10 October 2016

Into Every Football Season A Little Rain Must Fall

Eagles 23, Lions 24, Sunday, October 9, 2016 

Doug Pederson may have learned many things under Andy Reid's tutelage, but he clearly didn't pick up Andy's "always win after the bye" thing. Maybe he was absent that day?

Stud of the week: Making his billionth appearance in this spot, Darren Sproles. He remains, at 33
years old, one of the best all-round utility players in the game. He only had a total of about 70 yards all together (rushing, catching, punt return), but they were important yards, particularly on the ground, where he made the most of his trademark "quick cut and hit the hole." I don't know how much longer he can play at this level - I hope a long time - but I do know that Philly is going to miss the hell out of him when he's done.

OK, no one thought the Eagles were going to go 16-0 this year, even after their hot start, so we all knew this was coming. Likewise with Carson Wentz and interceptions. Still, this was a frustrating game to watch.

The defense was completely MIA in the first half. Now this is just a theory, but I think it might be because Mychal Kendricks appeared to be playing in place of Nigel Bradham who I'm guessing was being disciplined because of the "gun in carryon" mess? Maybe? But Kendricks was not good, and when Bradham came back in the second half, all of a sudden the defense was playing lights out, like we've come to know and love in the past month. Remember when we all thought Mychal Kendricks was going to be the shit? Yeah, so that doesn't seem to be working out. Thing is, you can't really be getting down 14-0 by the end of the first quarter (and then 21-7 midway through the second) and expect good things to happen.

I feel like Keystone Kops ending to the first half summarized a lot of what went wrong with the game, including the bad officiating. First, the Sproles "chop block" call, which was some serious BS.  Dude's just short. What's he supposed to do, whip out a step ladder? Then there was the deep pass to Jordan Matthews that almost wasn't because "number 98 was illegally downfield." It's literally not possible for DEFENSIVE LINEMAN Connor Barwin to be illegally downfield ON OFFENSE. WTF, zebras? Then 1-10 turns into 1-20 due to O-line holding, then Wentz get sacked, then Zach Ertz, in his first game back, gets called for offensive PI, leading to 3-36. Fortunately, Ertz redeemed himself on the next play, and got Caleb Sturgis (who is playing LIKE A BOSS) set up for a 50 yard field goal to send the Birds into the locker room down by 11, but still, that was a hot mess of a series.

And speaking of: where were the tight ends all day? Aren't the Lions supposed to be really bad at defending tight ends?

Things, and by "things" I mean the defense, improved significantly in the second half, even causing a turnover deep in Lions' territory, and then the Birds had to settle for a short field goal. Not good on the road in a loud stadium against a team that desperately needed the win.

Even with all that mess, the Birds managed to go ahead with 6 and change left in the game, and the defense forced a fairly quick 3-and-out with just under 5 to go. Hope! Just don't screw it up, Birds - keep it on the ground, get some yards, put up another field goal, get up by 5, defense has really tightened up, we're good here!

Or not.

Ryan Matthews fumbled (credit the Lions' Darius Slay for a well-placed helmet). And the zebras blew another call, and this one was a killer. The Birds still would've had to punt, but Jason Kelce clearly touched the ball when he was clearly on the paint. What should've been a dead ball was called a turnover. About a minute of game time later, it's the Lions putting up 3 to go ahead by 1.

And then Carson Wentz finally made a rookie mistake. He *had* time to methodically get the ball downfield, and the Birds' hot kicker would have been good from 50+, and yet I guess he thought he saw something, bombed it to Nelson Agholor, and that was all Big Slay needed. Pick. Game over. (PS, Nelson, when you realized you weren't going to be able to come down with that ball, you had ONE JOB: make sure Darius Slay doesn't. And you failed, man.)

That being said, Wentz is still playing OUTSTANDING overall (even, other than the pick, yesterday, when it seemed like NO receiver could get ANY separation EVER), and it was good to see him have to battle back from being down and do it mostly successfully and without getting rattled.  To quote Reuben Frank:
His numbers through four games: 91 for 135 (67.4 percent) for 1,007 yards with seven touchowns and one interception for a 103.5 passer rating. Insane.
Insane, indeed. I'm still nervous to say it out loud, but it's possible the Birds have FINALLY found Donovan McNabb's successor.

This loss could turn out to be a good thing. The last thing the Birds need at this stage is to get swelled heads about how awesome they are, and, if they can rebound against DC next week, this week will go down in the Tale of 2016 as a critical reality check at just the right time.

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