November 16, 2015
The most perplexing characteristic of the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles was on full display during an atrocious 20-19 loss to the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
In a word, this team is stupid.
Is there any other explanation for Mark Sanchez’ fatal interception in the end zone with less than five minutes left in the game?
Is there a better word to describe Riley Cooper’s inability to line up properly on a nullified touchdown that cost the Eagles the game?
Is there a more accurate way to analyze Miles Austin’s decision not to drag his left foot on a critical catch in the back of the end zone?
Is there an alternate explanation for a seven-yard pass when the Eagles needed 10 on the final offensive play of the game?
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Sunday’s loss was a maddening exercise in failing to think clearly under pressure, by a roster of intelligent athletes hand-picked by one of the smartest coaches in the NFL, Chip Kelly. In fact, Kelly was perceptive enough after the game to offer four words that told the entire story of the game: “We didn’t play smart.”
I asked Kelly on my WIP radio show Monday morning to explain why so many dumb mistakes – ridiculous penalties, bad snaps, missed assignments, absurd strategy – happened to a team of smart players, he wrote it off as just a bad game. Of course, at 4-5, the Eagles have had at least five of these so far, all of them mind-boggling in their lunacy.
It should have come as no surprise that Sanchez – back on the field after Sam Bradford’s concussion and shoulder injury – led the parade of the witless on this lost day. Sanchez has a legacy of insane decisions – see: butt-fumble – in his disappointing NFL career, and he added a new one late in Sunday’s game.
Camped at the nine-yard line with 4:32 to play, Sanchez must have realized that the Eagles could do no worse than a field goal, even with the erratic foot of kicker Caleb Sturgis. The veteran quarterback had to know it was absolutely crazy to fling the ball into the middle of the end zone hoping that Austin would turn and catch it. No?
No. Sanchez actually made it sound logical to risk the game with that ill-fated toss, even after Miami’s Reshad Jones had snatched it out of the air and killed the drive. But then, Sanchez is the same guy who threw the last pass seven yards when the Eagles needed 10. He is known to struggle with lucid thinking, especially at key moments in close games.
Cooper’s snafu begs a much bigger question: Why is he still on the team? The wide receiver has 11 catches in nine games. And Austin is no bargain, either. He’s got 12 catches in nine games – 13 if you count the ball he caught Sunday but forgot to drag his foot. Together, Cooper and Austin were on the field Sunday for 94 snaps, and zero catches.
With no luck finding answers from Kelly about the cluelessness of his Eagles, I turned to one of the smartest players on the team, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, to explain how the defense allowed a critical touchdown in the fourth quarter on a ball that dangled in the air for four seconds after a pass deflection by Connor Barwin.
Ryans, who had blitzed on the play, said none of the defenders realized they could hit Jarvis Landry before the ball got to him. (A deflection nullifies pass interference.) Either they didn’t see the ball, or they never computed the proper response. As a result, Landry made the catch for the winning touchdown.
How could so many smart people play such a dumb game?
“I have no explanation,” Ryans said.
OK, then this is a perfect time for the Eagles to put their heads together and figure out the answer to that question – and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
They’re too smart to be this stupid.
Malcolm Jenkins is in big trouble with the Eagles medical staff, the coaches and his family for hiding a concussion in the team’s overtime win over Dallas earlier this month. On the other hand, he is in no trouble at all with the fans or his teammates.
Therein lies the double standard still enveloping the concussion issue as a much-anticipated new movie – appropriately titled Concussion – starring Will Smith debuts on Christmas Day. The film will point out, accurately, the long-term dangers of not treating immediately the kind of severe head traumas that are routine in the NFL.
During the game, Jenkins did admit the injury to a couple of his teammates, and they laid out all of the arguments for why he should report his condition. Studies show that playing right after a concussion is often leads to far more serious consequences, including death. None of these players informed the coaches or medical people, though.
The veteran safety himself said all the right things after he had finally told the trainers about the “fog” he battled in the second half of that Dallas game. After belatedly following all of the new concussion protocols required by the league during the week, Jenkins was able to return Sunday without missing a single play.
The truth is, Jenkins did what football players have been trained to do since the invention of the sport – to play hurt, to sacrifice their own individual needs in favor of the team. Have you ever heard a coach’s pregame speech that stressed caution over commitment, personal safety over success?
As for the fans, well, there really is no debate at all. Jenkins is the best defensive playmaker on the Eagles, and his departure could have led to a season-crippling loss. Fans may pay some lip service to the new outcry for vigilance with concussions, but the honest ones will admit they want the best players to play, regardless of the repercussions.
Last week, at the peak of the Jenkins discussion, I asked Eagles center Jason Kelce what he would have done if he were confronted with the same situation – close game, in Dallas, with the season possibly at stake.
“I probably would have kept playing,” he said.
No new concussion protocols or Will Smith movies are going to alter that reality. Players always want to play. And no matter how many warnings they’re given, they will always risk their future to do so.
Billionaire sports owner Joshua Harris has enough money to buy anything he could ever want, and yet he’s a pauper when it comes to basic human decency.
Harris, who has owned the Sixers since 2011, proved once again last week just how detached from society he is after an ugly incident involving his private helicopter and a group of disappointed children.
Just as a soccer game involving kids under 13 was about to begin, Harris’ helicopter plunked down right in the middle of the Saint Benedict’s Prep soccer field in Newark, N.J., where it awaited the owner after a Devils game. There the helicopter sat, for close to an hour, before the disappointed children and their angry parents gave up and went home.
“I sincerely apologize to the kids and their coaches and families for the cancellation of their soccer game in Newark,” Harris said. “As a Dad, who has spent hundreds of hours watching my kids play sports, I can understand the frustration, and for that, I am truly sorry.”
No, he is not sorry. No one “truly sorry” would handle an embarrassing matter like this with a written statement issued by his public-relations department. Even in a story that got national attention and solidified Harris’ reputation as a pompous ass, it was too much trouble for him to get in front of a camera and apologize.
Joshua Harris is a ruthless tycoon whose focus has never wavered during his four years owning the Sixers, and two with the Devils. He is a hedge-fund investor with $4 billion in assets and a firm commitment only to acquiring more, with no regard for the people victimized by his blind greed.
In the midst of the fallout over his helicopter snafu, Harris is nearing completion on the purchase of another sports franchise, Crystal Palace of the British Premier League. The owner said last week that he loved the similarity between Philadelphia and South London and saw similar prospects for the soccer team.
You have our deepest condolences, South London.
And finally ...
• As the Sixers were becoming the first team in NBA history to lose their first nine games two seasons in a row – and fell to 100 games under .500 (37-137) in the past two-plus years – CEO Scott O’Neill snapped over media criticism. “Have you guys lost your (expletive) minds?” he said. Well, somebody certainly has, don’t you think?
• Sixers coach Brett Brown actually said last week that he holds “pre-mortem” discussions with his players before the more challenging games on the schedule. In other words, he prepares the team to lose before the opening tipoff. Now, that’s something you won’t learn at any coaching clinic.
• Suddenly, new GM Matt Klentak has become the off-season face of the Phillies. This is a bad idea. Klentak may well be the next great young mind in baseball, but he is a totally unknown quantity. After all of the hoopla when Andy MacPhail was named president, he needs to remain in the public spotlight for the foreseeable future.
• During this appalling nine-out-of-11 losing run by the Flyers, the only thing more boring than the team’s quiet offense is the new coach, Dave Hakstol. Hey, he’s just starting out in the NHL. I get it. But if he’s so afraid of saying anything meaningful in public, can we be sure he’s saying anything productive in the locker room?
• DeSean Jackson has been a bust in his two seasons in Washington, but he finally offered something noteworthy last week when he gave Jay Gruden a “purple nurple” during practice, twisting the coach’s chest at its most sensitive spot. The Eagles sure do miss great guys like Jackson, don’t they?