Ballers. But even with the injuries, should we still be disappointed
that the team didn't at least make the playoffs? After all, we still
have much of the same core that pushed the Celtics to seven games in the
Conference Semi-Finals last year. We signed veterans that were supposed
to patch some of the holes left by Lou Williams and Elton Brand. And we
did benefit this year from a next-level jump from Jrue Holiday and a
big step up from Thaddeus Young, So could this team have pushed for the
playoffs, even without Bynum and J-Rich contributing anything?

My gut reaction is to say no. We knew we'd miss Andre Iguodala on
defense, but I wasn't really prepared for the way losing him and Lou
Williams would affect our offense as well--without their athleticism and
transition play, we lost a lot of the running element that had made up
our offensive identity the last few years, as the team dropped out of
the top ten in fast break points for the first time since 2006. And of
course, there was the lack of free-throw shooting--Sweet Lou and 'Dre
were far and away #1 and #2 on our team last year at getting to the
line, for a team that already was getting there at a historically low
rate. Without them, only this year's Orlando Magic are saving us from
holding the all-time record for fewest free throws shot in a season.
Without those easy points on the break and at the line, the team has
been a bottom-five offense pretty much all season.

Inconsistency was probably always going to get this team in the end,
as well. Only Thad and maybe Jrue---and you could probably throw J-Rich
in there when he was healthy at season's start--could be relied upon
night-in, night-out to produce for the team, with players like Evan
Turner, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young and even Dorell Wright alternating
extended hot streaks with long, long stretches of going in the tank.
Your team can survive having one or two key guys like that, but when
your team consists of too many of them, it can lead to disaster when a
couple of them start slumping for weeks at the same time, as happened to
the Sixers in early 2013, when they lost 10 of their first 14 games of
the year and basically fell out of post-season consideration.

And of course, let's not forget that we didn't exactly have a huge
margin for error last season. The team's surprisingly hot start and even
more surprising (though hardly unqualified) playoff success last year
belied their final regular season record, which was a middling
35-31--they finished as the #8 seed, and looked for a couple of weeks
like they might drop out of the playoffs altogether in favor of an
improving Bucks team that eventually finished four games out. When you
consider that all the front office basically did with that roster was to
subtract from it--of the newcomers on the team, only Dorell Wright has
had any kind of sustained positive impact, and he's not exactly a huge
difference-maker--it's hardly a shock that the team isn't making the
post-season this year.

So no, when you assume the massive losses to injury, I don't think
you can really call it a disappointment that the Sixers aren't making
the playoffs this year. But that said, the real disappointment for
Sixers fans isn't even about this season--it's about the next five, and
beyond. We believed, possibly naively, that Andrew Bynum could become a
foundation piece for this team for the next half-decade, someone for the
Sixers to build around, but now it looks entirely likely that he'll
never play a game for the Sixers, leaving the team confused,
directionless, and just kind of stuck. That's a far bitterer pill to
swallow than not being able to watch this Sixers team play basketball in
May.

There's a ton of important decisions to be made with this team in
the off-season that will dictate the path of this team for seasons to
come, and we'll talk a lot about them in the weeks to come--for better
or worse, it's all we're going to have to talk about soon enough.
But for 2012-13, it was basically over for the Sixers before it even
began. This season was one long succumbing to the inevitable, and as
depressing as that is, it's hard to really call it all that
disappointing.

Eagles 'not comfortable' after historic 3-0 start

Eagles 'not comfortable' after historic 3-0 start

They’re not just beating people. They’re destroying people. They're not just winning. They're doing it in historic fashion. And they're not just 3-0. They're 3-0 with a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback.

This just doesn't happen.

Yet it's happening.

“I know a lot of people said the first two games we didn’t play anybody, stuff like that,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “But we just play whoever’s on the schedule, and it’s hard to win every week in the NFL. Definitely encouraging to start out the way we have."

The Eagles are only the second team in NFL history with a new head coach to win its first three games by 15 or more points. The 2007 Steelers, whose head coach Mike Tomlin was across the sideline Sunday afternoon, also did it.

But that team’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was in his fourth season and had already won a Super Bowl.

This team’s quarterback was a third-stringer a month ago.

Unprecedented stuff.

Nobody saw this coming, and if they say they did, they’re lying.

The Eagles improved to 3-0 Sunday afternoon with a 34-3 shellacking of a Steelers team a lot of people expect to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, a team that hadn’t lost by 31 points in 27 years (see Instant Replay).

"We got that full head of steam," rookie tailback Wendell Smallwood said. "I think we're going to keep rolling. We're not going to sit back and get comfortable at all. We're going to keep it going and keep rolling."

The Eagles go into the bye week one of five 3-0 teams in the NFL, and the only one with a rookie coach.

They’ve outscored their three opponents by 19, 15 and 31 points. They have the hottest rookie quarterback in NFL history and a defense that hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown.

“I’ll bet there’s a lot of new Eagles fans today,” Bradham said. “We have a lot of hardcore fans here, but I’m sure they started coming out of the woodwork all over the country when they saw our score today.”

The Eagles are 3-0 for only the ninth time in their 84-year history. They’re in first place in the NFC East and they’ve played extraordinary football on both sides of the ball (see 10 Observations).

The Browns are the Browns. The Bears are the Bears.

But a win over the Steelers? That’s legit.

“We saw this game as kind of a respect game, an offense of that caliber going against a defense like us?” safety Rodney McLeod said. “It was a matchup to see and we came out victorious. But it doesn’t end here. We’ve got a lot of work to do."

The Steelers hadn’t lost by 31 points since a 41-10 loss to the Bengals in 1989. And they had never lost by 31 points to an NFC team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Unprecedented stuff.

“We still can be better,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think of this team.

“Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back. We know we can be better. We will go and watch the film (Monday). I’m sure there were a lot of mistakes, including myself, to correct. Everybody stays focused.”

Considering the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, it’s easy to get carried away right now.

It’s been a seven-year drought since Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook led that 2008 team to the NFC Championship Game.

Finally, some new names to be excited about. Carson Wentz. Rodney McLeod. Wendell Smallwood. 

“This is what I think everybody here fully expected,” center Jason Kelce said. “When you’ve been in the league for a while, you can tell when you have good players, a good team.

“I think, even in the offseason, I think everybody, just looking at the roster we had, I thought we were very underrated in the media’s eye, (and) honestly, it seems like our team always does better when the media doesn’t expect us to do well.

“Obviously, nobody expected Sam (Bradford) to get traded right before the season and Carson to get the start. But he deserves all the praise he’s getting. He’s been the most consistent player through these first three games. What Carson has done, in my opinion, as a rookie, has been incredible.”

Wentz is the first quarterback to go 3-0 the first three weeks of his rookie season without throwing an interception (see photo gallery).

On Sunday, he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in a game, complete 74 percent of his passes and throw two or more TDs and no interceptions.

Like we said … unprecedented stuff. 

Historic stuff.

Simply unbelievable stuff.

But the defense has been just as impressive. Since giving up a touchdown in the second quarter to the Bears, the Eagles have faced 19 consecutive possessions without allowing a touchdown.

They’ve allowed a TD on only one of the last 31 drives they’ve defended.

The last time the defense gave up a second-half touchdown, Pat Shurmur was the head coach. 

“I think we still have a lot of room to grow,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s three games, but I feel like every single week we keep improving, keep fixing our mistakes.”

The Eagles have outscored their three opponents by a combined 65 points, which is the second-largest differential in Eagles history after three games.

The 1980 team outscored its first three opponents by 88 points on the way to Super Bowl XV.

“Everyone is starting to play kind of inspired football,” Wentz said. “Everybody is believing in each other and it’s been three great team wins. The defense is playing phenomenal, the special teams are doing a great job and offensively we’re doing our part.

“I think everyone around here was confident, and we knew we had the ability, but we had to keep chopping. ‘Keep chopping away’ is a motto that we have, and we’ve done a good job of it.”

How far can chopping take them?

“Our goal is going to the Bowl and get that trophy,” Bradham said. “That’s our goal and that’s what we want to do. It’s still early. There’s a lot of football to go. And we know we have to keep fighting to get there.”

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Eagles in awe of Carson Wentz after another stunning performance

Eagles in awe of Carson Wentz after another stunning performance

Carson Wentz clearly had some 60,000 fans cheering for him during Sunday’s 34-3 drubbing of the cross-state Pittsburgh Steelers (see Instant Replay).

He had a few fans on the sideline too. 

During Sunday’s game, when the Eagles’ offense was on the field, defensive teammates couldn’t help but stop to watch the electrifying rookie. 

“I watch him all the time,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said, cracking a smile. “It’s impressive what he’s doing, man. I think everybody is waiting to see him fall off or see a bad decision or see a rookie mistake. But so far, they haven’t come. He’s been the key reason why we’re 3-0. 

“What he’s doing is great. It’s amazing. It’s something that I think he’ll downplay, but there’s no doubt about it, what he’s doing is special. I think it’s a testament to his preparation, his demeanor.”

Against the Steelers, Wentz put forth his best game of his young three-game career. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and had a passer rating of 125.9 (see 10 observations)

Wentz became the first NFL rookie ever to have a game with 300-plus passing yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a completion percentage above 74. He also became the third rookie in Eagles history to throw for 300-plus yards with two touchdowns in a game.

Wentz actually outperformed Pittsburgh starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. 

"I thought he played great,” Roethlisberger said. “He won the game."

What Wentz is doing is special. 

So special even his teammates on the other side of the football are taking time to notice in between preparing for their next series. 

“You find yourself hearing the crowd getting excited,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “You’re watching the plays and we’re jumping up and down getting excited with them. You find yourself doing those things. When the offense is doing what they’re doing and then we’re doubling back and doing what we’re doing, it’s just tough to spot.”

“Oh yeah. It feels good,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “It’s great for them to move the chains and Carson does a good job. He’s seasoned. It’s only his third game in the NFL but he’s seems like a vet.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 769 yards. He has five touchdowns and still hasn’t thrown an interception in 102 career passes.  

On Sunday against the Steelers, he continued to wow onlookers. His best feat of the night came on an off-schedule play in the third quarter. With the Eagles still just up by 10 points, Wentz rolled right and found Darren Sproles, who caught the ball and ran the rest of the way for a 73-yard touchdown pass.

“We always say, hey a play’s never dead,” Wentz said. 

It was just the 16th 73-yard-plus touchdown pass in Eagles history. 

Maybe Wentz has always been this confident in himself, but now his teammates are undoubtedly behind him. 

“He continues to blow my mind away,” receiver Josh Huff said. “The poise he has, the way he commands the huddle, all the guys listening to him. He brings a ton of energy every day, especially on game days. … The team’s with him right now and that’s one of the reasons we played so well today. We have a good quarterback … a great quarterback.”

While Philadelphia will certainly be engulfed in Wentz-mania in the coming weeks, the buzz within the locker room is palpable too. 

“I told [head coach Doug Pederson] being 10 years in, this kid is inspiring me,” tight end Brent Celek said. “He’s adding youth to my game just by the way he’s acting, being in the huddle, taking command, it’s beyond impressive. It’s great. We have to keep it going. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re the greatest team, but I’m excited with how he’s playing and he’s elevating everybody else’s play by the way he’s handling it.”

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