This time, Eagles' Musgrave has talent to work with


This time, Eagles' Musgrave has talent to work with

In August of 1998, the Colts released veteran quarterback Bill Musgrave after he was beaten out by Kelly Holcomb in a training camp battle to back up rookie Peyton Manning.

Two months later, Musgrave improbably found himself as the Eagles' de facto offensive coordinator.

Musgrave returned to the Eagles this year to replace Bill Lazor as quarterbacks coach after Lazor was named the Dolphins' offensive coordinator.

These days, Musgrave is a grizzled veteran offensive coach whose job is to work with Nick Foles and the other quarterbacks on a playoff team bursting with offensive talent.

Sixteen years ago, things were a bit different.

The Eagles didn’t have Foles; they had Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer and Bobby Hoying. They didn’t have Chip Kelly running the offense; they had Dana Bible. And they didn’t have LeSean McCoy; they had a running back named Duce Staley.

“It was a difficult situation for Bill,” said Staley, now on Kelly’s staff with Musgrave. “But like the true champ that he is, he was able to jump in there and kind of keep it rolling.”

Musgrave’s first Eagles career lasted just five months. He was hired in August of 1998 as an anonymous entry-level quality control coach soon after the Colts released him, and he was fired along with head coach Ray Rhodes and most of his staff in January.

In between, he was at the helm of one of the worst offenses ever assembled.

“I learned a lot that year,” said the soft-spoken Musgrave. “I learned a lot about the men on that team. The record wasn’t what any of us wanted, especially Coach Rhodes, but it was great to work for Ray Bob, and great to be around those players.

“They never quit, never quit fighting, and stayed competitive throughout. ... It was an experience that I learned from. I learned from all my experiences, and I’m thankful for all of them.”

In 1995 and 1996, the Eagles went to the playoffs under Rhodes, with Jon Gruden running the offense. But by 1998, Gruden was gone, Bible was the overmatched offensive coordinator, there was little talent remaining on offense, and the Eagles found themselves with one of the worst offenses in NFL history.

Those 1998 Eagles scored 12 or fewer points in 10 of 16 games and finished the season scoring just 161 points.

No NFL team in the last 20 years has scored fewer points.

Six weeks into the season, with the Eagles 1-5 and getting outscored by an average of 25-11, Rhodes shuffled his coaching staff, demoting Bible and without changing his title, making Musgrave the offensive coordinator and play caller.

Two months after his playing career ended.

Things didn’t get much better. The Eagles went 2-8 with Musgrave running the offense, averaging 9.2 points the rest of the season.

Musgrave went on to spent two years with the Panthers, then two years at Virginia, before stints with the Jaguars, Redskins, Falcons and Vikings.

Now he’s back with the Eagles, 16 years after being part of the NFL’s sixth-lowest-scoring offense since 1960.

“You rememeber the season we were going through,” Staley said. “I remember the things we were going through. He came straight out of training camp to our staff. He wasn’t that far removed from being a player.

“He was a quality control guy, had some West Coast [offense] background [with the 49ers], so he brought that to the table, and he was a teacher.

“That was a tough year, but Bill ... you know if a guy has it or not, and he’s had it since Day 1.”

That had to be an incredibly difficult year for Musgrave. He wasn’t even with the Eagles in training camp, but by Week 7 he was being asked to call the plays.

But if it left him with a bad taste in his mouth, he isn’t letting on.

“Every season in the NFL is challenging,” he said. “We were putting our best foot forward each and every week. I was really proud of that group because they kept fighting.”

That was a remarkable coaching staff for a 3-13 team. Sean Payton and John Harbaugh both went on to win Super Bowls as head coaches, Emmitt Thomas is a Hall of Famer, Mike Trgovac is a terrific defensive coach, Juan Castillo was a highly regarded offensive line coach, and so on.

“We had a terrific staff,” Musgrave said. “We all worked together. Sean Peyton was the quarterbacks coach, Juan Castillo was here, had just gotten run over by the golf cart, Emmitt Thomas being the defensive coordinator, and Danny Smith coaching the linebackers and John Harbaugh doing the special teams.

“I just think the world of Ray Bob and I learned a lot. I wouldn’t trade the expreience for anything. Not at all. I felt like we had a good coaching staff and good players. We definitely wanted to win more games, that’s for sure.”

These days, Musgrave has a quarterback who threw nearly twice as many touchdowns in 10 starts last year than that entire 1998 team scored all year. He’s with an offense that set records for most yards and points instead of fewest. And now he’s a veteran coach with a decade and a half of experience instead of a recently retired quarterback just starting out.

“It’s a tremendous organization, tremendous coaching staff, and they have talent on the football field,” Musgrave said.

“To see what they did last year -- winning seven of the last eight and have momentum going into the playoffs -- I feel like it’s a program that I can contribute to and also can learn from at the same time.

“I was excited to [come here and] learn this system, learn this culture, be a contributing factor on a team that’s really on the rise.”

Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

DETROIT -- Matthew Stafford threw a go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.

The Lions (4-3) extended their winning streak to three games. The Redskins (4-3) had won four straight.

Stafford, who set up game-winning kicks in the previous two games, led his team to another win in the 100th game of his career. He was 18 of 29 for 266 yards, one TD and no turnovers.

Kirk Cousins scored a go-ahead TD on a 19-yard run with 1:05 left (see full recap).

4 interceptions power Giants past Rams in London
LONDON -- The Giants capitalized on four interceptions of Case Keenum in the first NFL game played at London's home of English rugby, a sold-out and raucous Twickenham Stadium.

Keenum, coming off the best start of his career, had the Rams at the Giants' 15-yard line with 50 seconds left when he lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie easily picked off. Keenum's intended target, Brian Quick, failed to get the quarterback's audible and cut off his route early.

Keenum, who finished 32 of 53 for 291 yards and one touchdown, has thrown an interception on the Rams' final offensive play of the last three games. That likely will fuel debate on a potential quarterback change to overall No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff.

Landon Collins returned his first of two picks 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also had two interceptions (see full recap).

Fitzpatrick relieves Smith, propels Jets to comeback win over Ravens
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced an injured Geno Smith and led the Jets on three scoring drives, and a rejuvenated defense came up with two rare interceptions.

Fitzpatrick came in for Smith in the second quarter and led the Jets on a go-ahead drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown catch by Matt Forte. Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 14 for 120 yards and a touchdown as the Jets (2-5) snapped a four-game losing streak.

Smith injured his right knee while taking a sack from Baltimore's Matthew Judon. Fitzpatrick was efficient after losing his job earlier in the week.

Joe Flacco started for Baltimore (3-4), loser of four in a row, after being questionable with a sore shoulder. He went a team-record 176 consecutive throws without an interception before Buster Skrine picked off his pass in the third quarter (see full recap).

Ajayi rushes for 200 yards in second straight game as Dolphins top  Bills
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Jay Ajayi tied an NFL record by surpassing 200 yards rushing for the second game in a row. Ajayi rushed for 214 yards in 29 carries after totaling 204 yards a week earlier in a win over Pittsburgh. He scored on a 4-yard run, and busted a 53-yarder when the Dolphins were pinned at their 3 and trailing in the fourth quarter.

The Dolphins (3-4) used an extra lineman much of the time to clear big holes for Ajayi, who tied the NFL record for consecutive 200-yard games held by O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.

Miami overcame an 11-point deficit with 16 minutes left to end a four-game winning streak by the Bills (4-3) and beat them for only the second time in their past seven meetings.

Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy, ranked second in the NFL in rushing, started, but totaled only 11 yards in eight carries before departing with a hamstring problem (see full recap).

Luck improves to 8-0 vs. Titans in Colts' 34-26 win
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Andrew Luck threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 1:55 left to put Indianapolis ahead to stay, and the Colts rallied to beat the Titans for their 10th straight win against their AFC South rival.

The Colts (3-4) came in having lost two of three, including blowing a 14-point lead in an overtime loss last week at Houston. But Luck he improved to 8-0 against the Titans with yet another comeback win. He finished with 353 yards passing and three TDs, the last after Tennessee went up 23-20.

T.Y. Hilton caught seven passes for 133 yards, including a 37-yard TD. The Colts shook off 12 penalties for 131 yards in pulling out their 15th win in 16 games against Tennessee.

The Titans (3-4) saw their two-game winning string end.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a pair of field goals, and the second, a 33-yarder with 3:46 left in the third quarter gave him an NFL record 43 consecutive field goals made (see full recap).

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Evaluating Carson Wentz

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Evaluating Carson Wentz

Sunday was by far the ugliest game of Carson Wentz's young career.
But it was also a gutsy effort by the rookie quarterback in a 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).
It's not too surprising that Wentz struggled against a Minnesota defense that has been among the best in the NFL this season. Wentz finished 16 of 28 for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Wentz against the Vikings.
1st quarter, 9:46, 2nd-and-12, PHI 9 — Eagles 0, Vikings 0
Starting with the ugly, Wentz has no business throwing this football. There was no pressure on the play. Wentz has time and throws to Brent Celek, who was smothered by linebacker Eric Kendricks. There was no window to throw into and Wentz, as he does from time to time, misses high and hits safety Andrew Sendejo.
1st quarter, 5:28, 3rd-and-11, PHI 38 — Eagles 0, Vikings 0
Another throw that just made no sense to try to make. Wentz does get some early pressure to his right, but he dances around it pretty easily and has plenty of time to reset and make a better read. Sure, Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz and does an excellent job disguising coverages, but there's no excuse for Wentz here. Nelson Agholor is double covered and this is an easy pick for Xavier Rhodes.
2nd quarter, 0:55, 1st-and-10, MIN 38 — Eagles 8, Vikings 3
Love the play call here. The Eagles just converted a huge fourth down. With time running down in the half, Doug Pederson elects to take a shot down the field. It sort of looked like Rhodes fell asleep while Dorial Green-Beckham shifted gears and started to run by him on a stutter go route. The ball looks like it's leading Green-Beckham perfectly, but Rhodes has an elbow in DGB's gut and a fist full of jersey. If Rhodes doesn't grab Green-Beckham, it's likely a touchdown. Ultimately, it's an incompletion. The refs were really letting the defensive backs be physical on both sides.
3rd quarter, 8:25, 1st-and-10, MIN 28 — Eagles 11, Vikings 3
This play sort of typified Wentz's day: It was almost disastrous but the kid found a way to get it done. Wentz, who had issues all day simply hanging on to the football, fumbled the snap. It didn't appear to be a great snap by Jason Kelce, but it also appeared that Wentz took his eyes off it. It's probably one he should've handled. What is so impressive about Wentz is that there isn't an ounce of panic in his game. He simply picks up the loose ball, rolls to his right and hits Darren Sproles for 19 yards. Similar to the big play against the Steelers, Wentz drew the linebacker Kendricks with the threat of running, leaving Sproles wide open for an easy pitch and catch.
3rd quarter, 5:45, 3rd-and-goal, MIN 5 — Eagles 11, Vikings 3
We've been hearing about Green-Beckham's role possibly expanding, but it hasn't quite come to fruition. Pederson pointed out earlier in the week that he'd like to get DGB involved in the red zone and that he excelled at running slants and using his big body. That's exactly what happened on this play. Wentz put the ball right on the money on the slant and Green-Beckham bullied his way into the end zone. The stats aren't impressive (two catches on four targets for eight yards and a touchdown), but it's clear Wentz is starting to look for Green-Beckham more.
Overall analysis
After forcing the issue in the first half against an elite defense, Wentz settled in and let the game come to him. The protection held up for the most part and Wentz just took what the Vikings were giving him. What you have to love is that Wentz found a way to get it done on a day when it looked like he couldn't. He played game manager and let his defense dominate in the second half. The ball security issues — the two picks, a couple bobbled snaps — are troubling, but really a gutsy performance by the kid.