Is This Really As Good As It Gets?

Is This Really As Good As It Gets?

As we go about analyzing what went so wrong so fast, we will almost certainly reach the same conclusion we have following every finish over the past decade: the Birds are still close. They won 11 games, came within one more of a post-season bye, and they managed to do so with a number of debilitating injuries and inexperienced players in key roles.

It all gets a little tiring though, and the manner in which this campaign ended was especially deflating. There are no positives to take away from their last two games, only questions about where they go from here, and we all know the giant elephant that needs to be addressed is quarterback. Then again, maybe that issue resolved itself. As the offense feebly attempted to move the ball on Saturday night, I couldn't help thinking we've seen enough.

It's time to explore a trade for Donovan McNabb.

This is the part of the post where I emphasize that I am not a hater. By now I've written enough words to the contrary, but somebody will invariably take this that way. Whatever. You'll never find me say an unfair word about him.

I just wonder sometimes...

McNabb played poorly on Saturday. He plays poorly for long stretches at a time, like the last ten quarters for instance. It's probably not a coincidence this most recent funk coincides with the loss of Jamaal Jackson. That may very well be the source of their most recent offensive woes, but the inconsistent nature of play from the quarterback position in Philadelphia has finally reached the point where it's safe to question whether this really is as good as it gets.

I just wonder sometimes what the offense would look like with Kevin Kolb instead.

Kolb doesn't have the same physical gifts as McNabb, such as the enormous stature that makes a man seemingly impossible to tackle, the speed and footwork to buy time in the pocket and outrun defenders, or the cannon arm that can throw a football over them mountains. Those things are proving to be overrated anyway. Give me accuracy, poise, and quick decision making, qualities Donovan showed none of against Dallas.

The fact that the offensive line crumbled does not completely excuse the quarterback's performance either. He had some throws that were there to be made, and he missed them. And where were the checkdowns? McNabb took a number of sacks the past two weeks where he simply held onto the ball for too long. There is no doubt about it, some of this falls on him.

Is Kolb really the solution though? Only a fool would blame McNabb for every opportunity the Eagles have come up short in the playoffs. They ran into better opponents on several occasions, like their first conference championship bid in '01 against Rams. He watched helplessly in '03 as his "receivers" dropped 10 passes, three of which inconveniently found the hands of Panthers defensive backs. The defense wasn't much of a help in Arizona last year.

Except even when it hasn't been entirely the quarterback's fault, never has he risen above the other 21 players on the field and carried any one of those teams across the finish line. Quite remarkably, it's the total opposite. It's not necessarily that he costs them the game, it's the inability to seize victory in a tight spot, while facing an equal or stronger opponent, regardless what the odds are. Find one example where Donovan was the difference maker in an elimination game.

Please spare us the list making. Yes, there was a dark period for Birds fans. Can we at least admit the group of quarterbacks between Cunningham and McNabb didn't have the same pedigree as Kolb? You're mostly talking about a bunch of career journeymen. The exception is Hoying, the starter in Ray Rhodes' final season, and when the team finishes 3-13, maybe quarterback isn't the only problem.

Kolb was a high second round pick. He's had three years to learn the system. The offense is loaded with all star talent. He played pretty well in his two starts. Obviously none of this guarantees he'll be successful in the NFL, but comparing Kolb and his situation to what went on here in the nineties is a leap. They're actually prepared to make a transition.

It's also not as if other quarterbacks haven't succeeded in McNabb's stead. Koy Detmer, for one night only, and A.J. Feeley in his rookie year held the ship together in '02. Jeff Garcia, previously banished from Cleveland, then Detroit, led the amazing turnaround in '06. Kolb clearly did fine early on this season. Mike McMahon is the lone failure at backup quarterback, but he was wildly awful in any situation he's ever been. The results otherwise suggest the Eagles will not miss a beat.

Enough about John Elway too. Besides not winning in his prime, know what else he has in common with McNabb? The Broncos drafted his replacement. Had they not fired Dan Reeves, or Elway didn't have a career year in 1993, we might be discussing how he needed to leave Denver to finally win a championship.

You don't know. Nobody does. Just as sick as I am of hearing Donovan will never win a championship, the counter punch that it took so-and-so this long is equally distressful. We're supposed to continue believing his career will follow the same path as one of the all time greats, a sports legend, even in the face of mounting evidence that indicates he isn't on that level? These past two weeks, he wasn't even on Tony Romo's level.

If McNabb is at the helm once again next season, along with a comfortable five-year extension, I honestly will not be disappointed. We're still talking about a very accomplished quarterback, not great, but easily better than roughly 75% of the rest of the league's starters. Regardless of what the goons out there say, he's capable enough to win with. The defense needs to be improved foremost for the Eagles to conceivably compete for a championship no matter who is running the offense in the first place.

Plus, looking at the big picture, the Dallas Cowboys are the better team this year. They're a bastion of health right now, with a huge offensive line, dominant pass rush, and emerging playmakers at the running back, wide receiver, and cornerback positions. We admittedly might be placing too much stock on one man's play when the Eagles were thoroughly outplayed from top to bottom.

And yet when do we finally run out of excuses? We've blamed coaching, particularly the play calling, but there was an honest commitment to running the football in the latter half of the season. We've blamed the weapons, so they assembled a roster full of Pro Bowlers, especially young, talented skill players. Next we're on to the defense, but unless the gameplan was to hold the Cowboys under seven points, the Eagles weren't winning either of these rounds.

Meanwhile, a young player wastes away on the bench, and nobody has the slightest clue what his true potential is. The Eagles could trade a franchise quarterback for something in the neighborhood of first and third round picks. One theory in the Twitter-verse sends McNabb in a virtually straight up deal for Julius Peppers, thereby eliminating their biggest need in the process. If Kolb does in fact have the ability to win games, his promotion combined with McNabb's departure would only serve to bolster an already impressive core.

If you were looking for somebody to stay the course today, you came to the wrong place. The Eagles can do better than Donovan McNabb. Maybe Kolb isn't the answer, but when has 5 ever been? They've won a lot of games, and it's been an enjoyable ride for anybody who can accept how difficult it is to become Super Bowl champions, but the time is now to figure out how they get over that hurdle.

Give me Kevin Kolb.

Reliever Joaquin Benoit gives manager Mackanin a thumbs-up for calling team meeting

Reliever Joaquin Benoit gives manager Mackanin a thumbs-up for calling team meeting

Pete Mackanin gave his team an earful after it lost for the 21st time in 26 games Friday night.
 
Reliever Joaquin Benoit thought it was a good idea.
 
And he believes it had an impact.
 
The Phillies reported for work on Saturday and beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, on Tommy Joseph's walk-off hit in the ninth (see game story).
 
"It always helps when the manager comes and talks about different situations and the things we need to do," said Benoit, a 39-year-old veteran in his 17th big-league season. "It always helps. It shows that everybody cares on the whole team and it's a wake-up call for everybody."
 
While Joseph was the ultimate hero for the Phillies on Saturday, Benoit and his mates in the bullpen weren't far behind. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to help put Joseph in a position to win it in the ninth.
 
Not long ago, the Phillies' bullpen was having big problems, giving up big hits and posting big ERA numbers.
 
But over the last five games, the bullpen has racked up a string of scoreless innings that numbers 19 2/3. That scoreless streak has lowered the bullpen's overall ERA from 4.82 to 4.23, not great, but better and moving in the right direction.
 
"I believe that we are going good, taking advantage of the situation," Benoit said. "I think we are being more consistent in the strike zone and getting ahead. That translates to zeroes."
 
Benoit had been critical of Mackanin for not having his relievers in set roles. The manager responded by saying it was difficult to give guys set roles when they were pitching poorly.
 
Performances are improving.

And roles are now emerging.
 
"I believe everything is going well for us and I believe everyone is where they are supposed to be," Benoit said.
 
Benoit took some pride in Saturday's win. He has pitched seven straight scoreless innings.
 
"Every win is a step forward," he said.
 
No matter how many steps this Phillies team takes forward, it will not be a contender this season. It has dug itself a huge hole and it wasn't expected to contend anyway. It is a rebuilding team.
 
But Benoit will likely pitch for a contender later this season. He is expected to be dealt to a contender in July. Who knows what he will bring back, but his value will only go up if he can keep putting up zeroes.
 
Neshek, too. He has allowed just two runs in 18 2/3 innings. He has 15 strikeouts and just three walks.
 
While it's not clear how long Benoit will be here, he believes this Phillies team has weathered the worst and is ready for a turnaround.
 
"It's tough when you are losing," he said. "When you start winning and you do the little things, I believe everything can change.
 
"I'm the kind of guy who likes to start over from zero so everything that happens is in the past and you start over from scratch and let's see where everything goes from now on."

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?