October 10, 2016
It has become fashionable in today’s politically correct world never to blame the officials for a loss, even when they are so inept, there’s no other logical conclusion. Fortunately, no one has ever accused me of being either fashionable or politically correct.
The Eagles lost a game on Sunday in Detroit not because the defense failed to show up until the second half, not because Carson Wentz threw his first interception in the final moments and not even because Ryan Matthews gift-wrapped the decisive points with a horrific fumble.
No, the Eagles lost, 24-23, because of head official Pete Morelli and his crew of incompetent referees. As the voice of the Eagles, Merrill Reese, summed it up: “This was one of the worst-officiated games I’ve ever seen.” Reese should know. He’s been doing Eagles broadcasts for 40 years.
How bad was it? The Birds were flagged for 14 penalties worth 111 yards, while the Lions had two for 18. Let those numbers sink in for a moment. Is it logical that there would ever be a disparity that great in any NFL game? Or does it make more sense that Morelli and his crew had a fixation only on the white jerseys?
Every aspect of the Eagles’ admittedly subpar performance was a direct result of Morelli’s ineptitude. Remember those early touchdown drives by the Lions? Check the tape. The officials repeatedly missed holding calls against Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Barwin even barked at the refs, to no avail.
Or how about that chop-block by Darren Sproles? The man is 5 foot 6, and he was called for aiming too low? What was he supposed to do, bring a chair?
Maybe you remember the brilliant sequence in which the Eagles had an ineligible receiver downfield – no. 98? The only no. 98 is Barwin, who works exclusively on defense. The refs eventually got that one right, but only after a review from upstairs.
What they didn’t get right was the bogus holding call against guard Brandon Brooks on a huge run by Mathews late in the game, or the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty against Malcolm Jenkins on the final Detroit drive, or the first-down call based on a botched mark that required a challenge by Eagles coach Doug Pederson.
After the loss, the prevailing wisdom was that Mathews’ fumble was the pivotal play. Granted, it was outrageous, given the gravity of the moment and the reckless way he was holding the ball. But let’s play out the rest of the game. The Eagles would have punted with two minutes and change left, down 23-21.
What are the odds Morelli would have kept the flag in his pocket when the Lions threw the ball downfield to Marvin Jones or Anquan Boldin? Who’s willing to bet the refs would not have completed their one-sided performance by setting up a game-winning field goal with one more penalty call?
The reality is, Mathews’ fumble wouldn’t have mattered, nor did Wentz’s interception (in which the defender, Darius Slay, was holding Nelson’s Agholor’s arm), nor did the slow start by the defense. None of it mattered in Detroit on Sunday.
The final score was not 24-23; it was 14 penalties to two. It was 111 yards to 18. And the person who made the biggest difference was a 64-year-old referee with 20 years’ of NFL experience. His name is Pete Morelli, and he’s the biggest reason the Eagles lost on Sunday.
How is a fan supposed to react when a member of his favorite team keeps doing stupid things, or maybe is just not too bright? Can the fan tune out all of the absurdity and still root for the player?
Those was the kind of questions that arose out of the most recent episode of bizarre behavior by Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who absentmindedly packed a loaded handgun into his carry-on bag before reaching the security checkpoint in the Miami airport last week. Bradham was arrested and now may face an NFL suspension.
“I forgot – it’s as simple as that,” he said. “It could have happened to anybody.”
Even more perplexing is the fact that Bradham was already out on bond for allegedly assaulting a hotel cabana boy last summer for not putting up his umbrella fast enough. Bradham has to appear in court next January on that charge.
So far, no one has even tried to make excuses for Bradham’s ridiculous behavior. In fact, Jim Schwartz made national headlines the other day when the defensive coordinator said: “You do dumbass things, pretty soon you’re going to be labeled a dumbass.”
Bradham was conspicuous by his absence in the first half of the Eagles’ 24-23 loss in Detroit, though his coaches insisted they didn’t bench him over the handgun incident. Once he did get back in the game, he was the best player on the field. Losing him early in the game, for whatever reason, was a major blow on Sunday.
If history is any guide, fans will be able to cast aside all of Bradham’s baggage as long as he keeps performing at a high level on the field – but he should understand that the slow-witted are abandoned quickly once their contributions dwindle. Just ask former Eagle Freddie Mitchell.
The best line during the Bradham airport boondoggle came from an unlikely source, legendary ex-Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. When I asked him on my WIP radio show last Friday how he would handle a player like Bradham, he said, “I would give him an IQ test.”
Buck Showalter’s brain-lock last week in the American League wild card game is destined to rank among the worst mistakes in baseball history. This so-called diamond genius blew an entire season when he kept his best relief pitcher, having a historical year, in the bullpen for 11 excruciating innings.
The only miracle in the days since Showalter’s ultimate nod to the robotic thinking of today’s managers is that the Baltimore skipper still has his job. Zac Britton had given up one run since April. And he never got into the biggest game of the year?
What actually happened in Toronto is not all that hard to understand if you have been following the paint-by-numbers approach of most managers these days. For example, Charlie Manuel was a prime practitioner of the robotic style of bullpen strategy, as is current Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin.
In this cover-your-ass philosophy, relief pitchers are assigned an inning, especially the seventh, eighth and ninth. There is no room for actual on-the-spot thinking here. If the pitcher blows it, hey, the manager did his job, didn’t he?
Showalter’s strategy was insane, and not just because no situation presented itself for the standard use of a closer. It was nuts because this approach requires no actual thought. Everything is programmed ahead of time. All of the decisions have already been made. Why did Showalter even bother to show up for the game?
One night after Showalter’s historic gaffe, Cleveland manager Terry Francona went to his best relief arm, Andrew Miller, in the fifth inning. That’s right, the fifth inning. Miller was his usual brilliant self, and the Indians stifled the great Boston offense for a huge victory.
Francona has learned a lot since his sputtering start here with the Phillies, including the need to actually think before making important strategic decisions.
Buck Showalter has learned nothing – and neither have all the other managers who wait their entire careers to run a baseball team, and then refuse to do so when given the chance.
And finally ...
• Can we all just calm down a little bit about the first few preseason games of Sixers center Joel Embiid? After two mediocre performances and one good one, it’s illogical to draw any firm conclusions about the next big hope on the roster. Yes, he’s athletic. Yes, he’s got promise. But the only legitimate thing to say so far is that he has played three games and has not broken his foot again.
• Chip Kelly has lost four straight games in San Francisco and may actually turn his offense over to controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Is it safe yet to say that the former Eagles coach, whose bungling of Kaepernick’s anthem protest is one reason for a drop in NFL TV ratings, is no genius? Kelly has a four-year contract with the Niners. Who thinks he’ll be there for all four years? Anybody?
• Remember Sam Bradford, the ex-Eagles quarterback who happily left for Minnesota just before the start of the current season? So far, Bradford has an incredible passer rating of 110, having thrown for 990 yards, with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. Last week, SI.com writer Peter King proclaimed Bradford the MVP of the league so far. Guess where the quarterback’s next game is. Yup, right here in Philadelphia on Oct. 23. Now, that should be fun.
• How gratifying was it to see the New York Mets, who danced on the field at Citizens Bank Park nine days ago after they clinched a playoff berth, go home after one miserable game? Remember all of those smug Mets fans taking over our ballpark? They’re home now, crying in their beers. Thank you, Madison Bumgarner.