Turnovers, Ineptitude Doom Eagles

Turnovers, Ineptitude Doom Eagles

Where to begin? Do we start with Michael Vick's four interceptions, or do we point the finger at Jason Avant for his lack of ball security? Should we blame Vick, Andy Reid, or the time keeper for leaving three points on the field at the end of the first half? Were Jarrad Page and his comedy of missed tackles the most crippling defensive breakdowns, or should we jump all over Juqua Parker for committing a neutral zone infraction that kept the Bills' offense on the field -- a fitting way for the game to come to a close.

If you are like me and still searching for answers, Sunday's 31-24 loss in Buffalo did not provide any relief. It was just more of the same, this Eagles team contradicting itself over the course of 60 minutes, at times showing flashes of the Dream, but all too often reminding us why their record has now dropped to 1-4.

Vick threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns, and added 90 yards on the ground to top Randall Cunningham as the NFL's all-time leader in quarterback rushing yards. As usual, he made several stellar plays, and he helped give this team life after they had fallen behind by as many as 21 points in the third quarter.

His four interceptions were backbreakers though. You could give the quarterback a break on one or two, but he held the ball entirely too long and was hit as he was throwing the ball on one, and another he dumped right to LB Nick Barnett, who returned it 31 yards for a score.

However, the final pick wasn't Vick's fault at all. Jason Avant had a career day, hauling in nine passes for 139 yards, but he had two killer mistakes. First, he fumbled as the Eagles were finally showing signs of attempting a comeback, that error resulting in three points for the Bills. Then, as the offense was driving toward a potential tie, Vick's pass was in Avant's hands, but the wide receiver had it ripped out, bounce off his foot, and again into Barnett's waiting hands.

Does this club come up small in big situations, or what?

It was a similar story on defense, who were not wholly awful as you would expect. The Bills only scored 24 points on offense -- three on the short field after Avant's fumble -- and while RB Fred Jackson had a huge day with close to 200 total yards from scrimmage, the Buffalo passing game was held in check. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had 197 yards passing, and was intercepted by Jamar Chaney.

But as we have sadly become programmed to expect, they missed far too many opportunities to erase a big play or stop a drive in its tracks. Page whiffed on one tackle after another, and while he certainly was not alone, his inability to get ball carriers to the ground was the most noticeable. He was eventually benched for Kurt Coleman, who was previously benched himself over spotty tackling.

Page failed to contain the edge on Jackson' five-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter, the running back dancing untouched into the end zone. In all, the red zone woes continued, as the Eagles have now allowed their opponent to come away with at least three points in 51 consecutive trips inside the 20 yard line.

And then of course there was Parker's offsides on 4th and 1 with less than two minutes in the fourth quarter. There is a good chance the Bills never intended to snap the ball, would have taken a timeout, and punted it away. Even if they would have run the play, to gift wrap a first down that effectively ended the game, well, that's about as perfect a picture as you could get of this team through five weeks.

Does this club come up small in big situations, or what?

Instant Replay: Reds 5, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Reds 5, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola struggled and the Phillies' offense slumbered in a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies had just one hit through eight innings and three overall in losing for the 21st time in the last 26 games. They scored both of their runs in the ninth inning.

Over their last six games, five of which have been losses, the Phillies have been held to three hits four times.

The Phillies have scored just nine runs in their last six games.

Nola came off the disabled list and pitched seven innings of one-run ball Sunday in Pittsburgh. He failed to build on that outing against a Cincinnati club that entered the game with nine losses in its previous 12 games.

Starting pitching report
Nola, who entered the game having given up just one home run in 23 innings this season, gave up a pair of long balls in the first two innings as the Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead. In all, the right-hander gave up six hits and five runs over six innings.

Nola is 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA in five starts.

Cincinnati right-hander Tim Adleman's 20th big-league start was the best of his career. The right-hander pitched eight shutout innings and allowed just four baserunners on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman. He struck out four.

Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA this season.

Bullpen report
Mark Leiter Jr. pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three for the Phillies.

Asher Wojciechowski lost the shutout in the ninth. Raisel Iglesias came on for the final two outs. He struck out Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, hacking wildly at a full-count breaking ball to end the game.

At the plate
Andres Blanco, the Phillies' No. 2 hitter, singled in the first inning. The Phillies did not have another hit until there was one out in the ninth.

Aaron Altherr doubled in the ninth to break up the Reds' shutout bid.

Odubel Herrera batted leadoff and ran his slump to 0 for 13 before doubling in the ninth. He hit a ball hard earlier in the game, too, but Cincinnati leftfielder Adam Duvall made a nice diving catch.

For Cincinnati, Duvall and Scott Schebler took Nola deep. Jose Peraza had a two-run single against Nola in the sixth inning. He has a 12-game hitting streak.

In the field
Cincinnati catcher Devin Mesoraco made a terrific play in starting a 2-4-3 double play to end the seventh inning.

Minor matters
Second base prospect Jesmuel Valentin had season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in Philadelphia on Friday. Valentin, who was playing at Triple A Lehigh Valley, is looking at a recovery time of four to five months. He should be ready to play winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Valentin went down to the final days of camp in a bid to make the Phillies' opening day roster in spring training (see story).

Up next
The series continues in a 4:05 p.m. start Saturday. Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70) pitches against Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 6.75).

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It has been an extraordinary 11 months for P.K. Subban.

The defenseman moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. Left his native Canada to live in the American South. Blended in with new teammates, created a new home and learned a new system of money, too.

Oh, and along the way the former star for the Montreal Canadiens played a key role in Nashville's stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The best way to sum up Subban's approach? C'est la vie.

"I just tried to have the right attitude when change comes my way," Subban said. "I think when you have an open mind, an open mind is like a gold mine. You just have an open mind, you can only go up from there regardless of what comes your way and just always try to approach things in a positive way."

The Canadiens and Predators shocked the NHL last June 29 when Nashville swapped captain Shea Weber for Subban in a rare one-for-one trade of All-Star defensemen. Adding Subban's offensive skills immediately made the Predators a popular pick to be right where they are now as the Western Conference champions.

The stylish Subban has as much flair on the ice with his goal celebrations as off with his hats and stylish suits. The Predators and their fans have embraced all of it.

"When it happened, I came in here with the right attitude and just wanted to be a part of this team and do whatever I can do to help a team win," Subban said (see full story).

Penguins: Team rides maturity, resilience back to Cup Final
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

"Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim," Crosby said. "We've just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We've done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength" (see full story).