Weird But We'll Take It: Sixers Win Ugly Season Opener Against Nuggets

Weird But We'll Take It: Sixers Win Ugly Season Opener Against Nuggets

How many times are you gonna win a game when every non-frontcourt player
you have shoots a combined 17-57? Well, the answer is at least "once,"
as that's exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers did tonight in their
season opener hosting the Denver Nuggets. The Sixers shot a teamwide
35%, but forced 22 turnovers, blocked 11 shots, and held the much-hyped
Nuggets to a resounding 37.5% from the field themselves, leading for the
great majority of the game and fending off a fourth-quarter surge to
ruin Andre Iguodala's already-mixed homecoming at the WFC. No Big Macs,
but Sixers fans will have to do with an 84-75 victory.

The game
MVP—and the league MVP, if you believe the chants reigning down from the
Wells Fargo Center—was Spencer Hawes. The Big GOPper put up 16 and 12,
with two dimes, two steals and two threes (!!), eliciting cheers like
you wouldn't believe from the Sixer faithful. The most impressive stat
on the night for Spence, though, has to be his five blocks—legit blocks,
too, and in big spots—tying his all-time high for the Sixers. Hawes'
post defense tonight was certainly as good as I've ever seen
it—admittedly not saying much, but still. It appears that if last
season's early dominance was a fluke for Spencer, then it's going to be a
yearly fluke, since he was great all pre-season and looked like a
friggin' all-star out there tonight. (And by my count, this is his second-straight home opener where he's gotten his name chanted—one more and he must have the all-time Sixer record.)

second star for the Sixers tonight—relatively speaking, anyway—was Jrue
Holiday. Jrue had a rough night from the field, starting off with a
couple three-point plays but then drying up for the majority of the
second and third quarters. But even if he took his time rising to the
moment, he certainly did in the end, as a third three-point play, a dish
to Spencer and another timely hoop in consecutive possessions helped
ice the game for the Sixers as the Nuggets cut Philly's lead down to
one. Holiday also distributed excellently as a drive-and-kick offense
intiator, ending with 11 dimes and just three turnovers. (Coach Collins
suggested Holiday might finish the season top five in the league in
assists, and...well, it's not impossible. We'll see after more than one

Aside from those two, it was a lot of Yes, But and No,
But with our guys. Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright drained some
threes early but went Kanye West-cold for the game's remainder, ending a
combined 4-15 from deep. Nick Young was typically sloppy early but
redeemed himself with some timely fourth-quarter hoops. Evan Turner
was...Evan Turner, ending with five points, six rebounds, two assists,
three turnovers and four fouls. It wasn't exactly a championship
performance from our guys tonight.

Still, the defense was there,
and even if the offense didn't always work, at least it appears to be
coherent. Jrue Holiday has the keys to the offense, and makes most of
his plays penetrating and kicking to his bigs spotting up on the wings
and elbows, or kicking out to his shooters behind the arc, with the
pick-and-pop with Spencer and Lavoy as a back-up plan and Turner and
Nick Young as last-resort options if the play breaks down. You'd like to
see it run a little smoother than it was tonight—like it was in the
pre-season for instance—but as Collins himself said, credit is due to
the Denver defense, and even though they were without offensive dynamo
Danilo Gallinari, this is a good team the Sixers beat tonight. Let's not
ask for too much out of Game One.

Anyway, obviously a lot to
work on, but a win is a win, and it's the first one they've had on
opening night since 2006, when they beat the Hawks 88-75 behind 32
points from Allen Iverson. Next up is a home-and-home with the New York
Knicks over Sunday and Monday, with hopefully more of a chance (against a
division rival) to see exactly what's going on from this team. I
wouldn't read a ton into anything that happened tonight—minus that
Spence might really be due for another early-season kick—but again, 1-0
is pretty damn nice.

Oh, and about Andre Iguodala—I hope it
wasn't any of you at the game booing him. I'm not gonna launch into a
defense of his eight years spent with the Philadelphia 76ers—if you
don't get it by now, you probably never will—but he served this team
ably through eight years, a lot of then more thin than thick, and I
don't understand how right-thinking Sixer fans could have anything but
love for the guy. There were at least two nice moments for Dre amidst
the booing: Video played of his Game Six heroics versus the Bulls, which
got even some of the haters clapping, and a post-game embrace with Jrue
Holiday, later revealed by Holiday to be 'Dre saying the two were
"family for life." Damn straight.)

Photo From Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

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.”