2010 Eagles Met, If Not Exceeded Expectations

2010 Eagles Met, If Not Exceeded Expectations

The negative reactions are understandable and natural. Once again the Eagles will not be crowned world champions, and until they finally cast off the proverbial monkey, there will always exist a void inside many fans. Another season has concluded with disappointment.

As the initial gloom subsides, and we begin to put a wrap on the season that was, it's time to acknowledge this outcome was not even remotely surprising. Nobody predicted the Eagles would go all the way. Most people thought they would miss the playoffs and finish below .500.

This team was incomplete, and everybody knew it. Why such outrage after they came up short?

Play the blame game if it makes you feel better. Question why Michael Vick was targeting Riley Cooper when it mattered most. Point your finger at the receivers who dropped the ball. Shake your head as Winston Justice regresses right before our very eyes. Ponder how the front office can fix a defense that was historically bad in the red zone, and not great anywhere else. Ask how David Akers, in the midst of one of his best seasons, blows two makeable field goals. Criticize Andy Reid for, among other things, being Andy Reid.

Then breathe.

The Green Bay Packers are a better team. They entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, and the Philadelphia Eagles did not. Neither club wound up anyplace we didn't assume they would five months ago.

In professional sports, it's nearly impossible to compete for a championship every season. Somewhere along the way, barring flawless scouting and/or unlimited resources, every franchise inevitably must go through a period of transition. Sometimes it can take years, with one or more complete overhauls of the roster, coaching staff, and front office.

That's the traditional definition of rebuilding, which was supposedly happening here this season. The Eagles jettisoned the majority of their aging veterans, most notably the starting quarterback, and filled out their roster with a league high 13 draft picks. Even if the organization didn't outwardly say it, the moves marked a purposeful shift in direction.

Yet despite the notion they were "rebuilding," the Eagles still won 10 games and went to the playoffs. They matched the loftiest of goals set by prognosticators, and squashed the popular opinion they were not contenders.

Given the circumstances, that sounds like a successful season.

Obviously it's not successful in terms of winning the ultimate prize. If you're of the mindset that is the only way the campaign can be described as successful, I can't help you.

By any realistic standard, the Eagles had a quality season. They beat some long odds to go as far as they did. Between the youth movement, changes under center, and a bevy of injuries, most NFL teams would have crumbled.

The Eagles won the division like that, which suggests good things are still to come.

Yes, they have holes, or in some cases just tough questions. Right at the top of the list is what to do with their quarterbacks. They have needs along the offensive line and throughout the defense. Several key players are free agents, such as Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell, and David Akers. Marty Mornhinweg could be named the head coach in Cleveland, and Sean McDermott's performance will come under increased scrutiny.

Those holes and questions were always going to be there at the end of the season though, because they already existed when it began. Nothing suddenly changed on Sunday. The Eagles needed a right corner whether they advanced or not. They were going to draft some offensive linemen either way. There are difficult personnel decisions during any off-season. These issues surely did not catch anybody off guard.

They were just as imperfect in a loss as they were before the game, and before the season began. A deep playoff run was always a longshot.

Now the Eagles have another off-season to address those needs, and complete the sweeping changes that actually have been in progress for years. They'll use free agency and the draft to fortify those positions, like they would after any other season. Plus, a promising collection of young talent and prospects will have another year under their belts, returning in 2011 much stronger, healthier, and wiser.

Until then, while it may be hard to shake the fact that you're dissatisfied with this finish, it deserves to be put in proper perspective. Nobody on the coaching staff deserves to lose their jobs over this effort. By not only avoiding a total collapse, and instead taking back the NFC East and earning a home playoff game in the process, the Eagles put next season's opponents on notice. With the right moves, and a little luck, the Eagles can take a step forward from this and perhaps rejoin the rank of the elite.

If there is a next season.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).