A Summary of Last Night's Football GameA Synopsis of This Season: What Went Wrong?

A Summary of Last Night's Football GameA Synopsis of This Season: What Went Wrong?

In a word: everything.

For the fourth time this season, Juan Castillo's defense gave up yet another fourth-quarter lead, allowing the Bears to score 13 unanswered points over the final 16 minutes of the game. They were gashed in the running game once again , allowing the Bears to set the tone with 164 yards on the ground, while the pass rush disappeared, and the secondary let another average wide receiver have a career night.

But not to be outdone, the offense and special teams were arguably worse. Marty Mornhinweg's group only put 17 points on the board last night. Mike Vick committed another turnover in the red zone, the pass protection left something to be desired, and of course, there were dropped passes. And special teams, well... we'll get to those blunders during the course of this review.

Of course, that doesn't absolve the defense. When we say the entire team played poorly, that's exactly what we mean. Everybody is on the hook for the Eagles' 3-5 record, from the punter to the talent evaluators. Once again though, the areas that were largely perceived to be strengths heading into this season had their fingerprints all over this loss, and they continued to put the defense in difficult positions to do their job.

Let's look at how the Bears scored:

1. TD on the opening drive. This was the defense's worst series of the game, allowing Chicago to march 79 yards and eat almost six minutes off the clock before the Eagles ever had the ball. Forte ripped off a couple of long runs, Earl Bennett entered the Philadelphia fans' lexicon, and the Bears took control right out of the chute.

2. Starting from their own 48 after a Michael Vick red-zone interception, Jay Cutler somehow found Earl Bennett on 3rd-and-16, one play after an offensive pass interference penalty gave the Philadelphia defense a second life. The turnover and completion were enough to get into Robbie Gould field-goal range, giving the Bears a 10-point cushion.

3. TD on drive starting from Philadelphia's nine-yard line, following DeSean Jackson's fumble on a punt return with less than a minute remaining the first half. At this point, the Eagles had tied the game, and should have been happy to go into the locker room, but NO. Jackson fields the punt, runs backwards about 10 yards, and has the ball punched free. As if that weren't enough, Jason Babin is shoved into Cutler after a stop on third down, and the officials are all too eager to throw a flag. Misfortune turns a solid defensive stand into seven

4. FG on a drive starting at their own six-yard line. One of the things the Eagles actually did well was use short kickoffs to screw with the timing on Chicago's kick returns, and a nice stop combined with a penalty pinned them deep. But the defense was gashed for some big gains from Marion Barber (17), Bennett (28), and Roy Williams (18), which set the Bears up for a chip-shot field goal.

5. TD to retake the lead on a drive starting at midfield, after Devin Hester was allowed to return a punt for an additional 20 yards. Bennett again had a big gainer (22), then the Eagles were nailed on a questionable late hit Darryl Tapp when he landed on Hester after the ball carrier was down. Tapp appeared to be going down already before the whistle, but sure, tack on half the distance to the goal. The Bears score two plays later.

6. Following the turnover on downs that occurred on the fake punt, the Bears once again have excellent field position, starting at their own 42. This is the fourth scoring drive where they started at least that close or better. At this point, the Eagles defense has been on the field the majority of the time, and Chicago is having their way with them. The Birds have them stopped though, but Nnamdi Asomugha commits a pass interference penalty, which allows the Bears to run another minute-and-a-half or so off the clock before eventually settling for three.

Could the defense have helped themselves out by making a few extra stops? Certainly. Were they put in great position to succeed? Clearly they weren't. The Eagles can't squeeze 17 points out of their offense, give their opponent a short field repeatedly over the course of 60 minutes, and expect to win games like that.

And one last thing, let's not forget the Eagles forced not one, but two Matt Forte fumbles, one of which they returned for their own touchdown. The other, the offense converted for six. That means Philadelphia scored 10 points by virtue of their offense conducting a traditional drive down the field. That's, ahem, not good.

Other notes:

To be fair, how do you not sack Jay Cutler one time?
Chicacgo's quarterback came into Week 9 the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL. He ate the ball more than anybody in 2010. Yet somehow, the Eagles -- tied for eighth with 22 sacks this season -- didn't get to Cutler at all. How does this happen?

First, give Mike Martz credit. He reigned in his usual pass-happy, spread-the-field offense, put some tight ends on the field, and went to work with a ball-control offense. They overpowered the Birds in the running game, and more importantly, they gave the offensive line a huge lift in pass protection.

There is no way the defensive line should have been shut out though, and the blitz was even more ineffective still. Jason Babin is in fourth with nine sacks. Trent Cole had four sacks in five games coming in, and Cullen Jenkins has five. The three of them got no push all game long, and when Cutler was completing key passes on third downs against this allegedly dominant secondary, it was often because the quarterback was given way too much time to hang in the pocket.

The Bears Out-Philadelphia Eagled the Philadelphia Eagles
Chicago held the ball for over 11 minutes in the first quarter, and converted four out of five third downs. In short, they did to the Eagles what the Eagles had done to Washington and Dallas in previous weeks, running the ball and using quick, high-percentage passes to set up reasonable distances-to-go on third down. Keep the opposing team's offense on the sidelines.

The Bears finished the game with a victory in the time of possession battle, holding the ball 33-to-26, but it was their clock control particularly in the first quarter that helped Chicago kill the rhythm the Birds' offense had enjoyed coming into this game. Minus the defensive touchdown, Philly managed just three points in the first half.

Earl Bennett, meet Victor Cruz
Nine days ago, the Eagles eliminated one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, holding Miles Austin and Dez Bryant each to three catches for 27 and 28 yards respectively. They've shut down Pro Bowlers such as Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, and Stevie Johnson over the course of this season.

Yet somehow, a second-year undrafted player like Victor Cruz can kick-start his career against this defense, or in Monday night's case, an Earl Bennett with all of three catches on the season can have a night to remember. Bennett finished with five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown i
n what was arguably the best performance of his four NFL seasons.

Explain that.

Did Andy goof the clock again?
Naturally there were some complaints about the Eagles mismanagement of the clock at the end of the first half. The Bears kicked off with 43 seconds remaining, and Andy Reid still had two timeouts in his pocket. He wound up using only one of them, as the offense got off three plays and moved a total of 13 yards before heading into the locker room.

I have to think because of the way things were going, Reid didn't want to press his luck. Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass running free in the middle of the defense on first down, then they used a timeout on a short gain the following play. Celek picked up a first down with about a dozen ticks left, and the Eagles could have used their final timeout, but then what? The Bears were in a prevent defense, pushing the entire secondary deep so as to not take any chances against those speedy wide receivers. The likelihood of a big play, or even one to get them into field goal range, was slim to none at that point.

The only thing I found questionable about the whole series was why Dion Lewis was allowed to return the kickoff in the first place. Kneeling it for a touchback would have saved seven seconds, and as much as I like the rookie running back, he hasn't shown any evidence that he is a threat to return one to the house. Save that time so the offense can run an extra play or two.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”