For all of you who were wondering if Nick Foles would make a difference for the Philadelphia Eagles, you got your resounding answer.
While the rookie's play Sunday validates Eagles coach Andy Reid's decision to stick with Michael Vick even when members of his coaching staff apparently were pushing for Foles earlier this season, it does nothing to aid his job security. The 14-year run by Reid took another step toward its conclusion when the Eagles lost to the Dallas Cowboys at home, 38-23, and lost quarterback Vick to an apparent concussion in the process.
The only question remaining is whether owner Jeff Lurie pulls the plug on Reid sooner than later. At least one source said Sunday night that he expects Lurie to let Reid have every opportunity to turn the season around, even if that means that Reid coaches the remainder of the year.
"Don't see it before we're eliminated. [Probably] not till the season is over," an Eagles source conveyed via text message Sunday night. While the source doesn't talk directly to Lurie, he is aware of the relationship between the owner and the coach and said earlier this season that he's confident that Lurie wouldn't act capriciously.
Still, it's pretty clear to many in the organization that Lurie is not going to back down from his declaration before the season that Reid would have to improve upon last year's 8-8 performance to keep his job. After falling to 3-6, the Eagles would have to win six of seven for a simple improvement. In the face of a five-game losing streak, the longest of Reid's career, that kind of run seems unlikely.
That's certainly the case if Foles is going to play for an extended time. After some impressive initial throws, including a 47-yard touchdown pass, Foles fell victim to the same thing that has troubled Vick all season:
A horrendous offensive line.
While Foles was only sacked twice on 34 dropbacks, he was harassed and chased out of the pocket on a regular basis. The game was sealed when Foles was hit while setting up in the pocket, fumbled and Dallas recovered for a touchdown. Earlier, Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr intercepted a tipped Foles pass and returned it for a touchdown. Throw in a punt return for a score by Dallas and you have a fairly complete meltdown for the Eagles, who opened the game with a relatively impressive first quarter. After Vick got hurt, the game progressively slipped out of Philadelphia's control.
That's emblematic of Reid, who is seeing his grip on the Eagles' job slip away. While some of the reason is the disastrous number of injuries on the offensive line, there are many other issues. One example was Reid's goofy play-calling at the end of the first half.
With 38 seconds remaining, Reid should have been content to run out the clock and go into halftime with a 10-7 deficit with Foles in the lineup. Instead, Reid called for a pass in which Foles checked down and the fullback ran out of bounds. That was followed by a LeSean McCoy run which allowed Dallas to stop the clock by using its final timeout.
The upshot of all that is the Eagles were forced to punt, exposing them to undue risk because of Reid's poor game management. While there was no negative effect at this moment – primarily, Dallas didn't capitalize with a score – this is how Reid has managed his team for 14 years. Odd play-calling and poor attention to building a consistent running game have allowed Reid to waste many years of having great talent, resulting in just one Super Bowl appearance.
While there are people close to Reid who defend him as a brilliant play-caller, they miss the most important issue: Imaginative and creative play-calling only matter if you're winning.
And although Reid has won nearly 60 percent of his games, he has not won at the level to which he could have, all things considered.
Here are the winners and losers for Week 10:
• You won't hear this too many times, but the New England Patriots' secondary came through in a big way on Sunday. In fact, the Patriots' secondary might have saved the game against Buffalo. In particular, defensive back Devin McCourty might have had his biggest game to date in a somewhat confusing season. McCourty, who has spent the season toggling between cornerback and safety and between playing good and bad, secured the victory (and a two-game lead in the AFC East) with his interception in the end zone in the final minute to clinch a 37-31 victory. McCourty and safety Steve Gregory came up with a hit on Buffalo running back Fred Jackson earlier in the quarter at the New England 1-yard line, resulting in a Jackson fumble that was recovered by cornerback Kyle Arrington. In short, McCourty and the rest of the secondary saved two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
• Just to make Sunday even more bizarre, the New Orleans Saints' secondary also came up big at the end of the victory over the Atlanta Falcons. After the Falcons had a first-and-goal from the New Orleans 10-yard line with 2:00 remaining, the Saints' secondary, which has been torched all season, had safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Johnny Patrick combine for a touchdown-saving tackle at the 1-yard line. On second down, Malcolm Jenkins deflected a pass intended for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Finally, cornerback Jabari Greer deflected a pass intended for wide receiver Roddy White on the fourth down. The win bumps the Saints to 4-5 and at least in sniffing distance of a playoff spot.
• Never mind the fact that Gonzalez dropped a fourth-and-1 pass that could have extended Atlanta's final drive; if you're a fan of tight end play, the Atlanta-New Orleans game was a clinic on the value of great tight ends. Between Gonzalez's array of moves over the middle and counterpart Jimmy Graham's display of big-play ability, fans witnessed how vital that position can be to a good offensive team. Gonzalez, who finished with 11 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and Graham, who had seven catches for 146 yards and two scores, are both former college basketball players. While Gonzalez doesn't have the deep speed that Graham possesses anymore, both showed off the value of basketball when being a receiver. Both were able to position themselves like guys going for rebounds on critical plays. As a result of Gonzalez's effort, Atlanta was able to stay in a game even though wide receiver Julio Jones missed much of the first half with an apparent ankle injury. The Falcons, who lost for the first time this season, might have won if quarterback Matt Ryan had seen Gonzalez break open on an awry fourth-and-goal play with 1:46 remaining.
• The ridiculous season of Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson continued as he rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in the Vikings' 34-24 win over the Detroit Lions. The most important part of the victory is that it got the Vikings back on track after losing three of their previous four and kept them in the playoff race at 6-4 in the NFC North. From a statistical standpoint, it put Peterson at 1,128 yards after 10 games in his return from ACL surgery at the end of last season. It also marked the first time in Peterson's career that he rushed for more than 170 yards in back-to-back games (he had 182 yards last Sunday in Seattle). Peterson has seven such 170-yard games in his six-year career. He also has tied his career high with four consecutive games of more than 100 yards rushing. Peterson is now on pace for a career-high 1,805 yards rushing this season.
• In this situation, I'm declaring myself the winner. For all of you who ripped the replacement refs and ripped me for my support of them, I contend then and still contend that the regular referees are awful, too. On Sunday, I got the best proof ever when the refs in the San Francisco-St. Louis game missed the fact that 1:12 ran off the clock while a first-down measurement was being done. The refs then missed the review on it when they checked the clock. Are you kidding me? Yeah, the replacements were bad and the NFL caved to fan pressure on the lockout, but this mistake was as big as any the replacements made (Green Bay-Seattle fiasco to end Week 3 included).
• To Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper: Sweet catch. Doesn't get much better than the one-hand, get-your-feet-down effort you had for the first touchdown in the game against Dallas.
• Nice work by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who played extremely well in an easy victory over the Oakland Raiders. The result wasn't surprising, but Flacco helped make it a breeze by throwing all three of his touchdown passes in the first three quarters as the Ravens put up 55 points to give their beleaguered defense a break. The Ravens need to pile up as many wins as possible as they enter a tough four-game stretch that includes three on the road and two against Pittsburgh.
• Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker remains a completely erratic thrower (he was 9 of 21 in his return from a left shoulder injury), but he's one of the best scramblers you'll ever see on broken plays. Locker rushed four times for 36 yards, picking up two first downs in the lopsided win over the Miami Dolphins. One of those runs was a 20-yarder on a play when he fell down while dropping back. Locker has the first step of a running back. Locker's two first-down runs in the first half helped spark the Titans, who were reeling from criticism by owner Bud Adams after giving up 50 points to Chicago, to a 21-0 lead early.
• Quarterback Peyton Manning had a relatively quiet game, completing 27-of-38 passes for 301 yards and one touchdown. However, like Peterson, it continues another amazing comeback story as Manning set a personal record of excellence. Manning has now completed 70 percent or more of his passes in six consecutive games. According to the NFL, that's the longest such streak of Manning's career.
• The Seattle defense continues to be stunning, particularly against the pass. After limiting Christian Ponder to 63 yards in the previous game, the Seahawks held the Jets to just 127 yards passing through the first three quarters on Sunday en route to a blowout. For those who haven't been paying close attention this season, cornerback Richard Sherman is playing as well as anyone in the league at his position.
• Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson continued his great work in home games. The Seahawks are now 5-0 at home with Wilson where he has completed 69 of 111 passes for 935 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions (although he has lost two fumbles at home). Wilson now has a quarterback rating of 122.8 in those games. Wilson is still behind the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Doug Martin in the race for offensive rookie of the year. But he's not far behind what is becoming a great race.
• The New York Giants certainly like to make things interesting. That's the only way you can explain their poor play when they could have kept a 2 ½-game lead in the NFC East. Instead, the Giants played an awful game at Cincinnati, marking quarterback Eli Manning's second consecutive poor performance. Manning had three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble), but let's get serious about this: Manning could play awful for the next seven weeks and he's still the best quarterback the Giants could imagine. The problem the Giants really have to fix in a serious way is their awful secondary which is preventing their great defensive line from being able to play consistently. The Giants allowed a 56-yard touchdown catch by A.J. Green in the first quarter. That was the 46th catch of 20 yards or longer that the Giants have allowed this season and it was a prime example of the problems. If you look at cornerback Corey Webster and safety Stevie Brown on the play, it's obvious that the two are not on the same page. Of course, the constant changes in the secondary due to injuries have been the bigger problem. But this has to get fixed.
• It's a good thing most defenses don't live and die by the ability of their cornerbacks to tackle. That's particularly the case for Atlanta, which allowed New Orleans running back Chris Ivory to rumble for a career-long 56-yard touchdown. On that run, starting cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson had chances to stop Ivory and showed all the willingness to tackle him as a man trying to catch an alligator. Robinson was almost allergic to Ivory by the end of the run, basically giving up pursuit on the play as Ivory got to the 5-yard line. The effort from the duo was just a step short of despicable.
• The aforementioned Fred Jackson of Buffalo is one of the great guys in the game and a great quote, but that doesn't make up for a bad day. Jackson's fumble at the goal line was a killer and he had another one later in the fourth quarter that was narrowly recovered by Bills offensive lineman Eric Wood. Jackson had two touchdowns and is a terrific all-around player, but you can't put the ball on the ground.
• Aside from the turnovers in the fourth quarter, Buffalo had a brutal day in the first half with penalties. They were flagged 10 times for 119 yards, five penalties each on offense and defense. The defensive penalties were particularly bad. On one drive, the Bills were called for three penalties for 69 yards, which was part of an 80-yard drive by the Patriots. That's no misprint: New England gained only 11 yards on that drive to get a touchdown. On another New England drive, the Bills were called for two pass interference penalties in the end zone, each giving the Patriots a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
• Aside from getting blown out again, Oakland is facing a brutal situation with running back Darren McFadden, who was unable to play Sunday because of a sprained ankle. McFadden is expected to be back next week, but is not having anything close to the performance he had in 2010, when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He is set to be a free agent after the 2013 season. McFadden is averaging only 3.3 yards this season because the Raiders have primarily played a zone-blocking system that simply doesn't work for him. Two weeks ago, McFadden, at the urging of owner Mark Davis, talked to the coaches about the situation, according to a source familiar with the circumstances. The coaches went back to a more favorable system and McFadden responded with 114 yards against Kansas City before getting hurt the next game against Tampa Bay. If the Raiders are going to maximize McFadden's ability, they need to change the offense. If not, they would be better off trading him in the offseason.
• Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne is obviously a talented player. However, he either better get stronger by next season or learn to play with better leverage because it's obvious that opposing teams are simply going to try to overpower him. Last week, it was Julio Jones of Atlanta who beat him on a deep pass. This week it was Riley Cooper who overwhelmed Claiborne on another TD pass.
• Speaking of the Cowboys, defensive end Jason Hatcher better deal with handling hard counts. He got caught twice in the first half by Philadelphia starter Michael Vick on short-yardage situations, giving the Eagles first downs each time.
• Dear St. Louis rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins: What are you doing? Yeah, being benched Sunday could have been for something as innocent as missing curfew (the early word from people close to him), but that's not a good excuse. If you want to someday get paid the kind of money you're worth (and that could be a lot), you can't afford even innocent slip-ups like this.
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