Was 2013 actually a missed opportunity for the Eagles?

Was 2013 actually a missed opportunity for the Eagles?

No matter where you turn, the sentiments are largely the same. The future is bright for the Philadelphia Eagles. They were ahead of schedule this season. With a couple free-agent upgrades and another quality draft, the Birds are primed to be contender in the NFC for the next few years.

The flip side of the coin is they were within striking distance this year, and as much as we forecast better days on the horizon, the Eagles let this opportunity slip through their fingers. You never know when they’ll get another.

That’s the synopsis behind Reuben Frank’s Monday morning autopsy of Philly’s 26-24 first-round exit from the playoffs over the weekend, a game the Birds led with under five minutes remaining. The CSNPhilly.com columnist explains why it was actually so important they seized that moment.

The Eagles went from 4-12 to 10-6, won the division, reached the playoffs, seemingly righted the franchise after two dismal seasons.

All of which guarantees them nothing in 2014 and beyond.

Success in 2013 doesn’t automatically mean success in 2014, and while it might be reassuring to shrug off that loss to the Saints with the notion that the Eagles do have a promising young quarterback and an impressive coach and an array of offensive weapons and several terrific, young defensive players, the reality is that next year stands alone. Players change, circumstances change, team chemistry changes. You don’t pick up where you left off. You start over like 31 other teams, and that’s why so many NFL teams routinely go from worst to first and back again year by year.

Roob is absolutely right of course. We need not look outside the NFC East to find an example of what he’s talking about. Washington finished the 2012 season much the same way the Eagles did 2013, with an improbable run to do a division championship led by a budding superstar at quarterback.

The future looked bright for Washington, too. They went 3-13 this season.

Of course, there were circumstances that came into play. Robert Griffin III suffered a torn ACL in Washington’s final game last year, and it affected his entire offseason. The franchise also lacked a first-round pick, while a salary cap penalty limited the money the front office could throw around in free agency.

The Eagles finished the season in good health, they have all of their draft picks and are way under the cap. Still, the point is the NFL is unpredictable.

Philadelphia may not be so lucky with injuries in 2014, some key veterans could start to decline significantly and there’s always the possibility Nick Foles will regress. Right now, it seems like it would take a perfect storm to keep the Birds from going back to the playoffs next season, but teams get snake-bitten. It happens all the time.

That being said, I’m not so sure how legitimate the Eagles’ shot was at winning the Super Bowl this season even had they advanced over the weekend. The secondary was a mess for the last month, and New Orleans showed the defense could be pushed around in the running game. Foles and the offense were contained as well until the Saints’ top cornerback left the game with an injury.

Were the Eagles significantly better prepared to defeat the Denver Broncos in February than they were in Week 4 when they lost 52-20? Not by much, and there still would've been a tough road ahead to make it that far.

You still have to love the direction the Eagles are heading though. Foles should return strong with a full offseason of work as the starting quarterback—not to mention his wide receiver corps bolstered—while the defense will absolutely improve once a true nose tackle, a safety or two and another pass rusher are added to the mix.

It’s a great situation on paper. But as is always the case, everything needs to align at proper time.

>> 2013 Eagles failed to seize fleeting opportunity [CSN]

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn was ready to try anything to get a win for his Auburn Tigers.

Malzahn relinquished offensive play-calling duties. Following his daughters' advice, he traded his usual game-day visor for a cap. And then, when the clock expired and LSU players were celebrating an apparent last-second win, the Auburn coach put all his faith in a ruling he couldn't control.

Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals and Auburn beat No. 18 LSU 18-13 on Saturday night after officials ruled Danny Etling's apparent last-gasp scoring pass came after time expired.

Malzahn said he knew there were only zeroes on the clock before the snap to Etling.

"I was pretty confident time had expired," Malzahn said. "It was just a matter of going to the booth and confirming it."

Etling rolled to his right and found D.J. Shark in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard pass, setting off a short-lived celebration by LSU players (see full recap).

Hornibrook proves he's ready in Badgers' win over Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- By the time Alex Hornibrook's first start was over, there wasn't much question about whether he could handle one of the toughest road tests in the Big Ten.

Hornibrook threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, and 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned its early-season showdown with No. 8 Michigan State into a rout, beating the Spartans 30-6 on Saturday.

"You've got to have respect for a guy whose first start is against a Michigan State defense," Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said.

"He's going to come out the next game and do even better. I think he's just getting his feet wet."

The freshman quarterback outplayed fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor, his Michigan State counterpart. The Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were the better team in the first half and then outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the third quarter (see full recap).

No. 23 Rebels find their rhythm, beat No. 12 Georgia 45-14
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly faked the handoff and then took off running toward the end zone. A few seconds and 41 yards later, the quarterback had cruised through the middle of the Georgia defense and into the end zone untouched.

It was pretty much that easy for the Rebels all afternoon. Ole Miss finally built a lead it couldn't give away.

No. 23 Ole Miss rolled to a 45-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia on Saturday, building a 31-0 lead by halftime and a 45-0 advantage by midway through the fourth quarter.

Kelly threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) broke a 10-game losing streak in the series dating to 1996 (see full recap).

Dobbs rallies No. 14 Vols to 38-28 win over No. 19 Gators
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This time, Tennessee delivered the comeback.

And in the process, the Volunteers took out 11 years' worth of frustration on Florida.

Joshua Dobbs accounted for five second-half touchdowns Saturday and No. 14 Tennessee erased a 21-point deficit to beat No. 19 Florida 38-28 and end their 11-game losing streak in the annual series.

"I didn't see anybody blink," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "Nobody flinched. They just kept playing."

This marks the first time Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has beaten Florida (3-1, 1-1) since 2004. The Volunteers had lost to Florida by one point each of the last two years despite leading in the fourth quarter of both games (see full recap).