Tag Archives: David Akers

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 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.


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.

Alex Henery Made a Really Enjoyable Game Slightly Less Enjoyable and Gave the Eagles Brass More to Think About

Everything was going exceptionally well.

The Eagles were leading 31-7, Alex Henery had converted a 36-yard field goal earlier and was putting kickoffs deep in the end zone.

Then, it happened.

With less than nine minutes remaining, the embattled kicker missed a 31-yard chip shot wide right, and just like that, a really fun game became slightly less fun.

I immediately hoped there was some kind of bad snap or hold that contributed to the miss but did not notice anything of the sort right away.

The Eagles have a problem at kicker with no clear solution. I already wrote in-depth about Henery last week, so I don’t know how much I can really add.

Henery is now 1-for-3 in the preseason including a really ugly 47-yard miss and the aforementioned mistake tonight. Had he simply made the kick, the job would have been his in my opinion.

But Henery missed and gave everyone more to think about.

I admittedly was not thinking of Cody Parkey the other day, so the Eagles could do something to surprise everyone but scrolling the free agents available, it is slim pickings, understandably so.

This list is from April, but it is the best I can find and mostly holds true.

Free Agent Kickers

Rob Bironas might be an option.

Spare me calling for David Akers. I love him, but if he was any good, he would already be kicking for a team right now.

Bironas was 25-29 last season. Henery was 23-28. In nine years kicking for Tennessee, Bironas has a career 85.7 percent while Henery has an 86 percent conversion rate over three seasons.

This is not all about Rob Bironas, but I am attempting to show that there is no clear upgrade here. Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman are smart, and Kelly didn’t exactly give the incumbent a ringing endorsement tonight.

Henery Tweet

If someone clearly better was available right now, he would already be inside the Novacare Complex.

My take: Alex Henery is not very good at his job right now, but I would still go into Week 1 with him as your kicker. If you need a clutch field goal to beat the Jaguars, the team has bigger problems than we currently realize. The Monday Night game against the Colts could very well be played indoors if the retractable roof at Lucas Oil Stadium is closed, creating favorable kicking conditions.

This gives both the Eagles and Henery time to prevent making a decision they may ultimately regret. As little confidence as people have in him right now, I am hesitant to cut a guy who began his career 51-for-58. Even then, Henery had his flaws, but not so long ago, he was a good kicker, and it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for him to be a good one again — be it here or elsewhere.

You may not love the plan, but I believe it is the best course of action right now. When push comes to shove, I think the Eagles will come to that conclusion too, but Henery certainly isn’t making it easy for them.

Henery, We (May) Have a Problem

The Eagles played the Patriots in Foxboro for their second preseason game last night and more or less looked like the Eagles while doing it.

Nick Foles was accurate, Brent Celek made a tough catch, Zach Ertz was a stud, LeSean McCoy was explosive, Darren Sproles was fast, Billy Davis’ defense bent and forced a huge turnover before it broke on the next drive, and Alex Henery missed a kick that he needs to make.

While i have watched a few minutes of a replay this morning and will probably check out the full thing later, there will not be a live blog style post this time. A combination of yellow flags, vanilla schemes, and green backups made three plus hours difficult to evaluate play-by-play.

I enjoyed the hell out of that last week, but I’m not sure how well it served readers, so I want to hone in on the final 10 words of the second paragraph.

Alex Henery missed a kick that he needs to make. 

Friday morning, I published a post stating five things I wanted to see last night before the birds came home. Second on the list was for Henery getting to attempt a field goal, as the Eagles were never in position to do so against Chicago.

The shaky fourth-year kicker ended last season on a sour note with a missed 48-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter in the playoff loss to New Orleans. The Eagles would go on to lose the game by two points.

The stadium was different, the weather was warmer, and the stakes were lower, but Henery lined up for a 47-yard kick in the second quarter, and the result was not pretty.

A Vine is available here if there is trouble with the video embedding. I realize that’s not the highest quality Vine, but if you follow the ball, you see that it comes down about five yards wide right.

This would be his only attempt on the night, so after two preseason games Henery is 0-for-1.

This concerns me.

I tend to view preseason games and how they might apply going forward with a ‘history has a way of repeating itself’ thought process. It is the exact reason I wasn’t concerned with Foles’ two interceptions versus the Bears. One below average quarter of relatively meaningless football doesn’t overrule a historic season, but the problem here with Henery is that we have seen this movie before.

The old adage is that placekickers, like quarterbacks, get all of the criticism when they mess up and all of the glory when they come up clutch, except examples of the latter here are in short supply.

In three years in the league, Henery has only three field goals that gave the Eagles a lead they previously did not have in the fourth quarter of a game, one of them being a chip shot from 26 yards against the Giants in 2012.

This can be chalked up to a lack of opportunity, but Henery’s 2013 season doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence that he could nail a kick at the end of a game that turns a loss into a win.

The biggest kick I can think of that he has hit is a 47-yarder in the first quarter of the division clinching game at Dallas last season. It gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead, one they would never completely relinquish in a 24-22 win to take the NFC East.

This is a screenshot from Pro Football Reference of Henery’s three year NFL career

Henery Pro

The overall numbers still look good, but after going 15-for-16 in 2011 and 2012 combined from kicks between 40-49 yards out, Henery was only 7-for-10 their last season.

Now, this is a screenshot of Henery’s Nebraska career courtesy of ESPN.

Henery College

Only one miss between 40-49 over the course of four seasons. For Henery to become the kicker the Eagles thought he was when they spent a fourth round draft pick on him back in 2011, he needs to get back to being nearly automatic from that range. Being shaky from 50+ can be forgiven if one is just about automatic from closer than that, but Henery was far from it last season.

In total, he left 18 points off the board in 2013, and the Eagles were still the fourth highest scoring offense in the league. That may not seem like a lot, but the misses directly contributed to a loss against the Chargers in Week 2, didn’t help a few days later against the Chiefs, and of course the playoff loss to the Saints.

The Eagles are a good enough offense that Henery can miss a few field goals and the numbers will still look shiny, but they are not yet a good enough team for misses not to cost them if that makes sense.

The basic formula to them winning games in my mind is to score at least 24 points (normally doable — 13 times last season) and for the defense to hold teams to 21 or fewer points (doable but slightly less so — 10 times last season), but sometimes — like for example against Drew Brees and Sean Payton — you need all the points you can get to win the game and can’t leave any off the board.

Before that miss against the Saints, Henery had been perfect for six consecutive games. There is plenty of evidence to suggest he can be a reliable kicker, but something has seemed slightly off since Week 2 of last season.

I find it a bit surprising that the Eagles decided to bring in rookie Carey Spear as fake competition rather than inviting some veteran to push Henery in camp.

This is what Chip Kelly had to say about Henery’s miss last night, courtesy of the excellent Birds 24/7 and Tim McManus.

“Yeah, I’m confident in Alex,” he replied. “But again, we’ve got to convert in games, too. I’ve been real excited with him in practice and I think he’s worked on some things with Coach[Dave] Fipp in terms of placing the ball on kickoffs better and hitting things as we’ve gone through training camp, but we also have to do it in the game.”

That doesn’t translate to a ‘your job is on the line’ warning, but it also doesn’t read as a ringing endorsement for a guy Kelly inherited, rather than brought here on his own. I fully expect Henery to begin — and hopefully finish — the season as the Eagles kicker, but Howie Roseman may want to study the waiver wire and have a contingency plan ready there.

In some brighter news, it does appear progress has been made on kickoffs:

Kickoff Number End zone Touchback Starting Field Position Average Starting Field Position
1 Yes (-4) No 17 17
2 Yes Yes 20 18.5
3 Yes (-1) No 22 19.7
4 Yes (-6) No 24 20.8
5 Yes Yes 20 20.6
6 Yes Yes 20 20.5
7 No (+5) No 26 21.3
8 Yes Yes 20 21.1
9 Yes (-2) No 29 22
10 Yes Yes 20 21.8
11 Yes (-4) No 21 21.7

* Numbers in the end zone column indicate where the kick was fielded

In a perfect world, the field goal accuracy will improve similar to what the kickoffs have done so far, and when I tweet this post out in a few minutes, someone will retweet it five months from now to troll me when Henery is having a great season.

For an Eagles team capable of making a deep run but having little margin for error to do it, that would be awesome.

Right now though, we can only go off what we know from the past and what we currently see. It didn’t count last night, but Henery had a chance to push some concerns aside.

Instead, he pushed it wide right, and in doing so, brought back a painful memory from less than eight months ago when it counted for a whole lot.