The Anatomy of a Comeback: How the Eagles Blew Five Leads

The Anatomy of a Comeback: How the Eagles Blew Five Leads

How did the Eagles blow five fourth-quarter leads this season? The simple answer many fans and those in the media have chosen to adopt is "Juan Castillo," but it glosses over the fact that in every case, there were other elements at work that were equally responsible -- if not more so -- for the mark that wound up in the loss column.

Week 2 @ Atlanta
Eagles led 31-21 with 1:59 remaining in third quarter; lost 35-31

Before the comeback
The Falcons started four drives at midfield or better, resulting in three touchdowns:
1) Following a three and out in the first quarter, a short punt and a 19-yard return gave Atlanta the ball at the Philadelphia 38-yard line.
2) With goal to go during the second, Michael Vick's first-down handoff was disrupted on a botched trap running play, the ensuing fumble returned all the way to Philly's 24, causing a potential 14-point swing.

3) Late in the second, Vick got careless with the football while scrambling, coughing it up at the 50. Two plays later, Matt Ryan was picked, but the series cost the Eagles a legitimate shot at putting additional points on the board before halftime.
4) Atlanta started from the Philly 49 early in the third when Vick's pass was incorrectly ruled an interception after the ball hit the ground -- a replay angle was not immediately available.

Vick sustained a concussion on the Eagles' final scoring drive when his head inadvertently slammed into a teammate after the ball had been released. He would not return, leaving Mike Kafka to run the offense in his first NFL appearance.

The comeback
After holding the Falcons offense to several short scoring drives through the first 43 minutes, the defense gave up consecutive 80-yard marches that ate up nearly 10 minutes over the game's next 12 total. The signature play on the game-winning possession was a 61-yard carry by Michael Turner to reverse field position from the ATL 13 to the PHI 26.

Last chance
With almost five minutes remaining, Kafka went to work. A holding penalty forced the Eagles to start from their own nine-yard line, but Kafka led them as far as Atlanta's 22. On 4th and 4, Kafka found Jeremy Maclin open over the middle, but the wide receiver could not haul in a pass that hit him in the hands. Ryan knelt three times, and the Falcons actually punted to DeSean Jackson, but there was no magic at the end.

Overview
The defense clearly came unglued in the end, and the ability to lock it down an extra time or two on a short field would have gone a long way, but miscues on offense, special teams, and even the officiating crew directly contributed to 21 of Atlanta's points, while erasing who knows how many for the Eagles' cause. Perhaps the game never should have been close enough for the Falcons to steal in the first place.

Notes
The Eagles failed to convert on a pair of 3rd and 1 situations, including once inside the red zone to force them to settle for a field goal. The offense committed three turnovers.

Week 3 v. New York Giants
Eagles led 16-14 with 11:37 remaining in fourth quarter; lost 29-16

Before the comeback
Steve Smith was playing volleyball on the Eagles' opening possession. On 3rd and 6 from inside the red zone, Vick made a great play to avoid the pass rush, and was able to find Smith open beyond the sticks. The wide receiver tipped the ball in the air, allowing the Giants to come down with it to end the threat.

Individual mistakes, not schemes, led to each of New York's touchdowns in the first quarter:
1) The Giants ran a play-action wheel route to Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs fakes like he's accepting the handoff, then slips out of the backfield and heads up the sidelines. Casey Matthews is in man coverage, but remains frozen in the same spot he was standing when the play began, even after the fake. By the time he realizes his man is running free, there's no catching Jacobs on a 40-yard pitch and catch.
2) On 3rd and 2, Eli Manning hits Victor Cruz on a short out pattern good for first-down yardage. Kurt Coleman comes up to stop the bleeding, but instead of delivering a big hit, or even pulling the ball carrier to the ground, Coleman hugs him ever so gently. As Cruz escapes, Coleman gives chase, but collides with Nnamdi Asomugha, ensuring neither man can end the play. A potentially harmless short gain turns into a 74-yard score.

The Eagles are forced to settle for field goals three times in the red zone:
1) With 1st and goal on the three-yard line.
2) After back-to-back false start penalties on Jason Peters and Kyle DeVan knocked them back to 2nd and 14 on the 26.
3) With 1st and goal on the two-yard line.

After failing to convert in short yardage throughout the contest, Andy Reid opted to go for it on 4th and 1 from New York's 43. The handoff went to McCoy, who tried to bounce the play outside, and wound up losing three.

Vick suffered a bruised hand on a late-ish hit earlier in the game, and was not able to finish for the second consecutive week.

The comeback
Both of the Giants' final touchdowns began at their own 44 or better:
1) Following the failed fourth-down attempt, the Giants began a seven-play drive that ended with Cruz out-jumping Asomugha in the end zone to haul in a 28-yard pass.
2) Kafka immediately went deep on the next snap and was intercepted. New York capped a 10-play drive -- extended by a Jason Babin encroachment penalty on 4th and 2 -- with an 18-yard screen to Jacobs.

Last chance
Down 13 with three-and-a-half minutes remaining and Kafka under center, not much of one. Kafka was eventually picked off, and the Giants ended the game with kneel downs.

Overview
First of all, a two-point lead isn't very much of a lead at all. In any event, the Eagles only managed 16 points despite making five trips to the red zone, which would have been difficult for any defense to overcome. Some of the defensive personnel was exposed for big scoring plays, but not necessarily the coordinator.

Notes
The Eagles were still going with Kyle DeVan at right guard while Danny Watkins adjusted to the NFL, which was definitely part of the issue in short-yardage situations. The offense committed three turnovers.

Week 4 v. San Francisco 49ers
Eagles led 23-3 with 9:30 remaining in third quarter; lost 24-23

Before the comeback
The Eagles committed two turnovers in the first half when they had favorable field position:
1) On the Philadelphia 48-yard line, Vick tr
ied to hook up deep with Jackson, but underthrew his speedy wide receiver, resulting in an interception.
2) On the goal line, Ronnie Brown was met in the backfield on an apparent halfback option. As he was being twirled to the turf, Brown attempted to throw the ball anyway, his momentum carrying the ball backwards. The result was a fumble, and the 49ers recovered the loose ball.

The Eagles were forced to settle for field goals three additional times in the red zone:
1) Failed to convert on 3rd and 3
2) After Vick was sacked on 1st and 10 from the 14
3) Failed to convert on 3rd and 6

The comeback
This was a two-fold collapse. The defense allowed three touchdowns on drives of 77 yards or more, and the offense would not score another point over the game's final 24 minutes.

After Alex Henery's last field goal, the Niners got two touchdowns back fast. They helped themselves to 80 yards on four plays, then after the Eagles went three and out, San Fran came back with 77 yards in five plays. The entire series happened over the course of about six-and-a-half minutes, and they had cut the lead to six before the fourth quarter was even under way.

Yet the Eagles had chances to make it a two-possession ball game again:
1) After a 22-yard Vick scramble was negated by a DeVan holding penalty, their next drive fizzled. Henery wound up missing a 39-yard field goal.
2) Following a defensive stand, the Eagles found their way into the red zone once more, but a holding penalty by Evan Mathis on 2nd and 7 stalled another drive. This time, Henery missed from 33.

Finally, the 49ers went 77 yards on eight plays to gain their first advantage of the game.

Last chance
The Eagles had three minutes to work with, and were moving the ball effectively. They had made it all the way to midfield without facing a single third down, but turnovers struck again. Vick hit Maclin on the wide receiver screen, and he took off down the sidelines. Defensive end Justin Smith tracked him down from behind and punched the ball free, and San Francisco recovered. The Eagles had timeouts, but the defense could not come up with the stop to force a punt.

Overview
This is probably the defense's worst effort of the five games. It's difficult to spin three quick touchdowns on four possessions. That said, the Eagles once again came up small in the red zone, settling for four field goal tries and turning the ball over once. And the fact is, if Brown doesn't make that foolish mistake on the goal line, or Henery makes just more kick, they win this game.

Notes
For the record, David Akers also was not very good in this game -- he was 1 for 3 on field goal attempts, including one blocked. The offense committed three turnovers.
Week 9 v. Chicago Bears
Eagles led 24-17 with 5:52 remaining in third quarter; lost 30-24

Before the comeback
Surprise, the Eagles committed two turnovers in the first half that gave the Bears excellent field position:
1) Vick is intercepted in the red zone, and the ball is returned to Chicago's 48-yard line. A Robbie Gould field goal results in a probable six-point or greater swing.
2) Jackson fields a punt deep in his own zone, and glides backwards. Besides losing yards, he has the ball poked out, and Chicago gets to start at Philly's nine. To make matters worse, Babin is shoved into Bears quarterback Jay Cutler by an offensive lineman when the defense has them stopped on third down. Instead of taking three, the Bears are handed a fresh set of downs -- and an easy seven.

Another matter of note would be the defense had a big hand in the Eagles scoring:
1) The defense literally scores in the second quarter. In a great individual effort, Brian Rolle gets to Matt Forte as he catches a short pass, knocks the ball out, and returns the fumble 22 yards to tie the game.
2) In the third, Trent Cole gets to Forte again. The play is ruled down on the field, but after review, officials determine it was a fumble, and the Eagles get possession at Chicago's 41. Two plays later, McCoy goes 33-yards to give the Birds their first lead.

The comeback
The Bears settle for three after a long drive that started on their own six to go into the fourth quarter down by four.

Chicago's final scoring drives are set up by special teams misjudgments:
1) The Eagles go three and out, then punt the ball to Devin Hester, who returns it to the CHI 49, setting up the five-play, go-ahead touchdown drive.
2) In what was actually a very clever play, the Eagles attempt a fake punt. Nobody is covering Colt Anderson in the gunner spot, so when punter Chas Henry takes the snap, he throws the ball for what likely would have been a touchdown -- except the former high school quarterback short arms the pass horribly, turning the ball over on downs at the CHI 42. From there, they get into distance for another FG, creating a 10-point swing on the scoreboard.

Last chance
The Eagles get into Bears territory, but are held up and face 4th and 10. Vick hits Maclin coming over the middle, but the receiver loses his footing and falls a yard short of the sticks.

Overview
Interestingly enough, special teams were actually a big part of the problem these last two games, as they were increasingly so toward the end of this season. DeSean's fumble and Henry's botched fake attempt loom large when you consider how different the score would've been with a different result on either play. When you add the red zone turnover, and consider the fact that the defense gave a helping hand on one touchdown and scored another, it's hard to pin this one on their unit.

Notes
Eagles offensive players committed two turnovers.

Week 10 v. Arizona Cardinals
Eagles led 17-14 with 5:06 remaining in fourth quarter; lost 21-17

Before the comeback
Injuries and absences played a key role in this one:
1) DeSean Jackson was inactive due to his missing a special teams meeting, with the lame brain excuse he overslept. Considering special teams have emerged as a problem, and DeSean fumbled the week before, so this behavior is unacceptable.
2) Vick was apparently injured on the second play from scrimmage, suffering broken ribs. He plays through, but the Eagles have trouble keeping up a consistent offensive attack throughout the afternoon.
3) On the very next drive, Jeremy Maclin injures his shoulder. With Jackson out, Maclin eventually comes back in and gives a gutsy performance, though not at 100%.

The defense gets the scoring started for the second week in a row on Asante Samuel's pick six.

On Arizona's next possession, Eagles defenders are able to deflect three passes thrown to Larry Fitzgerald. The monster comes down with all three, including a touchdown. Drive was extended when Asomugha lined up offside on a third down stop.

Vick throws another interception in the red zone, this
time into the arms of a leaping defensive linemen.

John Skelton throws another interception in his own zone. The Eagles offense can't move the ball from the Arizona 26, but receive an automatic three.

The comeback
Short and sweet -- the explanation that is. Skelton leads the Cardinals 87 yards on the game-winning drive. The signature play was a 37-yard pass to Fitz to put Arizona on the goal line. It appeared Castillo's scheme left rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett to cover an All-Pro receiver one on one, but as it turned out Samuel went gambling and left his teammate on an island.

Last chance
The Eagles have 1:53 to work with, but are effectively finished when LeSean McCoy commits a holding penalty on 3rd and 10. The next play, Vick throws a desperation pick, and Arizona is kneeling.

Overview
Points produced by Eagles offense: seven. Points produced by Eagles defense: 10. The three-point lead they had here was negligible, and when you consider the offense didn't really do anything, it's hard to blame the defense, since had they not created some scoring on their own, would have needed to hold the Cardinals to six points or less to win. It's not a great sign a backup quarterback authored three drives over 80 yards, but you need to get something out of your offense against this team.

Notes
The Eagles went three and out on four possessions. The offense committed two turnovers.

Conclusion
The defense had its moments. Two eighty-yard drives in the fourth quarter against Atlanta. Three drives over 77-yards in the second half to San Francisco. Three drives over 80-yards against the Skelton-led Cardinals.

However, all five games were total team losses.

The offense scored THREE POINTS in the fourth quarter of these five games, and those are the three off of Skelton's turnover in the Arizona game. Three!!!

In all, the Eagles committed 13 turnovers -- five of those in the red zone, almost automatic points off the board in four one-possession games -- missed two field goals, and turned the ball over on downs twice in non-endgame situations. They were miserable in the red zone and short yardage situations, and prolific at spotting their opponent great field position, and by extension, points.

Saying Juan Castillo's defense blew five fourth-quarter leads is disingenuous at least, utterly absurd at most. It's technically accurate as far as stat keeping is concerned, and it makes for an easy insult or story line to parade out there while taking cheap shots at the offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator. It's also remarkably insincere given everything else that occurred prior to those lead changes.

In the NFL, you simply can't win when you continuously give the opponent chance after chance to hang around.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).