Danny Briere! Flyers Take Game 1 in OT

Danny Briere! Flyers Take Game 1 in OT

The Flyers were outplayed early and surrendered a goal in the first five minutes, but turned the game around in the second period and won on the strength of Danny Briere and Claude Giroux goals. Anyone upset at the fact that we just watched the hockey equivalent of a live-action rerun? 
Didn't think so… 
Briere netted a pair, including the winners in overtime. Winners? Well, kinda… 
A look back at the Flyers' 4-3 win to start the Eastern Conference Semifinals below. 
Rust? Or Just Flyers Hockey?When the Devils started the game seemingly in full control and scored the opening goal just 3:16 in, the temptation was to say they were rusty after being off all week while the Devils' series went the distance. 
Great forechecking pressure by New Jersey forced a Matt Read turnover that led to the goal. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias came at him from both sides behind the net, and Read tried to reverse it, but Elias stole the puck and found Parise in front for a gimme. 1-0 Devils… 
Jake Voracek took a slashing call just after the goal, and New Jersey kept the pressure up, outshooting the Flyers by a 11-0 count to start the game and 15-6 in the first period. Again, if you were worried, I'm guessing you didn't see the opening round. 
The Devils powerplay looked like the unit that set a new mark for efficiency in the regular season in the first period. The Flyers couldn't even get set up let alone put together scoring chances. 
Games aren't won in the first period, nor are they lost, but Ilya Bryzgalov kept the game tight with some big saves early. He had trouble playing the puck when outside of the crease repeatedly on the afternoon though too. His adventures out of the net would be a problem in this one though, one worth some coaching time before game 2 on Tuesday. 
Meanwhile, Martin Brodeur was strong with his play outside the crease early. The Flyers had success against the Penguins when they dumped, chased, and won battles along the boards, but Brodeur wasn't having that. He's been known for as a great puckhandler throughout his career, though he did make some mistakes later. 
Briere and JVR Get It StartedThe Flyers were lucky to survive the first period down just a goal, and that goal came on a pretty awful giveaway at that. The second period has been a strength for them all season, and it was again on Sunday. Briere scored his sixth of the playoffs on a breakaway sprung by a great pass from his new linemate Voracek. Vorch was the recipient of one of several terrible mistakes off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk, and he threaded a perfect pass to Danny's tape. Briere had a defender on his back but burst ahead and found daylight to Brodeur's left side. 
Thirty-seven seconds later, James van Riemsdyk opened his playoff account. The opportunity came when Brodeur misplayed a puck of his own, sending it from behind the net to Erik Gustafsson. Gus put a dangerous shot on net, but Marty made a great save. He couldn't stop JVR from putting home the rebound though… 
Everything appeared to be coming up Milhouse for the Flyers until a poor call led to a Devils power play. Adam Henrique made a strong play to strip Brayden Schenn of the puck at the point, then skated the length toward the Flyers' goal. Matt Carle appeared to effectively and cleanly slow him down and force him off his stride, but Carle was whistled for hooking despite making only minimal, transient contact. 
On the ensuing power play, Bryz missed on an attempt to slow the puck behind the net, then struggled to regroup back in front as Kovalchuk sent a pass to Parise, who scored. 
The Flyers were buzzing in the third period again, and an Andy Greene penalty allowed
them to get the power play rolling. The dominance of the Devils' PK had waned, and the power play unit set up well in the final period and eventual overtime. Claude Giroux got on the board for the seventh time in the playoffs, third on the man advantage, after winning a draw back and getting to the open area. Scott Hartnell passed up a possible shooting opportunity to dish back to Kimmo Timonen at the point, and Kimmo found G, who one-timed a blistering shot high over a besieged Brodeur. 
3-2, Flyers…
Trying to keep things calm and protect a late lead, Peter Laviolette called a timeout after his team iced the puck with 8:57 left. This time, the TO didn't work. 
A Voracek giveaway ended up being the secondary assist on the Devils' equalizer, as David Clarkson sprung old man Sykora, who looked up at Bryz, licked his lips, and fired one past him. 
For some clubs, that might have been a damning change in momentum. Another goal off a turnover, and this time, a pretty soft goal to boot. Not taking anything away from Sykora, but that's a save that must be made. At the other end, Marty made some huge saves late, including some key stops on JVR and Briere, who were buzzing all game. 
The OT…Both teams were unbeaten in overtime during their opening round series, with the Devils winning twice and the Flyers once. However, the Devils were only in OT in game 7 because of a late Panthers power play goal was scored after Marek Zidlicky put the puck over the boards in his zone. On Sunday, he did the same, only in overtime. Sean Couturier and Max Talbot applied the pressure, and Zidlicky just buckled. 
On the power play, the Flyers continued to get great pressure, with JVR and Briere seemingly on every puck. Briere appeared to push home the game winner, so much so that the "Hot Hot Hot" played, but the goal was correctly ruled to have been scored on a kicking motion. Personally, I think it's time the league allowed those too, but until then, this wasn't a good goal. The next one unquestionably was. 
The Flyers kept the pressure up, keeping most of the same personnel on late. JVR managed three straight attempts in tight on Brodeur, but all were stopped. After another Devils failed clear, Voracek found an open Briere at the point, and Danny blasted one through a great screen by JVR. 
Game. Danny B with his NINTH playoff game-winner as a Flyer. 
Notes:After getting outshot 11-0 to start the game, the Flyers ran up a 36-15 count the rest of the way. 
Giroux and Briere now each have 7 goals in as many games this postseason. 
Ilya Kovachuk was brutal in the game. While Philly fans often gripe about having to endure announcers' verbal fellating of opposing stars like Sidney Crosby, they were pretty hard on Kovalchuk with good reason. He was a turnover machine, and his giveaways were certainly costly. He may be playing hurt, but he also just made some very poor decisions. You won't get away with that against any Flyers unit. 
Marty Brodeur was annoyed what he perceived to be too much Flyers activity in his crease, including by JVR on the final goal. However, he got away with pummeling JVR earlier, shoving his head into the ice from behind while #21 was down. 
Pretty safe to say this is a Jersey Foul
We'll be back with some more later/tomorrow, but for now, it's time to enjoy a few (more) beers to celebrate a 1-0 series lead.  

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

CINCINNATI – Normally upbeat and positive, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz gave a terse answer, at least by his standards.

After the Eagles’ 32-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay), a game that was probably the worst of his young career, Wentz was asked about his proclivity for overthrowing his targets.

“Bad throw,” Wentz said blankly. “Just like last week.”

Those bad throws have been coming more and more frequently in recent weeks for the second-overall pick. After throwing one interception in his first five games, he’s thrown 10 in his last seven, including his first three-interception day on Sunday. A common thread has been overthrows.

When head coach and former QBs coach Doug Pederson was asked about those high throws from his prized quarterback, he said, “It’s strictly mechanics.” Pederson elaborated, saying they need to get Wentz off his back foot and stepping into throws. And then there were batted passes too.

“There were opportunities, obviously,” Pederson said. “Again, he's a young quarterback who missed a lot of time in the preseason, but now we just need to keep cleaning those things up.”

There might be a problem, though.

Wentz doesn’t seem to think there’s anything to clean up.

After Sunday’s embarrassing loss, the rookie said his mechanics feel the same now as they did when the Eagles started the season with three consecutive wins, before he had ever thrown a pick in the NFL.

“I don't think it's the mechanics,” Wentz said. “You make mistakes. Things happen, and that's just the bottom line.”

Is there anything that could be affecting his mechanics?

“I don't think so,” Wentz said. “You throw the ball 60 times, you're going to miss some. That kind of happens.”

Wentz seemed hesitant to take blame for his shaky play on Sunday (see breakdown of Wentz's performance), but he is right. Sixty passing attempts is an awful lot. In fact, it’s a record for an Eagles rookie and it’s the second most passing attempts a rookie quarterback has ever thrown in a game (Chris Weinke threw 63 in 2001).  

The reason for that, at least partially, on Sunday was the Eagles’ never got going offensively and their defense was porous at best, which led to the Bengals’ taking a 19-0 lead into halftime (see 10 observations from the loss). They had to try to throw their way back into the game.

“You never want your quarterback to throw 60 times, coming from behind,” Pederson said. “We put ourselves in a bind early in the football game. It’s going to be a learning lesson for him, obviously. We have to take a hard look at it. But by no means, the fact that he stood in there and still led the football team. He took some shots, but still stood in there and just shows you the kind of character and the toughness we have.”

For Wentz, who was once though to be the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, the last couple months have been understandably difficult.

In the first four games of the season, he had a passer rating over 100 three times. He hasn't broken 100 since then and his 58.2 rating on Sunday was the second-worst of the season, behind his 52.4 in a winning effort against the Vikings.

“You just can't get down,” Wentz said. “You've got to stay optimistic. Obviously, the results are tough as of late. We're kind of on a skid. Like I've been saying, this is a good group of guys, a good locker room. Guys are in it until the end.”

It’s important to remember that, initially, Wentz wasn’t drafted to play this season. The original plan was to have him sit this season, but he was thrust into action after the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford.

Ultimately, Wentz will be judged for his play in years to come. For now, though, he and the Eagles have to try to find a way to fix this.

How do they do it?

“Obviously, we're on a skid,” Wentz said. “There's nothing really to change. We've just got to lock in and we've got to be more disciplined. At the same time, you don't get down. That's what I've been saying. This locker room, guys aren't going to get down. We've just got to be better with our discipline and just keep attacking. Obviously, we're in a tough spot, but we've just got to take it one game at a time.”

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

CINCINNATI -- It wasn’t all that long ago that the Eagles were proud owners of one of the NFL’s finest defenses.

Just a few weeks ago.

Coming out of that Atlanta win that elevated the Eagles to 5-4 and left them in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt, the defense ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, fifth in sacks, fourth in takeaways and fifth on third down.

Pick a category, they were exceptional.

Pick a category, they’re not anymore.

The once-dominating defense continued an alarming downward spiral Sunday, allowing an undermanned Bengals team to score on its first six possessions on the way to a demoralizing 32-14 win over the Eagles at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay).

“Our goal is to get into the playoffs and give ourselves a shot to get to our ultimate goal of the Super Bowl,” cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. “As you can see right now, it’s not happening.”

Any hope the Eagles had of reaching the playoffs has evaporated. After their third straight loss and seventh in their last nine games, they’re officially playing out the string.

And not doing it very well (see 10 observations).

Six of their last seven opponents have scored 26 or more points. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced have combined for five touchdown passes, no interceptions, 932 passing yards, zero sack yards and a 71 percent completion percentage.

Worst of all, they’ve allowed points on 17 of 27 meaningful drives over the last three weeks in losses to the Seahawks, Packers and Bengals.

“It’s very disappointing,” Fletcher Cox said after his eighth straight game without a sack.  “As an organization and as a team, it’s very disappointing.

“Today was not one of our days. We’ve got to get off the field on third down, we’ve got to minimize the penalties, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get our offense the ball back.”

We knew the offense would be a work in progress. Young and banged up. But the defense — especially the defensive line — was supposed to be the strength of this team. An elite unit.

Instead, they’ve been terrible. And getting worse.

“We had a bunch of goals this year,” Brandon Graham said. “We’re prideful men, and we don’t like to go out like this.”

How does a defense go from one of the best of the league the first half of the season to one of the worst the second half?

By allowing a historic number of third-down conversions (22-for-43 the last three weeks), by not forcing turnovers (three straight games without an interception), by not getting pressure (one sack for zero yards the last three games, no sacks the last two games), and by committing penalties at a near-record pace.

“It’s frustrating, man,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “Past couple weeks have been frustrating. To not get off on third down when that’s something we do well? And the past couple weeks to not get it done? It sucks. 

“We’re mad at ourselves. We got them into these 3rd-and-long situations but it’s one thing or another, and they convert it. Frustrating.”

During their current three-game losing streak, the Eagles have no interceptions and one sack. 

Their top playmakers – Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jordan Hicks, Cox – have been largely ineffective.

They Eagles did force a couple fumbles Sunday long after the game had been decided, but nobody on this defense has made a meaningful impact play since Leodis McKelvin picked off Matthew Ryan in the Falcons game.

A month ago.

“If you don’t make those plays, it keeps the drive moving, you can’t get off the field on third down, you can’t get turnovers, you can’t get sacks … all the things that made us us good all season,” Carroll said.

“That’s what we hung our hat on and the past couple weeks we haven’t been able to get them and you see when we don’t get them what an offense can do. 

“We have to get back to what we do, and that’s getting turnovers, getting after the quarterback and getting off the field on third down.”

On the heels of brilliance from Wilson and Rodgers, Dalton completed 23 of 31 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, a 130.0 passer rating.

The Bengals even ran for 80 yards as the Eagles allowed 400 or more yards for the third time in a row, something that’s only happened twice previously in franchise history.

“You all see it out there,” McKelvin said. “We can’t expect to win when we have those type of mistakes and not executing plays. We can’t go backwards. On both sides, we can’t go backwards. We can’t go backwards as a defense, we can’t go backwards as an offense. We’ve got to make those plays.”

This is the first time in 33 years the Eagles have had a three-game stretch in which the defense totalled just one combined sack and interception. 

It’s really hard to be that ineffective.

“It is uncharacteristic of us,” McLeod said. “Have to credit teams sometimes, but a lot of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in a lot of ways, not doing the things we need to do defensively to win games. 

“Most of the time early in the year we got turnovers, we got stops, and helped the team win. We’ve just got to find ways — myself included — to help us out any way we can.”

The Eagles have lost three straight games by double digits after opening the season with three straight wins by double digits.

They’re clearly not headed in the right direction, and the defense is leading that charge.

First six weeks? They allowed 12.5 points per game, and the Eagles were 4-2.

Last six weeks? They’ve allowed 26.2 points per game, and the Eagles are 1-5.

“It felt like we were playing pretty well on first down and getting killed on third down,” Hicks said. “In third-and-long situations, those are situations where usually we win. We didn’t win them today. 

“Credit the offenses we’ve played, they’ve taken care of the ball, but we’ve got to do a better job getting turnovers, setting our offense up and getting them field position. 

“That’s what defense is all about. Being aggressive and getting the ball back for your offense, and we haven’t been able to do that.

“We made some plays (at the end), but it’s too little too late. We’ve got to come out from the start and play with that type of intensity.”

It doesn’t look like the Eagles have quit. They’ve just stopped making plays.

At every position.

“It’s not lack of effort, we just have to self-evaluate ourselves and get back to the way we were playing before and figure it out,” McLeod said.

“I believe we’re going to stay together. It’s just disappointing because we work so hard and to fall short of what we ultimately want to do, it’s hard as a player.”