January 22, 2018
Built by Howie Roseman, coached by Doug Pederson and led by Nick Foles, the 2017-18 Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.
Now pinch yourself and read that sentence again. Do you believe it? Roseman was kicked out of his GM's office three years ago. Last September, Pederson was called "the least qualified NFL coach of the past 30 years." And Foles was banished to St. Louis after a putrid 2014 season here.
Now all three are the heroes of the most improbable story in Philadelphia sports history. How is this possible? For that matter, how did the Eagles just take the best defense in the NFL and amass 38 points and 456 total yards without their starting quarterback (Carson Wentz) and their best offensive lineman (Jason Peters)?
There is no logic to this implausible season, but there was joy after the 38-7 conquest of Minnesota. Oh, there was joy. It was out there at the corner of Frankford and Cottman, and at City Hall, and all along Broad Street - which may be the site of an even bigger party in two weeks. This is a team the city has embraced like no other, an underdog reflecting the spirit of the fans.
And no one is a bigger surprise than the architect of the roster, three years after he lost a power struggle with Chip Kelly. All of Howie Roseman's brilliant moves were on display Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field and not just the heralded additions like Jay Ajayi and Alshon Jeffrey.
Nick Foles was a signing that went under the radar last winter, as were the acquisitions of Patrick Robinson and Chris Long. Robinson and Long combined for the defining play of the game yesterday, and Foles had a performance he will never forget. Thank you, Howie.
The backup quarterback - who was once much more than that here before flopping spectacularly - had five separate plays that were stunning, if not downright incomprehensible. For a moment there, it almost seemed as if Wentz were still the quarterback, evading rushers and hitting receivers in stride far downfield.
But this time it was Foles who bought enough time to launch a 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffrey, a 36-yard dream to Zach Ertz just before the half, a 41-yard flea-flicker to Torrey Smith near the left pilon, a scrambling 42-yard floater to Nelson Agholor down the right sideline and a 5-yard laser to Jeffrey in the end zone. All in one game. With the season on the line. Go figure.
Afterwards, Foles said he felt as if he were living a dream. Didn't we all? In fact, only one person never doubted the potential of these players, and that was Doug Peterson. Four months after former GM Mike Lombardi branded him unqualified, the Eagles coach was the maestro of the magic.
Peterson was brilliant in matching wits with one of the best defensive minds in the game, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer - and never more so than in the final moments of the first half.
With only 29 seconds left and starting at his own 20, Peterson refused to settle for a safe two-touchdown lead, calling play after play that befuddled Minnesota. The Birds ended up with only a field goal on that drive, but Peterson made a clear statement that he was going for the kill. He is no Andy Reid, that's for sure.
That's why, on the morning after one of the best wins this city has ever experienced, the fans were unanimous in their jubilation over their football team heading back to the Super Bowl, and in their collective disbelief that this underdog somehow defied the odds.
Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson and Nick Foles are heroes today in the most demanding sports city in America.
What a country.
Has there ever been a team more annoying than the New England Patriots?
Yes, they are the best sports franchise of this generation and, yes, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Bill Belichick is a genius, of course. Bob Kraft is a wonderful owner. The New England fans are passionate and loyal. Blah, blah, blah.
Still, it's impossible to watch their playoff success year after year without wondering how much of it is the result of superior talent and how much is based on reputation. Yesterday's comeback 24-20 win over Jacksonville was a frustrating combination of both.
For starters, the Jaguars choked. Their fabulous defense realized it was the fourth quarter and suddenly forgot how to rush the passer, how to cover the pass and how to avoid penalties. The disparity of 98 penalty yards for Jacksonville against 10 for New England was thanks to a gagging defense and an officiating crew that favored the Patriots, as usual.
What made this comeback especially exasperating is that we know a couple of names on that New England defense, and they are stiffs. Patrick Chung was a monumental bust in his one season on the Eagles, and now he's "one of the best players in the NFL," according to Belichick. Really? Chung was one of the worst the year he dressed in green. I remember it well.
And Eric Rowe was an even bigger disaster here, a second-round draft pick so awful in 2015 that the Eagles gave him away to the Patriots just before the first game of his sophomore season. Can anyone ever forget that nightmare in Detroit when Calvin Johnson destroyed Rowe and the Eagles? Now he's a great cornerback on a Super Bowl team? Say it ain't so, Chip Kelly.
I know what you're thinking. Kelly ruined both players during his short stint as coach here. Maybe so, but that doesn't make it any less infuriating to see these two colossal failures modeling Super-Bowl rings with Tom Brady.
The only way to stop this misery is for the Eagles to end the party themselves, and now they will get the chance. Two weeks from now, Philadelphia can finally get some sweet justice. It's long overdue, don't you think?
Completely lost in the hubbub over the Eagles last week was an extraordinary comment by new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, a remark that made it harder than ever to believe he will be able to co-exist with GM Matt Klentak.
Appearing at the College Winter Summit, Kapler said this about the 2018 Phillies: "You can expect an incredible amount of effort and energy. You can expect a team that rallies around each other and fights for one another. And I think, finally, you can expect a team that is extraordinarily prepared. I think all of those things in aggregate will also lead to a s***load of wins."
That's right. The new manager said "s***load" at a public event designed for college students and professors interested in learning about the business of baseball. Wow.
Now look, I have no problem with Kapler using a mild profanity to demonstrate his enthusiasm for the Phillies. In fact, I like it. At least somebody in that boring organization is showing some life. It's way too early to tell whether he knows how to manage, but he definitely knows how to get our attention.
At the same time, however, it's hard to imagine that Klentak was similarly impressed. After all, the novice GM has mastered only one thing in his two years running a baseball team, and that is the art of saying nothing. Every word he utters sounds like it's coming out of one of his analytics programs.
For example, also last week, Klentak was asked to assess the slow free-agent market with less than a month to go before spring training. Try to get through this statement without feeling woozy.
"We're driven to pursue any opportunity we can to get better," he said. "The balance that we strike is: What is the expense to get better? And I don't mean that in a financial way. Who are we taking at-bats away from in order to get better? Who is going to lose out on important innings on the mound at the expense of us getting better? That is kind of the complicating factor more than the dollars."
Zzzzz. While Kapler is trying to inject some vitality into the organization, Klentak continues his campaign against insomnia. This is not a good match. This is the Odd Couple, with Kapler as Oscar Madison and Klentak as Felix Unger. The TV show got canceled after four seasons. These two guys won't make it nearly that long.
So, for my first prediction of the 2018 season, I see a s***load of trouble ahead for the Phillies.
And finally ...
• Is it just me, or does Tony Romo make NFL games on CBS unbearable? Last week, it was his erroneous attack on the oddsmakers in the Patriots' rout of Tennessee, and yesterday it was his exhausting praise for Jacksonville defensive coordinator Todd Walsh - with no acknowledgment when the Jags' defense fell apart. Through it all, Romo never stopped blabbering. I realize I have a bias because Romo was a Dallas quarterback, but he is a terrible analyst. Absolutely brutal.
• Having learned from the best, Tom Brady is now a full-fledged, card-carrying jerk. Echoing the disrespect that his coach, Bill Belichick, has trademarked over two decades, Brady told the media last week, basically, to go to hell when they asked about his injured throwing hand days before the New England Patriots faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. Then he went out and won the damn game. Ugh.
• Sean Couturier is having the kind of season that defies analytics. His best previous year for scoring goals was 15 in 82 games three seasons ago with the Flyers. This year he's got 26 in his first 45 games, several to win games. On a team of promising young players, he has been the best. He needs to be added to the All-Star roster right now, today, this minute. If the NHL can't recognize this level of excellence, what the point?
• There must be a perfectly logical explanation for why Roy Halladay had morphine in his system when he crashed his single-engine plane last November, and this is the right time to provide that information. The former Phillies pitcher had a pristine reputation during his playing days, and the speculation surrounding his death right now is only making a tragic situation even worse. The sooner someone steps forward with some answers, the better for everyone.
• Joel Embiid made a good decision last week when he ended his romantic pursuit of Rihanna. After all, he's an All-Star now, having a great year. She hasn't had a hit in a while. He can do better. Is Beyonce available yet? How about Taylor Swift?