Eagles finally win at home, move into first place in the NFC East

Eagles finally win at home, move into first place in the NFC East

412 days had passed since the Eagles last won at Lincoln Financial Field—10 games and over a full calendar year. The Birds finally gave the home crowd a reason to cheer on Sunday though, their 24-16 victory over Washington ending the losing streak and catapulting Philadelphia into first place in the NFC East.

The Eagles’ record improved to 6-5, already two wins more than they had in all of 2012. They’re above .500 for the first time since Week 1 of this season. Best of all, they now own a half-game lead over idle Dallas for tops in the division.

Similar to their first meeting against Washington, the Eagles raced out to a big lead, going up 24-0 through 36 minutes of action. In fact, the Birds took a shutout into the fourth quarter until Robert Griffin III began mounting a desperate comeback.

Griffin sprung Washington’s offense with a 62-yard catch-and-run to fullback Darrel Young, a fortuitous play that was broken open by a collision between Patrick Chung and Trent Cole down the field. Griffin later found wide receiver Aldrick Robinson for a 41-yard score, an underthrown pass that Roc Carmichael failed to turn around and defend. A pair of two-point conversion made it a one-possession game.

Yet it would prove too little, too late for Washington. Their final drive would start at their own 4-yard line following a 70-yard punt from Donnie Jones. Griffin moved his offense into scoring position, but foolishly heaved a prayer that was intercepted by Brandon Boykin in no-man’s land in the game’s final minute.

RG3 never looked like himself. Washington had just eight net passing yards through three quarters, as Griffin seemed hesitant to throw the football. Much of the time, he was taking off or eating sacks, and even once he started to let loose in the fourth quarter, he missed several throws.

Griffin completed less than 50 percent of passes (17/35) for 264 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He was sacked four times, including a strip by Connor Barwin that was recovered by Fletcher Cox.

The Eagles also contained Alfred Morris, the NFL's third-leading rusher entering the week. Morris finished with 93 yards on 22 carries.

It was the seventh week in a row the Eagles’ defense held their opponent to 21 points or less, the ninth time in 11 games. It was all the more impressive considering the trio of starters that was out for the Birds. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Earl Wolff were all inactive due to injuries.

Philly's offense got the job done as well, led of course by Nick Foles who still has yet to throw an interception this season. Foles connected on 17 of 26 passes for 298 yards. He also ran a whopping nine times for 47 yards and a touchdown. He may not be fast, but he takes what the defense is willing to give him.

Gritty performance for LeSean McCoy too, who went down late in the second half with an apparent hamstring injury. It didn’t appear to slow him any after halftime, as Shady finished with 150 total yards from scrimmage and two rushing touchdowns. The All-Pro back had his second strong game in a row, and eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

DeSean Jackson led Eagles receivers with four receptions for 82 yards on four targets. The two-time Pro Bowler is just 15 yards from surpassing the 1,000-yard milestone himself.

Overall, it was another great team performance for the Birds, their winning streak now at a season-high three games. Now they’ll have a bye week for some dinged-up players to get healthy.

It’s not always pretty, but you have to feel good about the fact that this team is getting the job done. Everything seems to be firing on all cylinders, and a playoff berth seems like an increasingly real possibility for this squad. The way they’re playing right now, they could really make some noise.

We've moved past them simply getting in. The question is becoming how far can they go?

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.