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November 26, 2018

Angelo Cataldi: Eagles season is saved (for now), and Markelle Fultz needs to be gone ASAP

In the final moments of a grueling game, legendary announcer Merrill Reese screamed, “The Eagles have saved their season! The Eagles have saved their season!”     

Indeed, they have — but for how long?      

A bizarre season took one more crazy twist on Sunday when the Birds bounced back from a 19-3 deficit by rediscovering their defense and their running game just when it appeared this post-Super Bowl season was lost. In the end, they beat the Giants, 25-22, sending the Lincoln Financial Field fans home relieved, if not yet happy.      

The problem with a win like this is the sense of futility it reinforced before the unexpected finish. The defense has never looked worse than it did in the first half, giving up 348 yards to a geriatric Eli Manning. Carson Wentz was inept at the start of another game, shut out again in the first quarter. The tackling was bad. The play-calling was illogical.      

The low point was when team leader Jason Kelce cost the Eagles a touchdown early in the game with a downright stupid holding penalty. Underdogs? Yeah, they were playing like underdogs, all right — or just plain dogs — until the second-half comeback.     

Kelce won’t be writing any new parade speeches based on what happened at the Linc on Sunday. This was not a win that inspired dreams of repeating. This was a simple case of survival.     

Former Bird Barrett Brooks put the victory into clear perspective on the NBC Sports Philadelphia postgame show: “This is still a bad team.” 

Originally, I thought he was referring to the Eagles, but later I realized it didn’t matter. The label fit both rivals. A 4-6 team beat a 3-7 team. Did the Eagles win, or did the Giants lose?       

The outcry in New York today is that New York head coach Pat Shurmur earned a big assist by keeping Saquon Barkley off the field far too often in the latter stages, and by calling Beckham’s number only when it was way too late. The two biggest weapons in the Giants arsenal combined for 33 yards in the second half. Barkley got four carries. Wow. 

Later, Shurmur dismissed all talk of bad strategy. He said Barkley’s absence had no bearing at all on the outcome. Clearly, Shurmur learned a lot during his three seasons as an assistant to ex-Eagles coach Chip Kelly. He learned both how to lose, and how to learn absolutely nothing from his failures. Thanks, Pat.      

At the same time, the Eagles did find a way to escape with a win, courtesy of a couple of remarkable developments. First, they kept the Giants out of the end zone in the second half with a bunch of defensive backs only their families could identify. (Who the hell is LeBlanc? Was he really covering Odell Beckham Jr. with the season on the line?)      

And second, where the Birds truly won the game was on the other side of the ball, when coach Doug Peterson did something totally out of character. He ran the ball, over and over, burning the clock and slowly grinding down the lead. The pass-happy play caller dialed up 12 runs out of the last 16 plays. His linemen begged him to run, and this time he actually listened. Bravo.   

Of course, now there are still questions that only the final five games can answer:      

• Will Peterson finally commit his game plan to running the ball?      

• Will the defensive line remain awake now after a several-game snooze?      

• Will Wentz find the confidence from the win that he so badly needs?      

• Will the mediocre Cowboys and Redskins continue to breathe life back into the Eagles.      

The good news is, there are still questions worth asking this season. As Merrill Reese reported, the Eagles did indeed save the season. At least for now.

Markelle Fultz must go — the sooner the better

After another week of drama surrounding draft bust Markelle Fultz, there’s really only one question left for the 76ers to answer: When? As in, when are they going to admit one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history and get rid of this annoying distraction? 

Because of the Jimmy Butler trade, the Sixers have a chance to achieve something special this season – maybe even a trip to the NBA Finals – but Fultz won’t be a part of that run, nor of any subsequent accomplishments. He is not just a wasted No. 1 draft pick; he is an embarrassment, to the team and to himself. 

His latest antics should be the final flourish in a year-plus of insanity, but so far the Sixers have shown no inkling of trading him (good luck finding a sucker for that one) or even just releasing him. After a second demotion further down the bench last week, the very next day Fultz had his lawyer inform the team that he would not be available until after a visit to a shoulder specialist sometime Monday. 

Later, there was speculation that it was actually his right wrist that was the problem. Of course, the real issue is not his shoulder or his wrist. It’s his head. 

Fultz is the most sensitive and immature athlete in recent Philadelphia sports history. Yes, he’s still only 20, but his behavior is that of a 10-year-old. Three weeks ago, he fired his shooting coach because Drew Hanlen tweeted that the kid was still hurt. Then Fultz double-pumped on a free throw, reinforcing the notion that he has not overcome a mental block. And after that Fultz misfired on Twitter himself by whining over losing his starting job after the Butler trade. 

And on and on it goes. 

The sad truth is that Fultz is a shooting guard who can’t shoot. The last time he showed any promise was on a Washington team that finished 9-22. He has no track record of success, anywhere. He is a basket case with no baskets. The latest development was a report over the holiday weekend that Fultz to be traded. 

OK, here’s a suggestion. The Sixers should trade Markelle Fultz even-up for the Twitter account of the wife of ex-GM Bryan Colangelo, the genius who wasted the top pick in the 2016 draft on a kid who can’t play. 

Actually, Barbara Bottini’s Twitter account accomplished more. It got her husband fired. It got a terrible GM out of town. Bravo. The sooner Fultz joins him elsewhere, the better.