2013 in Review: Top 5 Games in Philadelphia Sports

First and foremost, best wishes to any and all on this Christmas and happy holidays to all of those who have helped bring Section215.com to where it is entering the new year. It has been a roller-coaster year in Philadelphia sports and, while things have not always turned out well for our beloved ‘Four for Four’ teams, there has been no shortage of dramatic games that have provided momentary bliss in what has otherwise been considered a ‘down’ year in the area.

Yet while we sit on the cusp of what appears to be a change of fortune when it comes to the majority of the teams in the area, it would be unlike us not to appreciate some of the highlight moments of the past year that helped us through some of the struggles of the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and 76ers. Starting today, Section215.com will be putting forth Year in Review capsules much like this every day until 2013 is in the rear-view mirror. Without further adieu, my picks for the five most memorable games in Philadelphia sports for the 2013 calendar year.

5. Thursday December 19th; Giroux rallies Flyers back from the dead to stun Blue Jackets 5-4

Dec 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) celebrates his game-winning goal with left wing Scott Hartnell (19) during the third against the Columbus Blue Jackets period at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For all the misery that has surrounded the Phillies and the expected struggles of a rebuilding 76ers team, the Flyers were arguably the most unexpected disappointment to start their 2013-2014 campaign. Fiery head coach Peter Laviolette was fired a mere three games (all losses) into the season and was replaced by former Flyer Craig Berube. When the move was announced, team owner and club president Ed Snider became visibly upset when he was questioned as to whether the team needed to move in a different direction. At first, Berube did not fare much better than Laviolette, as his team struggled to improve their lack of conditioning all while learning a vastly different style of play. Following a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers sat at 4-10-1 and were 29th out of a possible 30 teams in the NHL.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the Flyers’ meddling start was the offensive struggles of captain Claude Giroux. The feisty center often appeared frustrated and lost as he failed to score a goal in his first 15 games of the season. The creativity and fire that had made Giroux one of the most lovable athletes in Philadelphia and one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league had been replaced by mental lapses and forceful play.

Slowly, but surely, the Flyers have climbed out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference. After starting a franchise-worst 1-7, the Flyers are 16-9-4 and, were the season to end today, would be one of the eight teams representing the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. Giroux would score his first goal of the season in a win against the Edmonton Oilers, and has since regained the flare and prowess that quickly elevated him to the status of the team’s best player. After his slow start, Giroux has picked up his output notching 10 goals and 23 assists. His 33 points lead the team, and the Flyers top line of Giroux, Jake Voracek, and the surprising Michael Raffl has helped carry the Flyers into the holiday break with some momentum.

While it has been Giroux’s steadiness that has helped him balloon his statistics back to near a point per game, most fans and analysts were still waiting for the young captain to turn in a signature performance and will his team to a victory. In the first game of a home-and-home with new division opponent Columbus, Giroux did just that.

With a chance to go over .500 for the first time of the season, a hurdle the team had already failed to clear four times, all signs pointed to another disappointment on home ice. They would fall behind 3-0 in demoralizing fashion, including a shorthanded goal by the Blue Jackets. A Braydon Coburn point shot would bring the Flyers to within 3-2 in the 3rd period, but when Columbus cashed in on a Scott Hartnell turnover to balloon the margin back up to two, the energy in the building was deflated and the loss felt like an inevitability.

It was at this point that the captain decided that he was not going to allow the Flyers to lose this game. He would tally an assist on an Erik Gustafsson goal that brought the margin back down to one. Less than a minute later, with the Flyers applying heavy pressure to the reeling Blue Jackets, Voracek wound a shot in on Columbus goaltender Curtis McIlhenney. The shot would get through McIlhenney but hit the post. Fortunately, a heady Giroux was there to slide in on his knees and deposit the puck before the Columbus defense could react in time. The game-tying goal ignited the Wells Fargo crowd and brought the dormant energy level in the building to new heights for the season. With less than two minutes remaining, and the Flyers bombarding the Blue Jackets with chances, Giroux turned in what will most likely be the signature play of his season.

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After McIlhenney steered aside a point shot by Mark Streit, Giroux corralled the rebound and was immediately met by Columbus defenseman David Savard. Savard’s positioning was perfect, using his size advantage to leverage Giroux away from the net, thus neutralizing his threat on goal. As he was falling in the opposite direction of the goal, with a flick of the wrists and hips, Giroux elevated a sizzling backhand shot over McIlhenney’s shoulder stunning the netminder and blowing the roof off of Wells Fargo Center.

The game-winning goal was also the 100th of Giroux’s career. After receiving a substantial contract extension in the offseason, many wondered if the Flyers had made a mistake considering his early struggles. Highlighted by this goal and his overall performance against the Blue Jackets, Giroux has squashed those conversations for the time being. Thanks to the drama and the heroic performance of a player that has become one of the most beloved figures in the area, the Flyers 5-4 comeback win over the Blue Jackets at the Wells Fargo Center checks in at #5 in my most memorable games of 2013.

4. Monday September 2; Hamels shines, Phils use 8th inning rally to trip up Nationals 3-2

Despite having substantially more potential entries in this considering all of their games were played in 2013, it was tough to track down a nominee from the Phillies for a game of the year. Their gradual slide into the depths of the NL East continued, and Ruben Amaro Jr. and his inability to turn the roster over and help the team stay in contention looks as if it will doom the Phillies to another period of sub-mediocrity. The roster is riddled with players past their prime who are breaking down at an alarming rate. With the farm system relatively barren as far as MLB-ready talent goes, it is tough to envision a scenario where the Phillies will be able to contend with the Nationals and Braves, two young teams loaded with high-end talent.

However, there were a few games over the course of the season where the sun peaked through the clouds and brought brief happiness and excitement to a fanbase that had been so accustomed to it given the team’s success in years prior. Over the first half of the season, the Phillies were able to stay in contention, mostly due to the sizzling month of May by Domonic Brown and pitchers like Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettibone performing beyond expectations. Yet eventually, the holes in their roster and some of the team’s fundamental flaws eventually caught up with them and much like in 2012, the Phillies were well out of contention by the end of the Summer.

Somewhat softening the blow of the Phillies struggles was the fact that the Nationals, the preseason odds-on-favorite to win the World Series, had apparently forgotten you have to play all 162 games and a combination of injuries and inconsistency led to frustration for a club that figured to waltz into the playoffs. Yet even after a dismal start and an inability for their young star, Bryce Harper, to overcome nagging injuries accrued over the course of a season, the Nationals somehow managed to find themselves in the Wild Card race at the start of September. Led by former Phillie Jayson Werth, who would turn in an MVP-caliber 2013 season, the Nationals entered an early September series at Citizen’s Bank Park with a chance to inch closer to an improbable playoff berth.

Sep 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels (35) delivers to the plate during the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The series opener set up as a dandy. Washington would be sending their ace, Stephen Strasburg, to the mound to face off against the Phillies franchise arm Cole Hamels. Strasburg had dominated the Phillies earlier in the season, tossing a complete-game in a 6-1 win where he struck out 10. However, this would be Strasburg’s first start at CBP since he suffered a torn UCL that prompted Tommy John surgery in 2010. Meanwhile, Hamels history against the Nationals is as well-documented as any player on the Phillies, highlighted by his admission of throwing at Bryce Harper in his first showdown with the confident, young phenom.

Despite both teams falling well short of expectations entering the game, the contest had a playoff-like atmosphere from the first pitch. Hamels was able to shake off a first inning solo home run by Ryan Zimmerman to baffle the Nationals lineup over seven strong innings. He would be removed after throwing just 87 pitches, prompting valid questions as to why new manager Ryne Sandberg would turn things over to the team’s undependable bullpen. Meanwhile, Strasburg was equally impressive as Hamels, unleashing his array of devastating plus pitches on a floundering Phillies lineup. After failing to register a legitimate scoring threat through the first three innings, a pair of veterans teamed up to put the lone chink in Strasburg’s armor over six innings.

Jimmy Rollins would fight back from an 0-2 count to walk on four straight balls to give the Phillies their second base-runner of the game. Rollins would advance after a Wilson Ramos throwing error would allow him to take second base with Chase Utley at bat. Ramos’ throw had made contact with Utley’s bat on a follow through, penalizing the Nationals catcher. Utley would end up striking out, but Carlos Ruiz would pick up Rollins singling to center and allowing Rollins to hustle home and tie it at 1.

Justin De Fratus would allow the Nationals to take the lead in the 8th inning, when he was unable to prevent Scott Hairston from hitting a sacrifice fly scoring Anthony Rendon. If the Phillies were to complete the comeback, they would have to do so against the Nationals best reliever, Tyler Clippard. The bespectacled Clippard had shaken off some early stumbles and refined himself into one of the most dominant set-up men in the National League towards the end of the season. The comeback appeared out of the equation when Clippard quickly set down the first two batters in the 8th.

However, Cesar Hernandez was able to get on base when he drew a walk on a full-count. Hernandez would be followed by Jimmy Rollins, and even if for just one inning, the leader of all the great Phillies teams leading up to this point played the role to a tee. Rollins ripped a double to the wall, scoring Hernandez from first and providing the Phillies with a chance to take the lead on a base hit.

Sep 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) celebrates scoring during the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After walking Chase Utley, Clippard decided to take his chances with Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz pounded a grounder through the infield, and Rollins exploded off second with one thing on his mind, scoring. In left field, the rocket-armed Bryce Harper charged the ball, sizing up his chances at throwing out Rollins before the Phillies could take the lead. With Rollins running as fast as I can remember seeing him in the last few seasons, Harper’s throw looked as if it would arrive simultaneously with the shortstop at home. Harper’s throw was slightly off-line, allowing Rollins to avoid the tag. The aging Rollins bounced up after his slide like a player in his young 20s, and the Phillies had dealt a devastating blow to the Nationals.

After the Nationals put runners on the corners with just one out, closer Jonathan Papelbon would need to wriggle himself out of a mess if the comeback were to hold. Sure enough, the mercurial righty struck out Ramos and Rendon to close out the game with the Phillies coming out on top 3-2.

The game was reminiscent of so many that made up the Phillies incredible stretch from 2007-2011. Their best players played that way and Cole Hamels stepped up in a pressure situation and gave his team their best chance to win. More importantly, the Phillies were a vital cog in preventing the Nationals to complete a 2007 Phillies-like run into the playoffs, as Washington eventually ran out of steam and games to make up ground. The Citizen’s Bank crowd did not have many things to cheer about over the course of the 2013 season, but I would argue that this early September showdown with the heir-apparent to the NL East was as electric a feel as the Bank had in a misery-riddled campaign.

3. Monday September 9; Kelly, Vick spoil RGIII’s return as Eagles storm past Redskins 33-27

As we unintentionally continue to pile on the D.C. area fanbase, we fast-forward just one week to the #4 entry and make the trip down I-95 for the Eagles week 1 matchup with the Washington Redskins at FedExField. In almost every NFL offseason, the Eagles hiring Chip Kelly as their head coach probably would have been the biggest storyline around the league. While Kelly’s hiring and methodology certainly garnered attention, it barely made a ripple compared to what was probably the most covered story in NFL history as far as how many mediums were involved.

The recovery and rehabilitation of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III from a devastating knee injury suffered over the course of the last few weeks of the regular season and the team’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Between the controversial decision to allow the franchise quarterback to risk further injury, to the proclamation of Griffin to return by week 1, the extensive video coverage of the quarterback’s tireless regiment, and the difficulties faced by coach Mike Shanahan as to whether he should allow Griffin to take the field in the season opener.

After Griffin was cleared by doctors, Shanahan followed through on an apparent agreement between the parties involved and announced the 2012 offensive rookie of the year would be his starter against the Eagles. As the national media gushed over Griffin and the Redskins, who much like the Nationals were considered a definitive favorite to return to the playoffs, very few people gave the Eagles a chance. When Griffin III strutted out of the tunnel, collapsed to his knees, and pounded the grass of his home field, one would have thought the second coming had arrived due to the overwhelming reception. Little did Redskins fans, and for that matter the entire NFL following know that this would be the high point of a disastrous season for the Redskins.

Sep 9, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) runs on the field prior to the Redskins game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Starting opposite Griffin was Michael Vick, whose career with Philadelphia was apparently extended by the hiring of Kelly. After a preseason that showed some signs of what the Eagles offense was bringing to the table, many wondered exactly what would be taking the field against the defending NFC East champions. The answer to that question came so fast, that the Redskins might still not know what hit them.

From their first snap, Vick and the Eagles rattled off chunk play after chunk play, moving down the field at a pace never before seen at the NFL level. Slowing down the blitzkrieg momentarily was a controversial fumble call that allowed DeAngelo Hall to return a batted pass that apparently did not cross the line of scrimmage back for a touchdown after the Eagles had reached the red zone.

The play, while frustrating, was of little consequence from that point. The Eagles would get on the board their following drive on an Alex Henery field goal. On the Redskins opening drive, an Alfred Morris fumble would give the ball back to the Eagles and the scoring avalanche would officially begin. On the first play following the turnover, Vick fired a strike to the back of the endzone where DeSean Jackson had left DeAngelo Hall in his wake and caught the first touchdown of the Chip Kelly era.

Sep 9, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) scores a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On the next Redskins drive, Griffin would float a pass over the middle in the direction of Santana Moss, only to have it intercepted by Brandon Boykin deep in Redskins territory. Despite the Eagles not being able to turn the interception into points, an expert Donnie Jones punt put the Redskins deep in their own territory with almost no margin for error. Washington inexplicably ran a toss play and the pitch was off target. Alfred Morris would fall on the ball, and the Eagles defense would fall on top of him recording the team’s first safety of the season. The same Redskins offense that had racked up 58 points over two wins against the Eagles in 2012 seemingly could not get out of its own way and trailed 12-7 after one quarter.

The second quarter was where the game got out of hand. At the halfway point, Vick threaded the needle to Brent Celek down the seam for his second touchdown pass of the half. At 19-7, the Redskins coronation party was looking more like a nightmare for the Burgundy & Gold faithful. Another three-and-out by Washington would give the ball back to the Eagles and, following a nine-play drive, Mike Vick would run a read option play in from three yards out to inflate the lead up to 26-7.

The first half stats read like something out of a Madden game. The Eagles outgained Washington 322-75, while controlling the ball for over 2/3 of the half. Philadelphia would gain 21 first downs compared to just three for the Redskins, and their 53 plays ran over the two quarters were the second most since 1991.

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The Redskins struggles reached a peak at the start of the 3rd quarter, when Griffin’s sideline pass to Pierre Garçon was picked off by a diving Cary Williams on their opening drive. LeSean McCoy would score on a highlight reel, 34 yard scamper to open up the 3rd quarter scoring to make the margin 26. In what was the first of several Eagles wins that felt somewhat too close for comfort, Chip Kelly struggled to strike a balance that would effectively allow him to run down the clock. Griffin and the Redskins took advantage of some uncharacteristic miscues, such as a Jason Avant fumble and some awful endzone coverage by Patrick Chung on a floating touchdown from Griffin to Leonard Hankerson. They had cut the margin down to six, but when the Eagles recovered the onsides kick at the end of the game, the misery had just begun for the Redskins, and the start of an Eagles renaissance was underway.

While the Redskins have turned out to be a far cry from the team that won the division in 2012, the reason this game was so great was that it vindicated all the things that people had said would work against the Eagles. They would not be able to win a big game without Andy Reid, Chip Kelly could not coach in the NFL, Robert Griffin III would account for five touchdowns every game against the Eagles, and the team would only slip further down the totem pole in the division. There were some rough edges exposed, but the fact of the matter was that Kelly had laid a foundation of what has turned out to be one of the most dynamic offensive philosophies to enter the league in years. For at least one more game, Michael Vick was able to look like “Starship 7″ (ironically enough on Monday night in Washington where the nickname originated). The Eagles took a night that was dedicated for months to the Redskins and Robert Griffin III, and in less than one half had flipped the script and made everything about Philadelphia and the whole world got to see it.

2. Wednesday October 30; MCW Explodes onto the scene as the Sixers topple defending Champion Heat 114-110

With one transaction, that will be discussed in-depth later in the week, the 76ers new front office took the team’s trajectory and altered it about as drastically as they possibly could. On the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, with the 76ers holding the 11th overall pick, many figured the team would take a solid, low-impact player with little chance at stardom. Considering the generally watered-down nature of the pool of entrants, few gave even the top-projected players a chance at leaving a long-term mark on the league. Remembering the evening, it felt as if the 2013 draft could be one of the most dull, live-covered events that ESPN would put on the air in decades. With the exception of the painful coverage of Nerlens Noel as he slipped from likely #1 pick to the #6 selection, very little could be taken away from the first hour or so of the event. Then, for the first time since their acquisition of Andrew Bynum the year before, the 76ers sent shockwaves through the NBA with a blockbuster of a trade.

 

The move transformed the 76ers from one of seemingly dozens of meddling teams with zero chance at contending for a title, to a team gearing up for the future and entrenching themselves in what has now become a heavily covered race for the 2014 NBA Draft first overall pick. With the franchise point guard heading to New Orleans and a player in Noel that had little chance of seeing the floor this season, many wondered what the 76ers plans were beyond the trade. They would select Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams with their original selection. The long, lanky sophomore had helped the Orange reach the Final Four, but was generally looked at in a much lesser light than Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Kansas’ Ben McLemore.

The atmosphere surrounding the 76ers as they entered their season opener against the Heat was almost comical. One could not have paid a degenerate gambler to bet on the 76ers winning as the Heat were essentially returning the same roster that had captured their second straight NBA title in one of the more dramatic finals in history. Fortunately, nobody told the 76ers roster and their rookie leader they were supposed to lay down.

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A night after new coach and former Spurs assistant Brett Brown had to watch the champs raise their banners, reminding Brown of the crushing defeat he had been a part of the year before, his franchise player made sure to put that out of his mind as quickly as possible. Less than 30 seconds into the contest, the now affectionately known ‘MCW’ recorded his first of a staggering nine steals (most in NBA history for a player making his debut) and raced down the court for an electrifying dunk. For most of the first half, the 76ers had the Heat in jeopardy of being embarrassed by the odds-on-favorite for the 1st overall pick the following year. The Sixers would hit their first 11 shots and score the first 19 points of the game before the Heat finally registered a point. Philadelphia had built up a lead as big as 22 and appeared firmly entrenched in the free-flowing motion offense that Brown had brought over from San Antonio after years of tutelage under Gregg Popovich.

However, as many expected, the Heat erased the deficit almost as quickly as it was built up. The Heat took their first lead early in the 3rd quarter and many expected the underwhelming 76ers roster to wilt under the pressure of the champs. That would not be the case though. With Carter-Williams running the show, the Sixers responded to every body blow the Heat could muster. Ray Allen would hit a half-court buzzer beating three to end the 3rd quarter that seemingly put the game out of reach.

Philadelphia would punch right back though, drawing to 94-91 after scoring the first six points of the 4th quarter. Spencer Hawes would give Philadelphia the lead when his three-pointer inched them to a 109-108 advantage. Carter-Williams would rip down a LeBron James miss and hit 1/2 free throws. Ultimately, after the teams traded two-point possessions, the baby-faced rookie took the line with an opportunity to put the game out of reach with under 10 seconds to go. The guard whose shooting issues apparently prevented him from being a higher pick calmly knocked down both free throws sealing the win and signifying a new, promising direction in 76ers basketball.

Oct 30, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) celebrates making a basket during the first quarter against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers defeated the Heat 114-110. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The statline from the game alone is staggering: 22 points (6-10 FG), 12 assists, seven rebounds, and nine steals. What was more impressive was the calm demeanor that the rookie went about his game. MCW seemed to hold the game on a string the same way the LeBron James had done on his path to dominance. With his basketball IQ and versatility on full display, the 20 year-old even garnered praise from the defending MVP

“I couldn’t think of a better way to start your NBA career,” -James

With the team sitting at 8-20, and Carter-Williams playing sparingly, albeit maintaining his impressive level of play, it would take a fool not to see that the 76ers are geared toward the future. Most games this season have been a wrestling match as to whether to cheer for the team for how enjoyable it is when they win, or to root against them knowing the prize that awaits the team with the first overall pick. Either way, it looks as if the 76ers have already hit the lottery with selecting Carter-Williams and everything else is gravy.

1. Sunday December 8th; Shady Shines in the Snow as Eagles Comeback to Beat Lions 34-20

Is there really any other choice than the season-defining game of the 2013 Eagles that managed to reach fans of the Eagles & football in general on a multi-sensory level. Heading into the weekend, the game was little more than a showdown of two 7-5 teams with equally dynamic offenses. The Lions had just throttled the Packers 40-10 on Thanksgiving and were benefiting from an extra few days of rest before their trip to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Eagles were on the heels of a hard-fought win over a very strong Arizona Cardinals team that seemingly legitimized an offense that was gaining momentum on a weekly basis. Both teams coveted the win, as they were each entrenched in tight division battles and any loss could prove to be devastating toward hopes at a postseason run.

With a high-octane passing attack spearheaded by Matthew Stafford and Calvin ‘Megatron’ Johnson paired with a suffocating run defense that had not allowed a runner gain more than 62 yards in six weeks, Detroit appeared to have the perfect formula to counteract Chip Kelly’s zone-running offense and expose a weak secondary. What neither team was able to take into account was the variable that Mother Nature decided to plug into the formula in the form of a flash-blizzard that blanketed the Delaware Valley.

After early reports projected little more than a dusting, the winter storm rapidly escalated and in a matter of hours, the Lincoln Financial Field was covered with half a dozen inches of the white stuff. With neither team planning for the type of conditions presented to them, the game promised to be one of attrition and adjustments.

Dec 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly watches as the snow falls during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The first half was about as ugly as one could expect. The Eagles offense that had started out fast so many times over the course of the season was unable to establish even the slightest semblance of rhythm, as they seemed intent on running the ball horizontally. The Eagles skill players were unable to gain the footing necessary to do such, and losses mounted quickly often forcing the Eagles to punt.

Ironically enough, the dome-oriented Lions seemed much more geared to excel in the conditions. Stafford found a way to hit receivers downfield as the Eagles secondary struggled to gain their footing. Were it not for a myriad of fumbles and bad snaps recovered by the Eagles, one could argue that game could have been out of hand by halftime.

That being said, a Nick Foles interception on a 2nd quarter drive (his first of the season), set up the Lions in prime real-estate and in position to score. They would do just that when Joique Bell ran it in from two yards out, and his reception on the two-point conversion gave the Lions an 8-0 lead. Things seemed pretty bleak for the Eagles when their best drive of the half ended in a failed 4th down conversion despite being in field goal range. Neither team seemed too confident about kicking the ball, and the Lions lone attempt in the second half justified the decision to not trot out Alex Henery for an attempt. Detroit would hold their 8-0 lead into the locker room and were 30 minutes from a win that probably would have wrapped the division for them.

When Jeremy Ross would return a Donnie Jones punt 58 yards to the house after the Eagles second failed possession of the half, hope almost seemed lost. The Eagles were down 14-0 and, with the Lions poised to start addressing running out the clock, would have to score quickly if they wanted a chance to win. The sequence of events that followed was as enjoyable as I can remember Eagles football ever being. One play after connecting with Riley Cooper for an incredible 44-yard completion, Foles would roll to his right and fire a pass through the snow into the Detroit endzone. With no apparent receiver as his target, the Eagles signal-caller played a numbers game, as he saw both Cooper and DeSean Jackson in the vicinity of where he was aiming. Jackson would haul in the pass inches in front of the end-line and, despite failing on the two-point conversion, the Eagles had new life.

The Eagles defense would force a Lions punt and would take over as the 3rd transitioned to the 4th quarter. After moving into Lions territory, LeSean McCoy would take an inside handoff up the middle, hurdle a defender, and scamper 40 yards to paydirt. Bryce Brown would punch in the two-point conversion and the Eagles had tied the game at 14.

Detroit would respond in a big way when Ross returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for his second touchdown of the game. David Akers would fail to connect on his lone extra-point attempt of the game, and the Eagles trailed 20-14 early in the 4th.

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It would take just three plays for the Philadelphia offense to unleash another blow at the reeling Lions front seven. McCoy would once again take a handoff straight up the gut and with little resistance sprint 57 yards for his second touchdown of the game. Foles would hit Cooper on the two-point conversion giving the Eagles their first lead of the game 22-20.

The defense would get the offense the ball back once more. After big runs by McCoy, Foles, and Bryce Brown, the Eagles found themselves with a 3rd and goal on the Lions one yard line. When Ndamukong Suh stuffed McCoy forcing a 4th down, immediately one wondered the Eagles plan of attack. Chip Kelly and Foles were clearly on the same page and had zero interest in kicking a field goal. Foles hurried the offense to the line and the statuesque quarterback muscled his way in on the sneak for a huge touchdown. The two-point conversion would fail, leaving the game within one possession for a Lions offense that could not replicate their first half rhythm.

Detroit appeared poised to at least make things interesting, as another long Ross kick return paired with a Joique Bell 28-yard catch and run set them up just outside the red zone. However, on a miscommunication, Stafford failed to receive a shotgun snap and instead of trying to fall on the ball, tried to pick it up off the slippery ground. He was unsuccessful and Mychal Kendricks fell on top of the ball.

On the penultimate drive of the game, the Eagles rushed the ball over and over. After four straight carries by McCoy, Chris Polk entered the game. His first carry would net just three yards, but on his second, much like McCoy, the smart-running Polk burst through the middle and rumbled 38 yards for another rushing touchdown. The failed two-point conversion made the score 34-20 with little time for a comeback remaining.

The Lions would turn the ball over on downs giving the Eagles the ball with a chance to run out the clock. On a 4th and 12 play in Detroit territory, Foles hit a wide open Celek on a quick-hitter and the veteran tight end had nothing in front of him but white snow to the endzone. Rather than scoring though, the heady Celek playfully slid down in the snow near the ten yard line allowing the Eagles to run out the rest of the clock in victory formation.

The comeback win was really the first time we had seen the Eagles deal with that type of adversity and come away with a win. Nick Foles did not play his best game, but played well enough to win and shook off something that hadn’t happened to him all season: an interception. However the star of the game, and ultimately the season, was LeSean McCoy. On a day where runners and defenders alike slipped and slid all over the field, the shifty McCoy looked as if his cleats were modified with snow tires. His 217 yards broke a franchise record held by Steve Van Buren, and he was able to do so in the most unexpected of situations. With the assistance of the Eagles dominant offensive line performance, McCoy was able to baffle the vaunted Lions run defense and make them look like a junior varsity team. It was a signature performance for McCoy in what has been an MVP-caliber campaign. Were it not for Peyton Manning, one could argue that Shady would be the odds-on-favorite. Regardless, his performance will go down in Eagles lore forever.

Lions Eagles Football

Aside from the win, there was something mystifying, almost magical about this game. Playing football in the snow is a tradition that goes back to childhood, and at points of the game you would think that was the case. In a league now defined by complexity and confusion, the Eagles win over the Lions looked more like a group of overgrown children drawing up plays in the snow and blowing their opponents off the ball. Visuals of the game have since graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and was even included in their 113 best sports moments of the season at #22 (along with other games played in the snow in week 14.)

The unbridled happiness in the stands and on the field by the end of the game seemed like something out of a movie. With the misery that had surrounded the Eagles for the two seasons prior, the idea of smiles and elation coming as a result of an Eagles game seemed farfetched. The win moved the Eagles to 8-5 on the season and rounded out a stretch of three straight home wins that brought an advantage back to Lincoln Financial Field. The team’s week 16 win over the Bears might have been their most impressive showing, but without question their win over the Lions in a blizzard with McCoy doing what he did will be the most memorable.

Tags: Chip Kelly Claude Giroux Cole Hamels DeSean Jackson Domonic Brown Football Hockey Jonathan Papelbon LeSean McCoy Michael Vick MLB NFL

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