Tag Archives: Andy Reid

Stay Alive and Survive: Five Numbers I Hope to See in the Box Score when Eagles-Redskins Concludes

I would be lying to you if I said I was fully confident in the outcome of today’s game.

The Eagles have not won in nearly three and a half weeks going back to Thanksgiving. Weaknesses on both sides of the ball (specifically the quarterback and secondary) have been exposed as a rather firm grip on the NFC East slipped away, but there is hopefully light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a 3-11, dysfunctional Washington Redskins team.

In three games going back to Week 1 of the 2013 season, Chip Kelly has owned Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett (so much so that we wrote a post specifically about it), averaging 31.3 points per game.

Earlier in the week, I had some bad flashbacks to a Week 16 game in D.C. in 2008 between these two teams that the Eagles lost 10-3, making their road to the playoffs a bit more difficult then, but that seemed more characteristic of an Andy Reid coached team.

Despite a rough two weeks, the Eagles have been very good against inferior teams under Chip Kelly this season, and that should ideally continue today.

Let’s take a look at five numbers I hope to see that should get the Eagles to 10-5.

  1. Robert Griffin sacked at least five times — Part of the reason the first Eagles-Redskins game was so close is because of the amount of time Kirk Cousins had to throw. Cousins was not sacked once in the three-point Eagles victory, but Griffin has been dropped 28 times in seven contests this season. While this might seem like a lofty stat, the numbers back it up that it is reachable, and should it happen, it will be a long day for the Redskins offense.
  2. Less than 130 combined receiving yards between Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson — While neither of these receivers necessarily pose the matchup problem that Dez Bryant did last week, both had strong games in the Week 3 meeting combining for 16 receptions, 255 yards, and two touchdowns. The Eagles secondary has been heavily scrutinized, and rightfully so, over the past few weeks, but they tend to have a decent game when people least expect it. Against a struggling quarterback in Griffin, now would be a good time for one.
  3. One or fewer turnovers for the Eagles — Turnovers have been a noted issue all season long for this team. The only turnover free game they played was a Monday night beatdown of Carolina in early November. Zero turnovers is a lot to ask for, but in the first Redskins game, the Eagles limited the giveaways to one and will be in decent shape should they repeat that today.
  4. LeSean McCoy averaging more than four yards per carry — Some might say I have become obsessed with this statistic, but the significance cannot be understated. The Eagles are 5-0 when the Pro Bowl running back averages at least 4.1 yards per carry. They are 4-5 in other games. In the 2013 opener when Chip Kelly unveiled his NFL offense on Monday Night Football, McCoy had one of his best career games with 184 yards on 31 carries. A repeat of that today would be awesome.
  5. Josh Huff with at least 45 receiving yards — It is a shame Huff Daddy has made some of the rookie mistakes that he has because it is easy to tell that he has potential, and had they not occurred, he would likely be stealing snaps from the ineffective Riley Cooper. I am hoping that occurs today some after the rookie showed explosiveness with with a 44-yard reception against Dallas. Rise again, Huff Daddy.

There you have it, folks. We got five, 130, one, four, 45, and hopefully a nice win to move to 10-5, putting some major pressure on the Cowboys tomorrow afternoon.

The Chip Kelly fist pump was born in that magical Week 1 game in 2013, and I could use a repeat of it today as we get ready to cheer for Andrew Luck tomorrow.

Fist Pump GIF

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Eagles-Packers Sad Haiku

Welp.

There have been more panful losses over the past calendar year, but the Eagles have not looked that overmatched since a visit to Denver last September.

That was really, really bad. The entire country saw how good the Eagles can look against a struggling team last Monday, and today, most of them saw how bad they can look against an elite quarterback.

The way I see it, there are three approaches one could take after what transpired over the past three hours.

1. Jump off the Walt Whitman. The Eagles are a fraud, pretenders and not contenders at 7-3. Chip Kelly was ridiculously out coached, and Mark Sanchez isn’t good enough to get them to the playoffs. The defense is awful, and Dallas is going to win the division. 

I don’t believe any of that for a second. I do have some obvious concerns about Sanchez, and the defense certainly underachieved today, but that line of thinking is a big time overreaction for a team still sitting pretty.

2. Today wasn’t a big deal at all. Aaron Rodgers does this to everyone, and the Packers caught a few lucky breaks. LeSean McCoy will get on track, and the pass rush will be better. We have nothing to worry about and will be fine in a January rematch. 

I would buy into this rationale more than the first approach, but completely tossing this game out of the window would be brushing away some clear issues. The Eagles are better than what they showed today but came up short on a big stage.

3. The Packers are nearly unbeatable at Lambeau with Aaron Rodgers, but the Eagles never gave themselves a chance. Between bad penalties like Trent Cole jumping offsides on third and long in the first quarter and untimely turnovers, this one unraveled quickly. The Eagles are still 7-3 and in great shape. They haven’t been blown out in quite some time and were perhaps due for a letdown, but doesn’t make it hurt any less. 

That is the way I mostly look at this. The Eagles are still in excellent shape overall but are trying to survive with a backup quarterback and a secondary that features three players who likely would not start for most other teams between Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Nate Allen. Rodgers, being one of the smartest and beset signal-callers on the planet, knew that and targeted Fletcher early and often.

In a chance to showcase himself for potential head coaching gigs next season, defensive coordinator Billy Davis looked miles behind Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.

Short yardage situations in the red zone are still a troublesome issue, and LeSean McCoy doesn’t look like LeSean McCoy even with 80 percent of the offensive line together.

Unfortunately, this team is still trying to recover from a few awful draft classes toward the end of the Andy Reid regime and are not getting much impact from this year’s rookies aside from Jordan Matthews. Marcus Smith, Jaylen Watkins, and Taylor Hart cannot get on the field, and Josh Huff is making mistakes every time he gets on the field.

The Eagles are at a point where while their roster is greatly improving, they still can’t afford to miss on many guys and need immediate impact from rookies whenever possible. They are getting absolutely nothing from their first round pick, and it hurts against an elite team like the Packers.

It is also becoming increasingly important that the Eagles win the division and find a way to get the second seed for a first round bye. 5-0 at home, 2-3 on the road. Despite being a very good road squad in 2013, they are clearly not the same team away from Lincoln Financial Field this season and need to end up there in January.

Thankfully there is a path for that. The Packers, Lions, and Cowboys all have three losses, and the Cardinals face four teams currently above .500 in their last six games.

A roadmap exists, and it starts next week at home against a bad Titans team before Turkey Day in Dallas.

Stay tuned for an announcement about something on our blog this week, but in the meantime, let’s hit the haiku and try to shake this one off some:

Fletcher picked on bad

Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb, oh my

Still seven and three

Eagles-Panthers History Lesson: Jeff Garcia Rescues the 2006 Season from the Brink of Collapse on Monday Night Football

As another Eagles-Panthers primetime showdown approaches tonight, I automatically flash back to a 2006 contest featuring these two squads.

Tonight, backup turned starter Mark Sanchez will be tasked with taking over for Nicky Foles and leading the Eagles to a Monday Night home victory over Carolina, but seven years and 11 months ago, Jeff Garcia had the exact same assignment.

I promised this was coming a few months ago, and I haven’t been this excited to wrote a post since this piece back in July. That game is one of my favorite Eagles memories because of how improbable it seemed beforehand.

In today’s advanced statistics driven NFL, we get so numbers obsessed that we forget about some of the really great stories unfolding before our eyes. I know I am personally guilty of this, and I also know that some of the greatest of these stories are seconds away from never making it past the opening paragraph.

Jeff Garcia and a 2006 Monday Night Football game against the Panthers is one of these stories.

The date was December 4, 2006, and two teams woke up that Monday morning in Philadelphia desperately needing a win. The Panthers were fresh off an 11-5 season and NFC Championship game appearance but entered the matchup at only 6-5 after losing to a bad Redskins team the Sunday prior.

If the Panthers were heading into the game a bit banged up, the Eagles were certainly worse. That 2006 Eagles team ended up being one of my favorite over the past two decades, but they also might have made for the wildest roller coaster. On October 8, they were 4-1 and some considered an epic victory over Terrell Owens and the Cowboys the biggest regular season win of Andy Reid’s coaching tenure to date. Then, the drop started.

The Eagles lost three straight. The ride briefly stopped with a home victory over the Redskins but took another downward spiral as Donovan McNabb suffered a torn ACL in a home loss to the Titans. Next came a blowout loss to the Colts, and for the first time all season, the Eagles were under .500 at 5-6.

The toughest point of the roller coaster had been reached where you felt as if you were going to throw up if the drop lasted another millisecond. The only person who could press the button was a fiery, redheaded, 36-year old quarterback on his fourth team in as many years.

Heading into the season, the thought was that the Eagles could be a playoff team if a few things fell into place, but the general consensus was also that if McNabb were to suffer a severe injury for the second consecutive year, the season would be over.

A weird dynamic was at work though. McNabb was having a pretty nice statistical season before getting hurt against the Titans, but the Eagles kept finding ways to lose games in the the fourth quarter. They looked overmatched in the first game and a half without their franchise quarterback, but Garcia had quietly directed the offense well.

While some folks were still calling for Reid to go to fan-favorite A.J. Feeley, there was a belief that if the uncharacteristically shaky defense could raise their game even a bit, then Garcia and the offense could keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive.

It would have to start that night though if it was going to start at all. The Cowboys at 8-4 and the Giants at 6-6 both sat ahead of the birds in the NFC East. After Carolina, the Eagles would play three consecutive divisional road games, and 5-7 would have been a tough hole to climb out of.

Garcia, Feeley, and the inconsistent defense would all be key elements on that night, and the roller coaster was going to continue for at least three more hours as the Eagles season hung in the balance.

The game began on an ugly note as the Eagles went three and out on their opening two drives before Jake Delhomme found Steve Smith for a nine-yard touchdown.  A series of punts followed, but with Garcia struggling and the Panthers still leading 7-0, an already on-edge crowd had grown restless. Boos rang down after an incompletion in the second quarter.

People watching in other parts of the country may have thought that was unfair, and they might have been right, but in order to understand the frustration, one has to recall the state of Philadelphia sports at the time. The Flyers were in the midst of one of their worst seasons in franchise history. The Sixers were weeks away from trading franchise icon Allen Iverson, and the Phillies had narrowly pushed their playoff drought to 13 seasons two months earlier.

It was looking more and more likely that the city would go a calendar year without seeing a playoff game in any sport. They needed something to cheer about, and they were about to get it, but first, the group of fans who wanted Feeley instead of Garcia were very close to getting their wish.

Still down 7-0 midway through the second quarter, Garcia had taken a vicious hit, and looked for a second like he would not get up. Feeley, the biggest Eagle name linked to Oregon Football before Chip Kelly, had his helmet on and was a yard or two out on the field. The Lincoln Financial Field crowd roared as they saw him, fondly remembering his string of success in 2003 when McNabb and Koy Detmer suffered injuries.

That is as far as Feeley would get to the Eagles huddle though. All of a sudden, Garcia got up and motioned to Reid and the Eagles sideline that he was okay. A few minutes later, he showed it, completing a 51-yard pass to Donte Stallworth and then finding Brian Westbrook cutting across the middle of the field to tie the game at 7-7.

The Panthers would run a nice two-minute drill as Delhomme found Keyshawn Johnson for a one-yard touchdown seconds before halftime, but 14-7 somehow felt better than 7-0. The roller coaster had not yet stopped, but it had slowed down some.

Garcia tied the game with a beautiful 30-yard strike to Stallworth six minutes into the third quarter and ran down the field towards the end zone in celebration. He was having fun again, but his work was far from over as DeAngelo Williams took a screen pass to the house a few minutes later. 21-14 Panthers with the defense not doing the offense many favors.

Garcia got close again towards the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the drive stalled forcing a David Akers field goal. John Kasay would add a field goal of his own for the Panthers a few minutes later to push the lead back to seven. The Eagles were very much in the game, but at some point they would need to get a lead instead of attempting to play from behind all night. A few minutes later, Garcia hit second-year receiver Reggie Brown for a 40-yard touchdown.

It looked like the birds could really do this, but they still needed a stop from their defense. Midway through the quarter, they got one as Brian Dawkins picked off Delhomme and returned the interception 38 yards into Panthers territory. Akers knocked through a 25-yard field goal with 3:13 to go, and the Eagles had their first lead in three weeks.

The home team was far from home free however.

I do not think I will ever see a defensive coordinator as good as Jim Johnson again in my lifetime, but his players had let him down multiple times late in games that season. It looked like they were headed that way again as Delhomme and the Panthers embarked on what seemed like a promising drive.

Three different completions brought the Panthers into Eagles territory, and a couple runs put them seven yards away from the end zone with less than a minute to play. At best, it looked like the Eagles would get to overtime, and another crushing loss was one completion away.

I still get pretty into Eagles games, but I did so even more back then, and by that point, I had bit most of my nails down pretty good. I was in tenth grade and had to be awake in six hours for school. I had a test in my Honors Chemistry class in nine hours, but I had stayed up for Monday Night Eagles games for years as a kid. I also hated chemistry. Make no mistake about it, I was getting an A in the class, but I wasn’t going to let studying for a subject I didn’t care too much about get in the way of this game.

Everyone in my family was asleep, so I didn’t yell at the TV, but I recall saying out loud to no one in particular multiple times on that final drive :

Someone make a play. 

If the Panthers took a few shots at the end zone, Delhomme would likely target Smith or Johnson, their two best receivers. They shouldn’t have felt pressure to force anything though as they had a couple shots and a chip shot field goal that would tie the score should they need it on fourth down.

It would never get to fourth down. It would never even reach second down. On first and goal from the 7-yard line, Delhomme dropped back and looked for Johnson on a fade route in the back right corner of the end zone. Forget overtime, he was going for the kill shot right then and there with a half minute remaining. Get the Panthers to 7-5 and virtually end the Eagles season in front of a national audience.

Lito Sheppard, a Pro Bowl cornerback when healthy, was matched up on the veteran Johnson in single coverage as the play developed — At least he tried to be.

Sheppard was generously listed at 5-foot-10. Johnson was 6-foot-4, and if Delhomme made any sort of decent throw, his receiver would stand a good chance to make a play on the ball. He didn’t make a good throw though.

Delhomme had underthrown Johnson, and Sheppard was in prime position to end the game, cradling the ball while making sure to land with his feet in bounds.

On television at first, it was tough to tell if he actually got both his feet in bounds as he fell to the ground, still in control of the ball. I remember it being a long few seconds before the referee finally pointed to say that it was indeed the Eagles ball.

Johnson, still in the back of the end zone, was livid, demanding a flag for pass interference, insisting that Sheppard had pushed off.

The following is a quote from Johnson printed in the Associated Press game story:

“I feel like I was pushed and grabbed. The throw was fine. The guy pushed me.”

Johnson continue to voice his displeasure in the back of the end zone, but there was no sign of yellow on the field. I jumped out of my chair which had been positioned less than three feet away from my TV during the final drive.

The camera eventually panned away from Johnson. The fans celebrated, and a smiling Garcia sprinted onto the field for a final kneel down with 24 seconds left. After looking like he may have been knocked out of the game a couple hours prior, Garcia had stopped the steep drop and was ready to send the roller coaster back upward.

A usually stoic Andy Reid fist pumped, and broadcaster Joe Theisman quipped, ‘There’s the headline in the Philly papers tomorrow morning: Emotional Andy.”

Michael Barkann began Eagles Post Game Live in a creepy but hilarious manner with his hand in the shape of a a crawling insect.

“It’s aliiiiiivvveeeee,” he cheerfully yelled on a live show just before midnight on a cold December night. “The Eagles season is alive and kickin, baby.”

Indeed it was, Michael. Indeed it was.  Garcia would win all three of those divisional road games to get the Eagles to 9-6 before sitting out the season finale and resting for a playoff run.

After a 26-23 victory over the Giants, the Eagles season would end in the Superdome as they fell 27-24 to the Saints in the second round of the playoffs. From the Carolina game onward, Garcia would go 103-for-177 with nine touchdowns and only three interceptions.

An article about his time in Tampa Bay the following season still hangs in my childhood bedroom with no plan of being taken down.

Garcia

Garcia had taken the Eagles on a wild run that few outside of him thought was possible. The Colts game may have inspired a bit of confidence, but on an epic Monday Night against Carolina is when the results started to roll in.

Who knows what might have happened had Garcia not gotten up midway through the second quarter? Perhaps Feeley comes in and plays lights out, but Garcia reminded everyone about the most valuable life lesson there is. He got up. When things weren’t going well and no one believed in him, he literally was knocked down and got back up.

Hypotheticals are a dangerous thing, but what if Garcia had not stayed in the game and Feeley been ineffective? The Eagles went 8-8 the following year in 2007, and that would have meant three straight seasons of no playoffs for Reid. Conventional wisdom suggests he would not have survived that. The Eagles would have been looking for a new coach as early as January 2008. Chip Kelly was just then beginning to establish himself after his first season as Oregon’s offensive coordinator and surely would not have been the guy.

Tonight’s scene from a long-term standpoint might not be set had Garcia not gotten up. Sometimes though, try as they might, professional football players can’t get up. McNabb couldn’t get up when he tore his ACL, and Nicky Foles couldn’t pick himself up after a vicious hit to the shoulder last Sunday.

That’s what backups are for. Garcia was a great one, and for as big of a Foles fan as I am, Sanchez looked like a competent one in the preseason and last week. Now, we really get to find out though if he can truly exorcise his demons that remain from the Jets.

As far as quarterbacks go, Sanchez and Garcia could not be more different. Garcia attended San Jose State and exited college football undrafted in 1994, spending five years with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL before hooking on with the 49ers. He did not become a full-time starting quarterback until age 30 and did not win a playoff game until a month before his 33rd birthday.

Sanchez on the other hand was thought to be the chosen one, growing up in Long Beach, California and attending the storied USC. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft and a starting quarterback in the NFL before his 23rd birthday. Before his 25th birthday, he had beaten Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady in road playoff games.

Then, he fell just as quickly as he rose to stardom. There was the butt fumble, sure, but more than that, there was an awful stretch in December of 2012 that saw him transform into a turnover machine:

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 11.38.26 PM

Sanchez is not nearly as mobile as Garcia and less accurate but has a much stronger arm. As I said, as far as quarterback attributes go, they are polar opposites, but both have found levels of NFL success at certain parts of their NFL careers.

Nearly eight years ago after a rough time in Cleveland and Detroit following a solid run in San Francisco, Garcia rediscovered his mojo and captivated a city.

For at least the next month, Sanchez will have a chance to do exactly the same team. He will do it surrounded by a better Eagles team than the 2006 Eagles squad and perhaps against a worse Panthers team who stumbles in on a three-game losing streak at 3-5-1.

If it happens, he’ll do it by playing his style and being the best Mark Sanchez he can be, but it sure won’t be hard to reminisce about Jeff Garcia and a magical Monday Night in 2006 should Sanchez be found smiling come midnight tonight.

Four Years Later: How I Got Yelled at By Bill O’Brien

(Photo credit Dave Cole/Onward State)

Editor’s Note: Today marks the four-year anniversary of me being yelled at by Bill O’Brien, simultaneously one of the greatest and most embarrassing moments of my life. This post detailing how it happened was first published two years ago in an attempt to chronicle the moment.

We now relive it every year in its original unedited format on October 16th and hope you enjoy the story below.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Seeing Bill O’Brien’s uber-intense face appear on my TV every Sunday is met with a strange emotion of shock and awe these days.

It feels pretty surreal that a guy who not so long ago sat less than 10 feet away from me answering questions is now making millions in the most powerful league in the world.

During my year and a half covering Penn State football, I never had any real one-on-one conversations with the man who at the time was saving the program. He made it a point not to get too close to students. I once tried to email him directly after I was unable to get a final question in during a media scrum and was met with a quick reply from his PR man essentially saying ‘Please do not attempt this again.’

O’Brien knew my face, but he didn’t know my name, and there is absolutely no chance he remembers me, but today marks the two-year anniversary of the greatest interaction I ever had with the man.

Whenever I am presented with a situation where I need to state a couple fun facts about myself, I usually include ‘Bill O’Brien once yelled at me.” It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it was also one of the best.

A lot of folks who were not present for it have asked me how it happened, and I believe this is the best medium to fully tell the story.

As previously mentioned, the date was October 16, 2012. It was a Tuesday, which meant it was the day O’Brien had his weekly press conference with reporters in the Beaver Stadium media room.

O’Brien never particularly wanted to be at these things, understandably so. His time was better spent watching tape or carrying out the other core responsibilities that are attached to being a college football coach.

There were some Tuesdays where he was pretty tight-lipped, but if you caught him in a decent mood coming off a nice victory, he would be good for a couple of jokes and good answers.

For a guy who didn’t enjoy the media spotlight, O’Brien was incredibly well-spoken. He had an amusing habit of using the verbal filler ‘sure’ before responding to most questions and would sometimes cut a reporter off if he could predict the end of a question before it was completely out of the person’s mouth.

That last point will be important later, but before going back to that day’s press conference, some background information and context is needed.

Penn State was coming off a bye week, and many professional media members had gone away for a quick vacation. For students like myself, it was a time to just be college kids and get a break from the grind of the season.

The next two paragraphs are about as #college as things get. On Tuesdays, I normally had one class in the morning. O’Brien spoke around 12:30, and then I had two classes later in the day, but on this particular fall Tuesday, my first class had been cancelled a few days in advance meaning I had nothing pressing to do all morning.

My friend Kevin and I took advantage of this and went out on a Monday Night. This was not a particularly uncommon thing during senior year of college, but we were still drinking at a bar when it closed at 2 a.m. and were pretty well taken care of from some Long Island Iced Teas by then. Fun night.

I took advantage of the opportunity to semi-sleep in the next morning, and the first thing I remember upon waking up around 9 a.m. is hopping on Twitter and seeing CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank break the news that Juan Castillo had been fired from his job as Eagles defensive coordinator.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 12.10.26 AM

Not to veer to off topic but quick word on Castillo: He was a good man and a good offensive line coach. A true ‘started from the bottom now we here’ story. Castillo had made a life for himself after growing up poor, but he was in over his head as a defensive coordinator, put in an awful position as a result of Andy Reid having Andy Reid’d harder than he had ever Andy Reid’d before. It was destined to end poorly, and it did.

I spent about an hour following Eagles stuff, knocked out a quick homework assignment, and then started to prepare for this press conference.

Penn State had won four straight games after beginning the season 0-2. It had been an exhausting but really fun seven weeks covering the team. I like to think I am a pretty hard worker, but at that point, I am not sure I had ever worked so hard at something in my life. The way I saw it, I wrote for four main reasons:

  1. It was fun — People should always do things that they find to bring them a sense of enjoyment and utility. I liked writing about sports and felt like I was pretty good at it.
  2. People liked reading my stuff — Through social media, I had built up trust and credibility with a core audience who generally enjoyed what I had to say.
  3. For Onward State — I took pride in the outlet I wrote for and always wanted to represent them well.
  4. Because my haters wanted me to fail — There were a couple professional guys who thought I was too young and too inexperienced to do what they were doing. They didn’t think I could hang with them over the course of the season. I knew I could and was doing it. That made it all the more rewarding, but more than that, the reason I put in that work is because two people in particular wanted me to fail. I went all out so at the end of the day I could publish compelling content and say ‘Hey Devon, Hey Dan, I’m better than you, and all three of us know it. Deal with it.”

I didn’t break a ton of news (although we would get a big one in late November), and there was of course room for improvement, but my stuff was usually solid.

Press conferences always made me nervous though. Some national people would tune in and you didn’t want to look stupid in front of your colleagues.

Up until this point, I had avoided that. I occasionally got a one-word “No” from O’Brien and never really had a back-and-forth with him like some veteran guys did, but I asked questions that I thought were relevant and fair and could benefit not only me but others in the room too.

The way these things work are that non-present reporters ask questions over the phone first. When they are done, two microphones are available, and you raise your hand for some intern to bring one of the microphones to your seat. Everyone pretty much sits in identical seats on a week-to-week basis with most of the students to the right of the room and non-students more on the left.

One of my biggest fears was always that my question would get asked when I was holding the other microphone, leaving you with nothing. To guard against this, I always wrote out about 10 potential questions/topics. The breakdown was something like: one question I absolutely wanted to ask if no one else did, two or three backups that i thought would be good, two or three backups to those backups, and a few that wouldn’t be great but were there should I need them.

An example of my laptop screen or notepad would have looked something like:

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.59.16 PM

From those notes, it is not obvious, but Penn State was playing at Iowa that weekend, and to some of the seniors on the team, it was a really big deal. In both 2008 and 2009, Iowa had ruined undefeated seasons of good Nittany Lion squads that had national championship aspirations. Although O’Brien and most of his staff were not there to witness it, Kinnick Stadium had been a house of horrors for Penn State throughout the twenty-first century.

You could probably go as far as to say that Penn State hated Iowa. Senior cornerback Stephon Morris, the most interesting player I ever spent time around, said exactly that the night before.

Hence, the top topic saying ‘Morris tweet.’ If memory serves, Morris’ tweet was deleted, and a deep fishing expedition has yielded no results in its search. More on that is coming though, I promise.

Providing other teams with bulletin board material was never in O’Brien’s nature, and he spent part of the opening portion of his press conference talking up a pretty bad Iowa team. In addition to keeping his players grounded, O’Brien was friends with Iowa assistant Brian Ferentz, son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz from their time together with the Patriots.

O’Brien was smart to do what he did, but his message just wasn’t completely true. There were players on the team who had stronger feelings of hatred toward Iowa than they did toward Ohio State or Michigan. As the press conference proceeded on, I looked over my notes along with the different features and players I had honed in on over the first half of the season.

Nothing new or particularly useful was emerging from here other than coach-speak about Iowa. A few of my other question ideas had been asked, and I decided it was worth a shot.

I raised my hand while O’Brien was answering some other question, and the communications assistant nodded. Ten seconds later, the microphone was in my right hand.

In this type of setting, you want to maintain your cool externally, but my legs always shook like jello a bit in the time between holding the mic and actually saying something.

In my head I briefly wondered if I should change my mind and go with something else, knowing from the past he would normally not entertain social media related questions too much, once playfully referring to Facebook and Twitter as “Spacebook and Tweeter.”

If he thought you were trying to trick him, he could get pretty defensive, but why would anyone try to trick a Brown-educated coach who was the smartest guy in the room?

Nah, this needs to be asked, let’s do it.

I ran through the question in my head while O’Brien answered the one before me.

Stephon Morris said on Twitter last night in regards to Iowa, ‘we hate them, they hate us’. Being around your players this week, do you sense any extra animosity that they have towards Iowa given the recent history of the rivalry?

Great, all set.

O’Brien was now completely finished with the previous question. I looked up. Go time.

‘Bill, Stephon Morris said on Twitter last night in regards to Iowa, ‘we hate them, they hate us.’ Being around…

By this point, O’Brien’s typical focused demeanor had given way to a look that more resembled exasperation. I attempted to continue with the next few words…your players this…

I was still holding the microphone, but that is as far as the question would get. O’Brien jumped in, his voice much louder than mine:

“YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE? I HATE TWITTER.”

From there, he launched into a 30-second mini-rant about college athletes and social media. His full response can be viewed below along with video beginning right around the 10-minute mark.

Do you know what I hate? I hate Twitter. I think these guys are young guys, and I think “Tweet this, Spacebook that.” Whatever. We’ve got to go play the game. We don’t have any hatred for Iowa. We respect Iowa. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their football program and for how they play the game, for how they’re coached, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for their coaching staff and their players and the longevity of Coach Ferentz at Iowa and the amount of wins he had his 100th win last week. Just done a great job there. So there’s a lot of respect there. I think that’s just young guys Tweeting this, twitting that, and that’s how it works, I guess.

The beginning of the response elicited laughter from a lot of people there. I tried to go with it and smile, but still holding the microphone, I was in a state of shock.

Did that really just happen? Holy shit, there’s still six games left in the season. I’m here for another eight months. I gotta cover this guy. He’s going to hate me.

Those were all thoughts that raced through my head at the speed of light. When I looked over the transcript and played the recording back later that day, I had to pay specific attention to the few questions that followed because I must have completely tuned them out.

Immediately, I began to wonder if there was something I could have done differently to solicit a response that didn’t involve him yelling at me. Maybe, if I had framed it in a slightly more general way without him hearing the word “Twitter,” he answers in a different way.

I had no intentions of riling him up and wasn’t trying to spark controversy, just thought it was a valid question at the time.

Some media folks tweeted about it right away. The quote made its way into a few local stories and even one or two national headlines. My roommates heard about it from Twitter and gave me a hard time about it later that day. The whole thing even found its way to Morris (Sorry if you had to run extra laps that day after practice, Stephon).

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I mentioned it briefly in a story the following day but made it more about preparing for Iowa than myself, so two years later, I’m taking the time to depict the whole scene from a personal perspective.

Penn State rolled over Iowa that Saturday. The next Monday, I went on an ESPN show to talk about the upcoming game against Ohio State. I was somewhat nervous that following Tuesday, but for the rest of the season, he answered whatever I asked.

O’Brien always enjoyed poking a little fun at the media but knew a lot of professional folks by name, and there was a general belief that as much as he disliked doing these things, he respected people who came prepared and took their jobs seriously.

My final interaction with him occurred the following summer in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days. Fittingly perhaps, it was social media related. Another reporter asked him if he was aware of a parody Twitter account called @evilbillobrien that much of the Nittany Lions community followed and enjoyed.

O’Brien laughed and joked ‘I think Evil Bill needs to turn down the rhetoric a bit.’ For as much as he liked to play dumb at times when it came to stuff like this, he was very savvy and knew exactly what was going on.

We were all seated at a roundtable and the mood was pretty loose, a decent contrast to a typical podium press conference. O’Brien pointed at one of his younger PR people and said ‘I think it’s him doing it.’

Good guess but nope. I had met the actual person a couple times and after a few seconds of silence, I chimed in.

“Bill, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I actually know who he is if you’d like to know.”

“You know the guy? That’s awesome.”

O’Brien’s session wrapped up within the next five minutes. I returned from Chicago and moved out of State College. Four months later, so did he, leaving Penn State after two successful seasons to coach the Houston Texans.

While I doubt he remembers this and never really knew me, those 45 seconds are engrained in me forever, a moment I will never forget and am always quick to bring up when I think people might find it to be entertaining as I did.

You were great, Bill. Thanks for yelling at me two years ago. Go lose to the Eagles in the Super Bowl now so I can tweeter about it.

Role Reversal: This Eagles-49ers Game Eerily Reminds Me of When They Played in 2011

As I mentioned two weeks ago before the Colts game, when the Eagles face a non-NFC East opponent, we will try to do a history esque lesson reflecting back on a previous matchup between the two teams.

Ideally we would go further back than three years ago for this feature, but today’s game reminds me a lot of a 2011 matchup, only the roles flipped completely upside down here.

Allow me to refresh your memory, and you can decide on your own if you see such parallels.

The date was October 2 (another Week 4 game), and the 49ers came to Philadelphia with a surprising 2-1 record. The Eagles entered on a two-game losing streak at 1-2 but were still a home favorite and perceived to be the better team.

They had the more established coach albeit similar to Jim Harbaugh now, some questioned if Andy Reid was losing his grip on the team at the time. They also had the more accomplished quarterback in Michael Vick, and most figured it was a game set up for the Eagles to win and get back to .500 at 2-2.

Early on, it seemed like things would follow that exact script. The Eagles jumped out to a 23-3 lead. An inexplicable lateral near the goal line by running back Ronnie Brown would cost them points, but everything was still going well.

Alex Smith found Josh Morgan for a 30-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 23-10. It was thought to be a relatively harmless touchdown pass at the time, but Vick and the Eagles went three and out. The 49ers scored again, and all of a sudden, a 23-3 lead was now 23-17 with 20 minutes still to play.

The Eagles looked prime to respond on their next drive and make it a two-possession game again, but rookie kicker Alex Henery missed a 39-yard field goal wide right three plays into the fourth quarter.

Juan Castillo’s defense was able to force a punt, and with less than seven minutes to go, Henery had a chance at redemption from 33 yards.

He missed again.

This time, Alex Smith and the 49ers would take advantage of a golden opportunity. Frank Gore capped off an eight-play drive with a rushing touchdown from 12 yards out. Former Eagles kicker David Akers nailed the extra point, and Lincoln Financial Field was in a state of shock.

The Eagles still had time and were actually moving the ball, but Justin Smith forced a Jeremy Maclin fumble on the edge of field goal range in Niners territory that was recovered by Dashon Goldson. A slim chance still existed, but Frank Gore was able to run for two first downs to salt away the clock.

Andy Reid’s squad would lose a game at Buffalo before it won again and would never completely recover from the 1-4 start, finishing the season 8-8. The 49ers would not lose again until Thanksgiving night as they advanced all the way to the NFC Championship game.

A box score from the game is here. A screenshot of the scoring summary and video highlights are embedded below.

Eagles-Niners Screenshot

The 49ers broke the Eagles will that afternoon, and today, the Eagles have a chance to do the exact same thing in San Francisco at the newly opened Levi’s Stadium.

They come in rolling while the 49ers are reeling after losing two straight. They have a better kicker now and a hot shot coach making waves throughout the league.

Everything feels so eerily familiar. All that’s needed is an Eagles victory to flip the script as part of the sequel.

Eagles-Colts History Lesson: The Birds Lost a Game but Found a Quarterback

The Eagles are in Indianapolis for a Monday Night showdown against the Colts tonight.

The last time they traveled to Indianapolis, not counting a preseason game in 2009, was for a Sunday Night showdown in November 2006. There is a certain novelty to playing AFC teams since you have to wait four years to play the same team again and typically eight years before returning to the same city.

When appropriate, I would like to provide a recent history lesson on gameday about the Eagles particular opponent, and we have one here that I feel both connects past, present, and future.

The date was November 26, 2006, and the eventual Super Bowl champion Colts were rolling at 9-1. The same could not be said about the Eagles. Andy Reid’s squad entered the contest with a 5-5 record, but it felt a lot worse. They had dropped four of their past five games and a week earlier lost starting quarterback Donovan McNabb to a torn ACL in an ugly home loss to the Titans.

A McNabb sports hernia injury helped derail the 2005 season, and the general consensus was that if he was lost for any significant amount of time, the season was over.

Jeff Garcia was the Eagles next man up. Garcia at one time was a very successful signal-caller for the 49ers, but over the past few years leading up to 2006, he had lost starting jobs in San Francisco, Cleveland, and Detroit.

Garcia had played okay when called upon to relieve McNabb the previous week, but many folks did not trust him to move the ball and were calling for then fan-favorite A.J. Feeley.

The scrappy veteran did have one thing going for him though. He was familiar with Reid’s west-coast system, and back then, Reid was decently good at tailoring schemes to some of his players .

The night, as expected, was ugly. A full box score and recap is available here.

Joseph Addai gashed the Eagles for three first half touchdowns, and the visitors were down 21-0 in the second quarter before you could blink an eye. For a normally stout Jim Johnson defense, it was an embarrassing performance as the Colts posted 420 total yards in a 45-21 victory.

Peyton Manning was only responsible for 183 of those yards and honestly had a pretty pedestrian night. Garcia — based on raw numbers — actually outperformed him.

Eagles-Colts 2006

This brings us to the major point of the post. Garcia got the Eagles on the board with a touchdown pass to L.J. Smith in the second quarter and found Reggie Brown in the third quarter for another. He took care of the football and only threw four incomplete passes the entire game.

After the final whistle, the big story was how poorly the Eagles defense played and how Reid was headed for a second consecutive losing season, but another plot was now scratching the surface.

The Eagles might not have been good enough to beat a powerhouse Colts team, but if a few issues could be cleaned up, they had a quarterback capable of beating some NFC teams to keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive.

Garcia did just that. The next week he led the Eagles to an epic Monday Night victory over the Panthers (more on that in a couple months) and proceeded to win three consecutive NFC East road games to capture the division crown.

From the aforementioned Colts game through the end of the season, Garcia went 122-for-200, 1513 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only two interceptions.

The run under Garcia ended at the Superdome with a 27-24 loss to the Saints in the second round of the playoffs after again beating the Giants one week earlier. Garcia would sign with Buccaneers in the offseason and lead them to the playoffs the following season.

A January 6, 2008 Philadelphia Inquirer article about his time in Tampa Bay still hangs in my room to this day.

Jeff Garcia Picture

You could say I really liked Jeff Garcia.

Who didn’t like Jeff Garcia though? Philadelphia was in the midst of a miserable sports winter. The Phillies had just missed out on what would have been their first playoff berth since 1993. The Flyers were in the midst of one of their worst seasons in franchise history, and the Sixers were having a falling-out with long-time franchise icon Allen Iverson.

The city needed hope, and a fiery red-head came to the rescue just in time.

This is a dangerous hypothetical path to go down, but the Eagles missed the playoffs the following year in 2007, going 8-8. Had Garcia not turned 2006 around, it would have been three straight years of no playoffs. Would Andy Reid have survived that? If he hadn’t, what are the odds that Chip Kelly would be here today? Would Nick Foles be playing somewhere else?

Those questions bring me to tonight. Eight years later, we are back in Indianapolis, and instead of Manning-Garcia, it is Andrew Luck vs. Nick Foles. The average age of the quarterbacks that night were 33. Tonight, that number is 25.

Both teams are expected to be contenders this season, and I even picked the Colts to win the Super Bowl. Much like Manning-Garcia, Luck is the perceived star. Akin to Manning, he was the number one overall pick in the draft while Luck and 86 other players heard their names called before Foles in the same draft class.

Foles’ numbers are for the most part better than Luck’s through the early portions of their careers, but most football people will tell you that Luck is the far superior player.

Tonight, we get to see them go at it head-to-head. I called for a narrow Colts victory before the season. I badly want to be wrong, but a shootout loss where Foles matches Luck, similar to what he did against Drew Brees in the playoffs last year, would not be the worst thing in the world.

Nearly eight years ago, the Eagles lost a game in Indianapolis but temporarily found a quarterback. Tonight, they have an opportunity to show the football world that they have a quarterback for years to come.

Andy Reid’s Former Right-Hand Man Andy Reid’d Incredibly Hard Tonight

I am just going to leave this here. (GIF vs. SB Nation)

Jets GIF

You can read more about it on SB Nation, Deadspin, or watch full video here.

The basic situation is the Jets were driving, down by seven against the Packers and faced a crucial fourth down play. Geno Smith seemingly competes a beautiful touchdown pass to Jeremy Kerley, except there is one problem.

Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who held the same title from 2006-2012 under Andy Reid in Philadelphia, tried to call timeout right before the ball was snapped, nullifying the game-tying touchdown. Technically, the offensive coordinator is not allowed to be granted timeout, but the referee heard it and apparently thought a now confused Ryan wanted one.

I actually thought Marty was calling a fantastic game, especially in the first half, but the clock management blunder late was all too familiar.

He was not the only former Eagles guy to mess up either apparently.

Shocking that something like that would happen.

Chip Kelly was not a wizard in these situations last year, but cheers knowing we no longer have to be impacted by what occurred above here.