You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

It's official—this season is last season in reverse. Instead of starting
out weirdly red hot and gradually cooling off over the course of their
season until they hit super rock bottom, they're gonna start from
super-rock-bottom this time and get weirdly red hot at year's end. Going
in this direction is certainly more perplexing than the way things went
down last season, and possibly even more frustrating, but it's arguably
much less cruel, since at least it's too far late in the year for this
team for trick us into thinking they can win a division or challenge the
Heat or something.

The Sixers beat the Blazers last night at the WFC, thus making it
three wins out of four for the Ballers in their recent homestand, with
the fourth game being a narrow loss against the Heat that really should
count as a win because c'mon. Considering the three wins were all
against decent-to-very-good opponents, and considering the Sixers had
lost 12 of 13 prior, this is a pretty remarkable stretch, and almost
certainly the best that the Sixers have played all season. Of course,
this comes amidst the news that Andrew Bynum will not play a minute for
the Sixers this year, and amidst the obvious realization that the only
thing wins can do for the Sixers at this point is hurt their draft
position. Of course.

Some things about this stretch are explicable, and encouraging. Jrue
Holiday has come back to life, back to reality over the last four
games, averaging nearly 23 a game on 50% shooting over the last four
games, along with nine assists, five boards and just two turnovers per
game–the All-Star numbers he was putting up before going ice-cold on the
Sixers' most recent road trip. Thaddeus Young has also been a monster
over this stretch, averaging 18 and about nine boards, while shooting
over 60% from the field. When the Sixers' two best players play this
well, they're gonna win games, so in that sense this is logical and good
to see.

Other things about this stretch are less explicable, and just kinda
disconcerting. Spencer Hawes, after spending much of the first
three-quarters of this season proving why he is an abysmal player not to
be trusted under any circumstances, has gone absolutely hogwild since
returning to the Wells Fargo Center, averaging 16.5 points, 11 boards,
five assists, and nearly three blocks a game over those four games,
including of course that near-quadruple-double he posted against the
Pacers on Saturday. Sixer fans should just be thankful Spence isn't
heading into free agency this off-season, otherwise they'd be so
effusive over this stretch they'd sign him to a five-year max deal out
of sheer gratitude. They might still try to do it anyway.

Even weirder has been the emergence of Damien Wilkins. 33-year-old
journeymen who haven't played more than 20 minutes a game for a team in
half a decade and were never all that good to begin with aren't supposed
to "emerge"—they're supposed to kill time, suck up minutes without
totally sabotaging the team while the actually good players get some
rest or recover from injury or whatever. But there's no denying
it—Wilkins has been really good these last four games, and really even
longer than that, as he's scored in double figures in six of his last
seven games, after only doing so twice in the entire season prior to
that. Even more stupefying, Wilkins has been a secondary playmaker for
the Sixers, too, racking up five or more assists in three of his last
five games.

And while all this is happening, the guy who the Sixers drafted with
the #2 pick a couple years back, expecting him to lead the franchise
back out of the darkness, has been mildly effective at best. Evan has
averaged just 11 a game over the four-game stretch, shooting 38% and
only averaging four boards and about four assists a game to go with it.
Over hot Sixers stretches past, Evan has often been a primary catalyst,
but this time the Sixers are playing well more in spite of him than
because of him. Just another confounding factor of another ridiculous
subplot to this miserable Sixers season.

So what to take away from all of this? Is there anything good to
come of this? Are we sacrificing precious tanking losses for no real
reason? Well, my gut reaction to those three questions are "not much,"
"not really" and "probably." The Sixers probably weren't quite as bad on
the whole as they looked over that 1-12 stretch, and this is probably
just some overdue course correction, assisted by Thad finally getting
healthy, Dorell Wright finally hitting some shots, and Doug Collins
making some game-planning adjustments that result in the big-man
long-two at long last being phased out of the Sixers' offensive attack a
little. You could argue that proving that the team isn't total garbage
might help us in free agency a little, but if we're really giving Al
Jefferson or Josh Smith that much of a hard sell, we're probably in
pretty bad shape anyway.

Anyway, there is one major caveat to all of this: All four games in
the Sixers' recent resurgence have come at home. Despite that abysmal
home loss to the Magic that seemed to be the lug nuts falling off on the
Sixers' entire season, the team's actually been half-decent at the WFC
all season, now boasting a 20-17 record in their home building. It's the
road that's really proven the undoing of the Liberty Ballers this year,
with a 6-23 record (including 13 straight losses) away from Philly, and
it's the road to which they'll soon return, playing their next four
(and 12 of their last 16) as visitors. If there's any kind of flimsiness
to the Sixers' current hotness—and considering the names of some of the
players involved, you have to believe there is—it'll be exposed on the
road for sure.

Speaking of which, Philly plays the Clippers tomorrow night. Do we
want the Sixers to win, somehow? At this point, I think most of us just
want the season to be over.

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.”