Last Call for Juqua Parker

Last Call for Juqua Parker

Of all the active players who could be wearing midnight green into battle for the final time on Sunday, defensive end Juqua Parker stands out the most. Believe it or not, Parker has been with Philadelphia since 2005, a tenure that spans seven seasons. Only Jamaal Jackson has played for the Eagles longer.
Parker becomes a free agent in March though. He'll turn 34 in May, and with Pro Bowlers at both ends of the defensive line, plus several talented youngsters champing at the bit, Parker has become expendable. The chances of him returning are essentially non-existent.
As a fan, the natural inclination might be to shrug your shoulders. Parker never became a star. He didn't author any especially memorable plays in franchise history. He didn't win a championship here. There is nothing really special about him at all.
While those things are all true, Parker was a serviceable player who built a surprisingly nice career here, albeit one that will go widely overlooked.
Parker began his career with the Titans as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2001. Despite spending four seasons there, he never started a game. Four sacks in '03 were then a personal best for Parker, but he came away empty-handed the following season. His contract was up, as was his time in Tennessee.
Parker would not wind up joining the Eagles until training camp was already under way in the summer of '05, but still managed to make the 53-man roster. For the second season in a row, he failed to record a sack, but the front office brought him back on another one-year deal. What exactly they saw in this Juqua Thomas -- his given name which he later changed at his deceased father's request -- was no doubt a mystery to most observers.
Whatever it was, it finally clicked.
Parker made the most of his limited opportunities during the '06 season, breaking out with six sacks -- more than he totaled through the first five years of his career. The Eagles rewarded Parker with a five-year extension, and when Jevon Kearse wasn't cutting it in '07, Parker ultimately took his place in the starting lineup, where he remained for the majority of the next three seasons.
In '08, he was honored as the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week against the 49ers, when he sealed the deal with a 55-yard touchdown return on a fourth quarter interception in a 40-26 win. In '09, he went on to set a career high in sacks with eight, which is not a tally to sneeze at. This season, he's returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
In all, Parker has played in 104 regular season games for the Eagles -- only Mike Patterson has appeared in more among current Eagles -- and started 46. Over that time, Juqua has 31.5 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula(!) for 13th in franchise history. With two sacks on Sunday, he could move in to the top 10.
But that's not likely to happen, not with Jason Babin shooting for the team's single-season record, and reliable Trent Cole on the other end. Parker's playing time diminished drastically this season, his sack total dipping to a meager one and a half as a result. With Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt, and Darryl Tapp lobbying to see more action, there simply isn't room for all of them.
Regardless, it's not so difficult to understand what Andy Reid and Jim Johnson saw in Juqua Parker after all. He is and always was a hard worker who made few waves off the field. He persevered, and because he never gave up, he actually carved out a lengthy NFL career for himself.
A lot of fans have lamented there aren't any likable players on the Eagles, or very few at least. Sure, it's easy to forget about role players like Parker, but in many ways, he is the epitome of a true Philadelphian's athlete.
A resilient overachiever.

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

So should a few wins with this club and it's not happening. They play well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in-tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1 but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."

Penn fails to clinch Ivy tournament spot in 70-67 loss at Columbia

usa-aj-brodeur-penn.jpg
USA Today Images

Penn fails to clinch Ivy tournament spot in 70-67 loss at Columbia

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Mike Smith scored 20 points, including a key 3-pointer with a minute left, Luke Petrasek added 17 with a blocked shot as time ran out, and Columbia edged Penn 70-67 in a critical Ivy League game on Saturday night.

The Lions (11-14) and Quakers (12-13) are both 5-7 and tied for fourth in league play with a week to go. This is the first season the Ivy League has a postseason tournament with the top four teams qualifying.

Neither team led by double figures, their statistics were almost identical and there were 11 ties and 10 lead changes, although Columbia took the lead for good on a Nate Hickman's free throws with 10:27 remaining during an 8-0 run.

Hickman gave Columbia a 67-60 lead -- the largest of the second half -- on a 3-pointer with 5:37 to go. The Lions then went 4:11 without a basket, missing seven-straight shots. Ryan Betley's free throws pulled the Quakers within 2 before Smith hit is trey at 1:04.

Betley made two free throws and after a Columbia miss the Quakers had two 3 attempts with Petrasek saving the day.

AJ Brodeur and Jackson Donahue had 16 each for Penn.