Eagles go from the NFC penthouse to living in the doorway of an abandoned building

There are two things I try not to do on a regular basis: drink bourbon for breakfast and overreact to one NFL game.Why? Because both could lead to a slurring of words and deeds.So what to make of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 49-21 loss to the Broncos in Denver today?Well, let me pause for a moment to stoke the power of my prose, and I’ll tell you.Ready?Are you sure?For this is not for the quaint or faint of heart among Eagles fans.In fact, this is so important I should pump up the font on this blog at least six or more points and cast it in bold. Because the Birds are in a world of deep doo-doo.Well, not to trip over too many theatrical trappings, but it says here that the Eagles’ dramatic run as the elite team in the NFC is over.Granted, the final curtain has yet to drop. But the Eagles have blown too many gaskets on offense and defense this year to be even considered a lock to make the playoffs, let alone win the NFC East.Indeed, the Giants and the Cowboys seem splashed with more vitality in the NFC East than do our Birds.Heresy, you say? Perhaps. We shall see. But the foreshadowing is vivid in the narrative of the Eagles’ season. All their gears that once meshed like a fine Swiss watch suddenly are bent and mangled. Can Andy Reid play mad machinist and fix it all in time? I have my sincere doubts. Synchronization is not something you just wing. Sure, the Eagles could somehow wind up running the table and finally win their first Super Bowl. Which seems as likely as Julia Roberts inviting me over for dinner and drinks.You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or have your bust enshrined in Canton to realize that teams that get outscored 62-14 in the first quarter, 55-0 in the first quarter on the road, like the Eagles have this season aren’t exactly knocking on the front door of grand destiny. But as flawed as they are, the Eagles still can tease us by ushering their old-time magic into our souls. After all, Donovan McNabb did wake all of us with three straight TD tosses in the second half today.On one of them McNabb hit Terrell Owens on a short pass and Owens juked cornerback Champ Bailey out of his jock and thigh pads, then whooshed free for a 91-yard score. But it was a big tease. Mo Mentum rejoined the Broncos huddle and things pretty much went into the crapper after that for the Eagles.Any thoughts of an improbable miracle comeback were washed away in the swirling rain as some unknown wideout named Todd Devoe and water bug tailback Tatum Bell closed the show with some splashy heroics. Two overriding thoughts are running in tandem through my mind.First, the offense: The Eagles threw on 18 of their 25 first-half plays — including 10-of-12 to start — and one of those runs was a 2-yard scramble by McNabb. No wonder the Broncos’ pass rush was teeing off on them like Tiger Woods with their fire-in-the-theater nine-man front. Little wonder that McNabb missed his first 12 passes, one of them tipped for a pick. His passer rating at that juncture? Try 1.7 on for size. Of course, you’ll need an electron microscope to even see such a microscopic number. Second, the defense: The Eagles were gouged for nearly 600 yards of total offense by the Broncos. Jake Plummer threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns, Bell zipped for 107 yards and two TDs and Mike Anderson muscled for 126 yards and one TD. The Eagles’ D had more gaping holes than a Jack O’Lantern’s smile. Of course, that first half is the Halloween nightmare that should have transpired on Friday the 13th. I simply can’t expunge from my mind that spring-break party blowout the Broncos threw in the first half. Denver totally dominated Philly on both sides of the ball.It was not a half for subtleties and subtitles.To be blunt, the Broncos bit off the Eagles’ heads, helmets included, and sucked out their lungs in the first half.The Broncos played the first half as if they were dudes from another planet, and they definitely weren’t on a friendly mission. Beyond the 28-0 chasm they found themselves in, the Eagles were beyond atrocious. Their utter ineptitude was so shocking that it had to knock the mooring loose on a few dozen stars or so in the Milky Way Galaxy. Actually, today’s game fried my synapses. So I’ll leave it to Steve Patton to provide the nitty gritty of the details in Monday’s Reading Eagle.But to sum up matters, it’s a sad thing when you lose your grip, let alone your genius.And that, my friends, is the story of the Philadelphia Eagles, circa 2005.

Tony keeps Penn State in the Hunt in the Big Ten

Apprehensions that Penn State would succumb to a brittle vulnerability Saturday against Purdue proved unfounded.A college football program that had displayed a passion for indirection in recent years has come together in a serene place.The Nittany Lions, whose abrupt reversal of fortune this season has primarily resided in the hands of their splashy freshmen receivers, resorted to their ground game in the second half to rebuff any thoughts of upset lurking in the minds and hearts of the Boilermakers.A signature sign heralding a resourceful and successful team is the capacity to fill the void with alternative scenarios.Which is exactly what Penn State did Saturday as it hones in on his first Big Ten title since 1994.When the dust of the Homecoming conflict had cleared Saturday at Beaver Stadium, Penn State had rushed for a whopping 303 yards in a 33-15 win. And Tony Hunt had garnered – a throwback verb employed by ink-stained sports scribes of yesteryear – 129 of them.Hunt was especially effective in the fourth period as he punished Purdue defenders and foiled any comeback considerations the Boilermakers may have harbored.Indeed, Hunt ran with a pleasurable pride in the fourth quarter, rushing for 52 yards against a Purdue defense that hadn’t exhibited a fragility against the run until Saturday. The Boilermakers had surrendered just 122 rushing yards a game coming into Saturday. But thanks to Hunt’s pinball cunning and the marvelous athleticism of quarterback Michael Robinson, who bolted for 96 yards on the turf, Penn State rushed by Purdue.Throw in Kevin Kelly’s four field goals, Rodney Kinlaw’s spectacular kickoff return to set the stage for a touchdown, and a stout defense that held Purdue to a season-low 277 yards, and you had the recipe for victory in what could have been a trap game for Penn State.The Lions amassed 516 yards of offense, and more than doubled the first downs accrued by the Boilermakers, 29-14. Undoubtedly, the media’s eye will be focusing ever more intently on Penn State as it continues its inspiring climb back to the pantheon of college football’s esteemed elite.And with all the TV trucks and vans jockeying for curb space in Happy Valley, hopefully a phalanx of microphones make their way to the lips of Tony Hunt.After all, it’s nice to give some props to the bread-and-butter guy, the dude who delivers more than a commensurate dividend on the ground.Indeed, while the perimeter guys garner an unduly share of the glory and the acclaim, we cannot forget the contributions of those who toil in the infantry. The ground game is where guys put up their dukes and conduct their conversations in mumbles.Nobody stood taller for Penn State Saturday than Tony Hunt, who morphed Purdue into a piñata at crunch time.

Let us pray that no Halloween prankster messes with Penn State's mojo

Frank Fitzpatrick, who used to toil on the old Reading Times city desk before moving on to become an acclaimed author and Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter, has a nice piece today on how great team chemistry has helped rekindle the flickering embers of Penn State football into a roaring autumn campfire.Of course, as Fitz points out, other factors have helped the Nittany Lions cease being knuckleheads in helmets … such nuclear elements as an infusion of more speed/ athleticism, a big-play spread offense, a defense you need sonar to detect all of its landmines, and Joe Paterno’s recent discovery that freshmen with talent that shouts to be seen can actually contribute before they’re fifth-year seniors.Still, the premise of Fitz’s article is that a more adhesive bond has been signficant in transforming the Lions from poodles into Dobermans.Indeed, 11th-ranked Penn State is 7-1 overall and sitting peacock pretty in the Big Ten at 4-1.Fitzpatrick reports that Paterno insists that this Penn State edition is as tight as any he has ever coached.And coming from a guy who seemingly has been coaching since the days when George Washington’s squad pulled an end run on the British, that’s saying something. In an ultimate team sport like football, exceptional chemistry can sizzle and throw off more sparks than a frayed electrical wire. And sparks have been known to light a fire.And make no mistake, these Lions are on fire as they prepare to play patsy Purdue this Saturday at Beaver Stadium.Let’s just hope that the Lions can maintain their chemistry, which has been such a potent brew in rescuing them from the boiling cauldron of bad bounces, bad luck, bad karma and bad football in recent seasons … an apocalyptic axis of evil if there ever was one. Chemistry, however, is an intangible commodity. It’s extremely difficult to distill and then bottle. And even if you’re fortunate enough to bottle it, as Penn State has, it’s easy for the genie to pop out of the bottle in an instant and defect to some other team. Unlike a fire deep in an old mine that smolders forever, chemistry can be a fickle creature.Which is what worries me about this Saturday. Granted, Purdue is a patsy. But this is Halloween weekend. All sorts of ghosts and goblins could be bewitching Happy Valley.Consequently, I hesitate to ask the unthinkable: Could some sort of pagan hocus-pocus cast a spell on the Nittany Lions and enable the Boilermakers to smash our heroes to smithereens? And would such a monumental upset leave the Lions quarreling and bickering at each other’s throats?I think they had better nosh on plenty of hot dogs and orange soda together after tonight’s pep rally to ensure the adhesion in their bond is strong enough to withstand a sneak attack by the occult.

Dear George W.: Please stoke our imagination and nominate Judge Judy!

Harriet Miers threw in the towel this morning and withdrew her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.When neither liberals and conservatives like you and your resume is thinner than a strand of linguini, well, it’s time to open a lemonade stand somewhere.Meanwhile, George W. Bush sits beleaguered in his White House, the balloon of his second term hemorrhaging helium as he awaits word on the possible indictment of senior White House aides in the CIA leak case.Compounding matters are the perpetual disintegration of the Iraqi mess and the perception that his governmental agencies fumble the ball whenever it gets slippery from wet weather. Suddenly, all the possibilities of Bush’s future seem flooded out, leaving only the anchors of his failures behind to rattle in his head.Obviously he needs a cheese grater to reshape his image.He needs to make a signature statement that he still can be large and in charge.And what could be a more bold stroke than to nominate Judge Judy for the Supreme Court?I kid you not. Judge Judy is beloved by America. She’s in everybody’s living room on a nightly basis, dispensing justice to an endless procession of nitwits who get all entangled in legal glop.Judge Judy radiates like polished marble in judicial matters.And since she’s such a high-profile celebrity, she’s more than equipped to handle the public strip search the Senate likely would put her through. Memo to George W.: If you’re online and reading my blog this morning, I’m deadly serious about this. Save your legacy and ensure domestic tranquility by nominating Judge Judy now! Like it or not, she’s the only lifeline you’ve got left.

It's hard to ignore the death rattle ringing in your ears while reading about a bird flu epidemic

I’ve been reading Newsweek for so long, I can’t remember how long. I can’t pinpoint it precisely, but I began perusing its pages sometime between the invention of the printing press and the invention of the Internet.By the way, Al Gore didn’t invent the printing press. Tipper did. But I digress.This week’s cover story in Newsweek sent off alarm bells in my house last night. Which at least kept me up long enough to catch most of that marathon World Series game.Anyway, Newsweek scared the chicken—- out of me with its coverage of the bird flu that could extrapolate into a global pandemic shortly before you finish this blog.For some reason, scenarios that smack of the End of Times always fascinate me.In fact, I’ve previously blogged about the avian flu threat in a light-hearted fashion and recently broached the subject of natural disasters piling on to add up to doomsday.Armageddon and Apocalypse are two words guaranteed to make my blood pressure percolate. And Fareed Zakaria’s column in Newsweek almost was enough to make me and my skyrocketing BP flee to an underground labyrinth or a remote rural enclave.Actually, at the first peep of dawn today, I swore off Chicken Caesar salads for eternity.And all this time I thought chicken was good for you. No more.By the way, perhaps the critters we’ve been eating for years are turning on human beings with sinister, diabolical intentions. Chickens are killing us with the flu. And cows are killing us with Mad Cow. Zakaria’s column is eye-rubbing to read. He alarmingly points out that a flu pandemic dwarfs terrorism as the biggest threat currently knocking on our front door.According to his column, it seems sooner than later an avian flu virus is going to undergo the final, fatal mutation allowing it to move from human to human. And fueling this surge of viruses is the urbanization of China. For some reason, China is the hotbed for chicken flu. And all this time we thought the Chinese were only notable for their big wall, fireworks, their crazy alphabet and being among the last to get the memo that communism is dead.I’ll let you read Zakaria’s column for yourself, but it left me with the distinct impression that our planet someday may be thronged with ghosts and goblins who aren’t celebrating Halloween.Because it seems governments, including ours, haven’t made the extremely pricey commitment of developing a general vaccine that would work against all strains of the flu.With the current abysmally low funding, we’re fighting this epic battle with a popgun. Right now, we’re no match for those cunning, stealthy microbes lurking out there.Evidently, we can’t make a chicken bark. Or stop a chicken from killing us.This all seems rather surreal, as if hijacked from some mad movie producer’s screenplay. But this threat apparently is vividly, acutely real.One pause for hope, however, may be that Nostradamus never predicted that chickens would prove to be the death of us all.On the other hand, a more modern-day prophet, Bob Dylan, once screeched that “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.”Dylan always was a poet one step ahead of everybody else.

A seated Rosa Parks made America stand up

Rosa Parks stood up by remaining seated.It proved to be a seminal moment, a towering act of courage.Her refusal to surrender her seat on the bus to a white man in 1955 ultimately would drive a dagger into the heart of Jim Crow.And when she refused to stand, one could feel the tremor of the civil rights movement rippling through America.It was a follow-me charge over the ramparts. It was classic lead by example. The legend of Rosa Parks had been hatched.Actions sometimes do speak infinitely louder than words.Rosa Parks died Monday at 92. But her legacy lives on.Simply said, the one-time seamstress changed the face of America by adding color to it.

Howard Stern's day job a tad better than working in a salt mine

Some guys concoct concepts and have the world by the tail for the remainder of their natural lives.As Exhibit A, I bring you Howard Stern.Here’s an ugly, goofy dork of a guy who developed the radio shock jock persona into an art form.This guy has become a zillionaire by basically babbling on and on about sex.Not a bad gig … this guy feasts on fame and fortune simply by talking dirty to an endless series of babes, bimbos and twits who shimmy, shake and saunter into his studio. Never mind all those purists who claim a show like Stern’s is as out of place on the radio dial as eating a gourmet meal in a dumpster.Howard delivers boffo ratings. Folks out there with salivating hormones and a penchant for sleaze eat the show up. No matter that they’re likely wearing lobster bibs at the time.All of which means Stern’s advertisers have wallets big enough to house a supersized Wal-Mart or two.Of course, the FCC wasn’t thrilled having a show so blatantly seamed with sex airing on terrestrial radio. The FCC obviously prefers tapioca over salsa. So Stern is taking his smut talk to Sirius Satellite Radio in January.That obviously will leave a gigantic chasm on the terrestrial radio dial.Suddenly, there is all sorts of speculation on who the next Howard Stern will be. Or whether there can ever be another Howard Stern.Evidently, he is the gold standard of shock jocks, an icon of modern communications.That admission, of course, probably is as shocking to some folks as seeing Oprah in a thong bikini.

An agitated but special win by the Eagles

As incredibly implausible Philadelphia’s stunningly dramatic win over San Diego today may have been, it merely signaled a temporary truce from this sobering reality:The Eagles ain’t what they used to be.Indeed, it certainly looks as if it’s going to be a gouged and pitted road to the playoffs. In recent regular seasons, opposing teams fell to the Birds as if sliced by machetes.Not this year, baby. Looks like this is gonna be a campaign destined to leave our nerves stripped.For instance, take the Eagles’ improbable 20-17 victory today at the Linc.Philly’s defense was nearly impassable for much of the afternoon.Spearheaded by middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, the Birds stuffed the superlative LaDainian Tomlinson like a Thanksgiving Day turkey.Go figure.And they also kept LT out of the end zone, which means he failed to break the NFL record of 18 straight games with a touchdown that he shares with former Reading High and Baltimore Colts great Lenny Moore.Trotter left the Chargers with somber, shaken expressions as he rang up nine tackles, a pivotal interception, one sack and one forced fumble. The Eagles’ defenders rose in anger like a lynch mob. They were as sharp as a razor in containing the explosive Chargers, whose lightning bolts usually aren’t merely contained to their splashy helmets and uniforms.And the game clincher came courtesy of the Eagles’ much-maligned special teams as Matt Ware ran 65 yards for a touchdown with a blocked field goal that would have iced the game for San Diego.The Birds, in a 17-13 hole that looked deeper than a grave, rose from the dead when Quintin Mikell broke through the middle and blocked Nate Kaeding’s 40-yard field goal attempt.Ware scooped it up and zipped unmolested into the end zone with 2:37 left in the game. His heroics restarted the hearts of faithful Eagles fans who had opted to remain in the stands.Of course, a few fans may have left more in fright than in despair. A false fire alarm kept wailing in the second half, and an announcement over the PA system appealed for an orderly evacuation.Some cynics and pundits wondered if that was why the Eagles’ offense essentially disappeared. By the way, matters weren’t settled until the defense came up with another signature moment.Cornerback Sheldon Brown stripped the ball from Chargers receiver Reche Caldwell after a 19-yard reception and Darwin Walker recovered at the Eagles 18 with 1:26 left to wrap up the miracle.There was considerable white-knuckle time for the Birds while the replay officials analyzed whether Caldwell’s knee touched the turf a blink or two before he started losing his grip on the ball.Just say that it was thisclose. But Eagles fans should harbor deep concerns despite the victory.Their offense is a hauntingly terrible place to be much of the time.They can’t and won’t run.The O is totally skewed toward the pass, with an obviously distressed Donovan McNabb cranking out a team-record 35 completions in a whopping 54 attempts for a relatively paltry 287 yards.During one stretch in the middle part of the game McNabb threw on 25 consecutive plays. Roll that particularly astounding stat around in your mouth for a bit before you try to digest it. That, my friends, is a surreal offensive approach that is hard to swallow. The Eagles have so many three-and-outs that it sucks up what little air there is left from their flow. That their defense played such a marvelous game today with such lack of support from their O was astonishing.The deep strike essentially has disappeared from the Eagles’ offense.Terrell Owens didn’t catch a deep pass, his longest reception a mere 12 yards. He did catch a 4-yard TD pass, the 100th of his career, and then celebrated with a lame mimic of a waiter, complete with a towel draped over his arm.When Chargers wideout Keenan McCardell later punctuated his TD catch by mimicking T.O.’s mimic, it just demonstrated how ridiculous the stunt was.Besides, there’s nothing for the Eagles’ O to celebrate these days. They need to recapture their mojo.Too many series right now are ending with them clambering back to the sideline, wearing dazed, defeated expressions.The Eagles will not make it back to the Super Bowl if their offense is as silent as an empty stage set for great stretches of time. The Birds won’t be able to puff out their chests and move the chains until they hit the ground running. They hardly made a peep rushing today, with Brian Westbrook getting just 25 yards on 10 carries. McNabb had four carries for a loss of a yard. Nobody else ran the ball.Westbrook, who doesn’t need a little negotiation with his inner self to know that he’s a star, did catch 10 balls for 75 yards as Andy Reid continues to substitute a dink-and-dunk short passing game for any semblance of a running game.Compounding matters this afternoon, Reid made some tactical blunders bad enough to make a midget football coach blanch. My intent is not to send everybody in Eagles Nation sinking into a tar pit of gloom. After all, it was a critical victory over a strong opponent. Still, the Eagles are lost on offense, devoid of themselves.Over their bye week they fixed some of the dents in their defense and special teams. But now they’re fresh out of byes.So they have to somehow find the time to get the offense into the body shop. Installing a new engine that can run without sputtering would go a long way.

Penn State stomps Illinois into jelly

Well, wasn’t Penn State something else Saturday night?I guess the Nittany Lions caught a good dose of Saturday Night Fever because they were hotter than a Saturday Night Special in transforming poor Illinois into a 63-10 ground-down wasteland.Michael Robinson put on his Superman cape as the Penn State QB. He was truly amazing in the first half when he threw four touchdown passes and scampered for two more scores.Thanks in large part to Robinson’s sheer sonic brilliance, it was an incredible 56-3 at halftime.Thank God that Joe Paterno, en route to his 350th career win, exhibited extreme mercy in the second half.Which was most kind because the Illinois imposters were choking on plumes of Homecoming boos well before the intermission.Illinois was spitting out more colossally stupid mistakes than West Virginians spit bicuspids. This sorry bunch must train on a diet of Haagen-Dazs. Penn State, in reaching 4-1 in the Big Ten and 7-1 overall, was tougher than a $4 sirloin. The Lions hardly broke a sweat in processing Illinois into steak tartar.While Illinois obviously played like a team of lint-brains, we still must give ample credit to Penn State. The Lions were awesome in bouncing back from their last-second loss to Michigan, which could have been tougher to do than shaving with sandpaper.But they refused to allow the psychic welts from such a shattering loss to fester.The Lions were sharper than the tongue of an angry spouse from the opening kickoff. And gleefully joining in the carnage was Wyomissing High grad Nolan McCready, a reserve safety who returned his first career interception 76 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.Indeed, this was the gold standard of romps.”You kind of feel bad,” said Robinson. “You don’t want to do that to teams, but nobody felt bad when we were losing like that the past couple of years.”Oh, well. Such are the fortunes of war.In recent seasons, Penn State’s expectations for success were skinnier than a 7-iron. Now they’re as plump as a Halloween pumpkin.

Definitely a jail Bird of a different feather

Uniform numbers on sports stars often morph into much more than mere numerals.Their mutual identities frequently become closer than conjoined twins.Jocks and their numbers go together like peanut butter and jelly, Scotch and water, Pam Anderson and cleavage, George W. Bush and confusion, yin and yang, etc.For instance, Larry Bird made the No. 33 memorable on his Boston Celtics jersey.Fortunately for some nutjob named Eric Torpy, who must be dumber than a box of screws, Bird’s number wasn’t No. 99 like old-time Lakers star George Mikan.Because when it comes to being a Larry Bird fanatic, Torpy must have a screw loose. Otherwise, he either (a) just returned from Jupiter or (b) is simply mind-blown, brain-bruised, stupefied and mystified.This bird brain actually asked an Oklahoma City judge to add three years to his 30-year prison term for armed robbery and shooting with intent to kill.Evidently, this jail bird said if he was gonna go down, he was gonna go down in Larry Bird’s jersey.Of course, the dude will actually have his own prison number. But since he obviously has no life of his own and lives vicariously through Bird, his prison digits are of no relevance to him.At least his rather unique sentencing agreement merited a big media play. Usually these sentencing matters make less of a media splash than a jelly bean landing in a pond.Still, when this clown wraps up his 30th year and he’s still looking at three more years of hard time, I wonder if he’ll still think he’s too cool to have belly-button lint.I doubt he’ll blow by those three final years like they are so much road kill.I hope he finds those last three years to be tougher than watching a never-ending NBA highlights reel showing Magic Johnson blowing past Larry Bird in one of their classic Lakers-Celtics showdowns.