Busted: Nick Foles plays worst game as a pro on big stage versus Dallas

Busted: Nick Foles plays worst game as a pro on big stage versus Dallas

Chip Kelly’s analysis of Nick Foles’ performance in a 17-3 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys: “He was off.”

You can say that again. And again. And again. Amid calls from fans and writers (such as myself) for Foles to take over the reins as the Eagles’ starting quarterback from Michael Vick, the second-year quarterback experienced what was easily his worst outing since arriving in the NFL. And in the process, Philadelphia ceded first place in the NFC East to one of its most hated rivals.

Just how “off” was Foles? He connected on only 11 of 29 passes for a paltry 80 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw numerous passes behind receivers. He overthrew them on plenty of occasions too. For a guy who entered the week completing 67 percent of his passes this season, Foles looked almost Tim Tebow-esque as he struggled to hit his targets.

Not only was it the worst showing of Foles’ short career—it was easily the most ineffective any starter has been for the Eagles this season.

Foles would not finish the game due to a head injury, and since Vick was inactive with the hamstring, that meant Matt Barkley was the only option remaining. The fourth-round rookie went 11 for 20 for 129 yards, but managed to throw three picks in roughly a quarter of action.

No controversy there, although if both Vick and Foles are unable to go next week, Barkley might be the starter by default. Yikes.

Making Foles’ poor performance all the more disappointing was the fact that the Birds’ defense did everything they had to do to keep them in the game. Holding Tony Romo and the Cowboys to just 17 points is no small feat, particularly when the offense punts the ball away nine times and turns it over three more. The game was there for the taking with almost any reasonable production from the offense.

Yes, it was that disastrous of a performance for Foles, and yes, it likely cost him any opportunity to seize the job from Vick. That said, as awful as Foles was—and make no mistake, he was about as bad as it gets—it shouldn’t be enough to sway opinions that he is the right quarterback going forward.

Foles crashing back down to earth was always a distinct possibility, but the benefits of going back to Vick are still questionable at best. He’s laid his stinkers this season too already—Kansas City ring a bell? More to the point, unless Vick is taking this team on a deep playoff run or will be here beyond this year, why not give Foles the opportunity to rebound?

Critics will use Sunday’s performance against Dallas to draw inevitable comparisons to Bobby Hoying and Kevin Kolb. Does one horrendous game erase all of the good Foles had done and all of the improvements he’s made though? Has no great quarterback ever experienced a completely ineffective outing when they were still just nine starts into their NFL career?

Foles was the worst he’s ever been on Sunday, and he easily cost the Eagles a win in a huge spot against a division rival. Yet the benefits to going back to Vick remain debatable, and as much as detractors pointed to Foles’ limited sample size before this loss, it’s only grown by one game.

Does this really change everything?

That’s for each to decide on their own at this point. The arguments for Vick or Foles are clear. Maybe this game changed some minds, but it didn’t change mine.

Then again, it may not matter. Vick could still be a week or two away from returning, and now Foles’ status is up in the air. Maybe one is ready next week and the other is not. Maybe neither is, and it’s back to Barkley. We’ll see.

The only thing that seems clear in this whole mess now is what we all assumed before the season ever got underway. The Eagles almost certainly need to draft another quarterback in 2014 regardless. So why not let the kids they have play now?

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).