Eagles Must Strike Gold Against 49ers

Eagles Must Strike Gold Against 49ers

It's a funny thing describing a game on October 2 against the San Francisco 49ers as "must-win," but many observers feel that way, if for no other reason than so the Eagles can silence their critics temporarily. It wouldn't hurt in the standings either, where the Birds surprisingly find themselves in dead-last in the NFC East entering Week 4.

While today's game may not be must-win in the most literal sense, another mark in the loss column would be crippling. 1-3 before they even reach the tough part of the schedule, while not insurmountable, would put even more pressure on a team that is clearly struggling to rise to expectations. And unlike falling to the Falcons and Giants, their inability to handle the 49ers would be the surest sign yet of potentially fatal deficiencies.

Sure, we didn't necessarily anticipate the Eagles would collapse against the injury-riddled G-men either, but that's at least explainable to a division rival with some of its talent intact. The 49ers are much more similar to the Rams, in that they have a capable defense, but are completely outmatched on offense. They haven't run the ball, and they haven't protected the passer.

You might be tempted to argue Juan Castillo's defense is the perfect prescription for such ailments, but the numbers suggest even this oft-maligned group should have success against San Fran. The Niners sport the 30th ranked rushing offense in the NFL, and their inability to keep QB Alex Smith on his feet plays right into the Eagles' hands, who are second with 12 sacks.

Plus, this team should come out like a fire has been lit under their asses. It would be fair to say they've been embarrassed the last two times out, particularly versus New York, but if you think they are feeling sorry for themselves, you would be mistaken. They have a lot to prove, and it was plain for everybody to see at Andy Reid's post-game presser last Sunday that this group was in for a rough week of practice.

Of course, Michael Vick's bruised right hand is a matter for concern, as we've experienced two very different performances from backup Mike Kafka in consecutive weeks -- and nothing at all from Vince Young. If Vick can't snap out of his funk, get the offense moving a little more efficiently, and then finish 60 minutes, you could envision San Fran sparking up some momentum. They've played in three close games so far, winning two and dropping another in overtime.

So it's true, the Eagles cannot afford to let the 49ers hang around, and cannot afford another loss, especially to such an inferior opponent. Even with the Phillies going strong, people will take notice if this club falls to 1-3. But relax... if they lose today, the Birds have much bigger problems than their record or uptight fan reactions.

They will have to deal with the harsh reality that they too are a bad team.

College Hoops wrap: St. Joe's edged in usual ending at Saint Louis

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AP Images

College Hoops wrap: St. Joe's edged in usual ending at Saint Louis

No. 2 Villanova bounced back with a win over No. 23 Creighton, clinching the Big East regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay). Meanwhile, Temple was able to clip Tulane in double overtime to end a three-game losing streak (see Instant Replay).

Here's a look at the rest of college hoops in the Philly area. 

Saint Joseph's edged by Saint Louis in unusual ending, 61-60
ST. LOUIS -- Jalen Johnson scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Mike Crawford hit a key 3-pointer, and Saint Louis edged Saint Joseph's 61-60 with an unusual ending on Saturday.

The Billikens were up 61-58 with five seconds left when Crawford missed a pair of free throws. The Hawks' Jai Williams grabbed the rebound and passed to James Demery. Demery dribbled the floor and bypassed Brendan Casper, who was calling for the ball just outside the 3-point arc, and made a layup as time expired, sealing a one-point win for Saint Louis.

Crawford's 3-pointer gave the Billikens a 59-58 lead with 1:15 to play. Johnson forced a turnover on Saint Joseph's next possession, and Aaron Hines made a layup to stretch the lead to 61-58.

Saint Louis (10-19, 5-11 Atlantic 10) snapped a three-game losing skid.

Chris Clover scored 17 points to lead Saint Joseph's (10-18, 3-13), which has lost eight straight (see full recap).

Drexel downed in Charleston, 80-67
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Jarrell Brantley scored 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had four steals, Joe Chealey added 16 with three steals, and the College of Charleston beat Drexel 80-67 on Saturday to win its fourth straight.

Cameron Johnson scored 14 for the Cougars (23-8, 14-4), who have a No. 2 seed and first-round bye secured at next week's Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

Chealey's free throw put the Cougars up for good 11-10 en route to a 36-26 halftime lead. Brantley hit three straight free throws and the Cougars led by 18, 70-52, with 6:30 left to play in the second half and were never seriously threatened.

The Cougars shot 27 of 40 free throws and outrebounded the Dragons 39-32, scoring 14 second-chance points off of 13 offensive rebounds.

Kurk Lee scored 13 points for Drexel (9-22, 3-15), which has lost five straight (see full recap).

Penn State allows near triple-double to Mason, loses to Minnesota, 81-71
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nate Mason had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and Jordan Murphy added 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Minnesota Gophers in an 81-71 win over Penn State on Saturday.

Dupree McBrayer added 15 points off the bench for Minnesota (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten) with Akeem Springs scoring 12. Reggie Lynch had nine points and set a career-high with 11 blocks as the Gophers won their seventh game in a row and avenged an earlier loss at Penn State.

Tony Carr had 20 points and seven assists, while Shep Garner scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Nittany Lions, who have lost three straight. Penn State had just five turnovers, all in the first half, but shot 35.5 percent.

Excluding the vacated season of 1996-97, Minnesota has won seven games in a row for the first time since 1978 (see full recap).