Archive | December, 2012

After Giants Rout of Eagles, Reid is Reportedly Fired; Players Point Fingers at Each Other

31 Dec

Comcast is Reporting that Reid Will Be Fired, Players say Team didn’t Buy into Reid’s System

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

Andy Reid Coaching in what is likely his final game with the Philadelphia Eagles. Photo By Webster Riddick.

Andy Reid coaching in what is likely his final game with the Philadelphia Eagles. Photo By Webster Riddick.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.–The Andy Reid era in Philadelphia Eagles football mercifully ended not far from Exit 16W off the New Jersey Turnpike with a beatdown your mama or daddy used to give you when you really screwed up.

After all the talk last week of playing the role of spoiler and winning for Reid by Eagles players, the Giants ended the competitive portion (and we use that term loosely) of this game early, jumping out to a four-touchdown lead at halftime.

For the record, the final score was a resounding 42-7 rout of the hapless Eagles at MetLife Stadium by the Giants, who were eventually eliminated from playoff contention when the Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions.

“It was embarrassing, I don’t think I’ve ever lost like that high school or college,” said Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant. “It was definitely embarrassing. I hate to see Coach Reid go out with a performance like that which was totally inexcusable, definitely lackluster. Just bad.”

Of course, the only thing suspense left in this game is the time of Monday or Tuesday’s press conference announcing Reid’s imminent firing. Reid has put together an outstanding record during his 14-year tenure in Philadelphia, but his time has apparently run out.

Comcast SportsNet is reporting that the decision has already been made, but the team has yet to confirm it or announce a press conference.

“Either way, I understand,” Reid said after the game. “So that’s how it is, this is the business that I’ve chosen. I’ve been very fortunate to have been here as long as I have and if I’m here again, I’ll love every minute of it. If I’m not, I’ll understand that, too.

The Eagles were awful on defense as Giants quarterback Eli Manning blew up the Eagles weak secondary with five touchdown passes while throwing for 208 yards on 13-of-21 passing. The Birds defense couldn’t stop the pass or the run as the Giants scored on five of their first six possessions.

On offense, Michael Vick showed the rust of not playing since Nov. 11.  Against a swirling wind, Vick, at times, overthrew open receivers including a pass to tight end Brent Celek on the game’s first possession that was intercepted by safety Giants Stevie Brown.

Vick, who was presumably auditioning for other teams around the league, didn’t necessarily play the game of his life, completing 19-of-35 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Inside the locker room after the game, the Eagles came as about as close to pointing fingers at each other than at any time during Reid’s tenure as head coach.  During his post-game press conference, Vick didn’t openly throw his teammates under the bus, but the implication was there.

“It’s frustrating, it’s difficult because me, I leave it out there on the field, I give it everything I got.” Vick said. “I wish I could play other positions, but I can’t. You do the best you can and that’s all you can ask of yourself.”

Later in the press conference, Vick said that his teammates should feel the kind of anger and embarrassment that he felt about the season and in this last game against the Giants.

“I’m not saying my teammates gave a lack of effort and I noticed it, I just know that we can play better, “Vick said. “You’re down 21-0 and the first quarter is not even over, what is that? We don’t know.  I just notice that it is a big difference than what we were going through last year and the year before. It shouldn’t be that way.

“If I had to sit here and be candid right now, if every guy were to come up to this podium, they should say the same thing I said verbatim.”

Avant took it even further and said players weren’t buying into Reid’s system and that the team needs to find players who are willing to follow to coaches orders regardless of who’s coaching the team.

“It’s not a Coach Reid thing, it’s definitely a player personality and characteristic problem,” Avant said. “One thing that I do know is that we need guys that will buy into a system no matter if it’s Coach Reid’s system or anything else. I’m hoping and praying that it’s Coach Reid.

“But if that’s not the case, you’re still going to have the players to be responsible and accountable—not to allow the amenities of the NFL to distract them from what this game is about which is playing hard for a team and playing hard for the city of Philadelphia.”

Avant said that when he first came here as a rookie in 2006 there were stand up guys like Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Jeremiah Trotter that set a good example to give their best effort for the team under any circumstance.

“When you have a younger team, there has to be a maturity level that previous coaches had to have taught them,” Avant team. “This team will be better, but the young players have to mature as well.”

The Chris Murray Report’s Athlete of the Year 2012: Serena Williams

28 Dec

By Chris Murray

Overcoming injuries and illness, Serena Williams left competitors in the dust in 2012.

Overcoming injuries and illness, Serena Williams left competitors in the dust in 2012.

For the Chris Murray Report

After thoroughly dominating Maria Sharapova in the gold medal singles final at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, an overjoyed Serena Williams celebrated her win by doing a little dance.

But it wasn’t just any dance. Williams did the Crip Walk, a dance that was often done by the Los Angeles street gang the Crips as they committed acts of violence.

Of course, the  level of misplaced moral outrage in the blogosphere and in the world of Social Media damn near went through the roof. Facebook and Twitter were lit up with people expressing outrage.

Some of the nation’s most prominent sports writers roundly criticized Williams for doing that particular dance because of its association with gang violence. Never mind that the C-Walk is as embedded in pop and rap culture, a culture that also includes demeaning women and using the N-word to the point that you feel like you’re in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

But there was something that got lost through all the overly dramatic sermons admonishing Williams for her apparent petulance and immaturity.

Serena Williams was simply the most dominant athlete in her sport in 2012. Period.  Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open and several other tournaments might as well have been called “The Serena Williams Invitational.”  Last month, the Women’s Tennis Association named Williams as their Player-of-the-Year.

Out of all the athletic performances this calendar year in both team and individual sports, no one was more dominant at their craft than the 31-year-old Williams. From April to October, Williams won 48 of her 50 matches en route to capturing Wimbledon, the Olympic Gold medal and the U.S. Open singles titles.

That’s why we at the Chris Murray Report have named Serena Williams our inaugural Athlete-of-the-Year.  She may not be your personal cup of tea, but when it comes to performance on the field, which is what we measure here, Williams kicked ass where it counted in 2012.

Nearly two years after getting two operations on her right foot, having blood clots in her lungs and blood in the skin of her stomach, Williams won the ladies single title at Wimbledon by defeating Agnieszka Radwanksa in three sets for her first Grand Slam title in two years. Williams at 30-years-old became the oldest women’s tennis player since Martina Navratilova to win a grand-slam title.

And by the way, Serena and her sister Venus also won the Wimbledon Doubles title.

At the Olympic Games in London, Williams ran through the field with relative ease and lost just 17 games in six matches. In the gold medal match Williams defeated Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in a little over an hour. She also added a gold medal in women’s doubles to her trophy case.

Williams became the third women’s tennis player to win the gold medal and all four Grand Slam tournaments in her career, a feat accomplished by only two other women: Steffi Graff and her sister Venus.

At the U.S. Open, Williams was down 5-4 to Victoria Azarenka, who was serving for the match. But Williams rallied to win the next three games and the match. She capped her 2012 season by winning the WTA Championships in Istanbul.

In a sports calendar year that included Gabby Douglass winning two gold medals in gymnastics, Usain Bolt dominating the Olympic sprint events, LeBron James leading the Miami Heat to an NBA title and Miguel Cabrera winning the American League Triple Crown, something that hasn’t happened since 1967, we thought the way Williams dominated women’s tennis stood a little bit higher than those other outstanding performances.

While folks may find Williams personality a bit off-putting and are not happy with her little dance at the Olympics, the only thing that matters in sports is what an athlete does in the field of play.

During 2012, Williams handled her business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagles 2012 Season: What Went Wrong?

27 Dec
Alex Henery's 26-yard field goal was the game-winning field goal in the Eagles 19-17 victory on Sept. 30. It was the last victory before the Birds season spiraled into an eight-game losing streak. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Alex Henery’s 26-yard field goal was the game-winning field goal in the Eagles 19-17 victory on Sept. 30. It was the last victory before the Birds season spiraled into an eight-game losing streak. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA–The last time the Eagles played the New York Giants back on Sept. 30, the Birds came away with a 19-17 victory to give them a 3-1 record and had fans excited about a possible run for the postseason.

Even Giants players thought the Eagles were going to win the NFC East.

“At that point in time, I thought they were definitely going to be the team to beat,” said Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. “They had everything going and they were on a nice winning streak. They were doing some good things. I was definitely thinking, in my mind, that they were going to be the team to beat.”

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the last game the Eagles would win before an eight-game losing streak destroyed the Birds season and perhaps signaled the end of the Andy Reid era in the City of Brotherly Love.

“We finished the game,” Reid said about the Eagles win over Giants in September. “We finished it with a win and we’ve had a couple since then that we haven’t quite finished in the fourth quarter or the other team started fast and we’ve been playing a catch up game. We just didn’t take care of business in the end there.”

This Sunday’s matchup with their bitter archrivals from North Jersey will close a bad season for the Eagles and possibly put an end to the Giants slim playoff hopes. When you’re coming into the game with a 4-11 record and facing an off-season filled with questions, spoiling your division rival’s postseason chances is the only joy you can get.

Everyone from fans to media folk is trying to figure out how a season with that kind of promise could deteriorate into the nightmare of a year that will end with double-digit losses.

Was it a couple games here or there? How much did injuries to the offensive line hurt the offense? Was it a defense that got torched badly in that eight-game losing streak?  Was it the firing of former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo?

“We’ve had chance after chance to win games and we shot ourselves in the foot whether it be turnovers, big plays on defense, special teams—not making plays consistently,” said Eagles safety Kurt Coleman. “It hasn’t been all-round great year for us as a team.”

You could get a variety of different answers and they would probably all be right in some way.

Perhaps it was the first two games during that losing streak—losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions—that sent the Eagles spiraling into the abyss.

When you look back at the 16-14 loss to the Steelers, the Eagles had several chances to win that game only to have something go wrong.  On their second drive of that game, the Eagles drove to the Steelers three-yard line, but quarterback Michael Vick fumbled the ball at the one.

But the Eagles eventually rallied to take a 14-13 lead with a little over six minutes left.  But the Steelers went on a 14-play, 64-yard drive to Shaun Suisman’s game-winning field goal. The key play on that drive was a conversion on third and 12 by the Steelers.

“To me, that was a game we should have won and we didn’t get it done,” Coleman said. “We had them third and 12 and had them backed up. It was inexcusable for them to get that first down, they did and they ended up getting the field goal to beat us. That would have put us at 4-1.”

Perhaps the most painful loss of the Eagles losing  streak was when they blew a 10-point lead to the Lions in the last 5:18 of regulation and eventually lost in overtime. It was a winnable game that ultimately led to the firing of Castillo as defensive coordinator. The Eagles season took a nose-dive of biblical proportions as losses blowout to the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins put the Birds into a deep hole.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said it was the 31-6 loss to the Redskins (Nov.18)  where he figured that things had spiraled to the point of no return.

“The bleeding didn’t stop,” Asomugha said. “When we played Washington that’s when it hit up front when it was like what? Really?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swan Song: Eagles Comeback Falls Short in What Could be Andy Reid’s Last Game in Philly

24 Dec
Eagles head coach Andy Reid leading the Eagles in what could be his final game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid leading the Eagles in what could be his final game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

In what was supposedly the final home game for head coach Andy Reid, the Eagles 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins was a reflection of the promise and ultimately the disappointment of a season that had higher expectations than their current 4-11 mark.

The Eagles started off well taking a 7-0 lead on their first possession of the first quarter, but then shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, penalties and a general lack of execution that put them in a two-touchdown hole.  To their credit, the Birds made a game of it until the bitter end, but came up short.

“We’ve been fighting back, but it’s always at the wrong time,” said defensive end Brandon Graham. “It’s been a rough year.”

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles played a better game against the Redskins than he did back in November, passing for 345 yards and one touchdown on 32-of-45 passing. But Foles had an interception and a fumble that stopped a couple of Eagles drives and led to points for the Redskins.

“I have to eliminate mistakes,” Foles said. “I fumbled and threw an interception. It’s the quarterback’s job to make sure that we get more points on the board than the other team and I didn’t do my job today.”

Defensively, the Eagles slowed down Robert Griffin III a little bit. The former Baylor star completed 16-of-24 passes for 193 yards with an interception and two touchdown passes including a 22-yarder to Santana Moss that put the Eagles in a 27-13 hole late in the third quarter from which they would never escape.

The Birds  had chances late in the game to score the game-tying touchdown to send the game into overtime, but couldn’t pull it off.

They came close.

Nick Foles last pass resulted in an intentional grounding penalty that ended a painful loss to the Redskins. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Nick Foles last pass resulted in an intentional grounding penalty that ended a painful loss to the Redskins. Photo by Webster Riddick.

With 23 seconds left in the game, Foles short-hopped a pass to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin, who beat two Redskins defenders in the corner of the end zone. Three plays later, the game ended when Foles was called for intentional grounding with one-second left. The penalty resulted in a run-off of time that ended the game.

“I think the Redskins got 10 points off two turnovers, something like that,” Maclin said. “It’s the same thing over and over again. I think we moved the ball and we showed how good this offense could be, it’s just that we came up short.”

Oddly enough, as Reid came off the field, he was met with some fans standing and cheering for him and of course, there was a smattering of boos in the background. But for the most part, it was more of an apathetic silence from the fans who are simply waiting for a bad season to end.

“Coach is one of the best coaches to ever coach, still is,” said Eagles tight end Brent Celek. “Hopefully, he’s back, but that’s someone’s decision.”

Eagles players were disappointed with the loss and seemed to be determined to come back next weekend against the New York Giants to win with for their embattled head coach who many expect to be let go at the end of the season.

“We knew this was the last home-game of the year and we wanted to make sure we go out of there and get a “W.” That’s what we talked about before the game,” Graham said. “I’m hoping things can work out for Coach Reid here, but if not I wish him well. I wish him the best.”

Maclin hinted that he would like to see Reid come back for another crack at turning things around for the Eagles in 2013.

“He’s a great guy, a phenomenal coach for what he teaches and what he preaches,” Maclin said. “The last two years haven’t been what we’ve wanted them to be, but at the end of the day that doesn’t mean he can’t turn it around the following season. We’ll see.”

With the season ending against the archrival New York Giants, Maclin said a win in the season-finale would be a positive cap on an otherwise bad season for the Eagles. He said the team was upset not just for their coach, but for the organization and for the fans.

“I think the season as a whole has been frustrating and disappointing,” Maclin said. “We’re not looking at it as being anybody’s last home game, being another game and going out there and take care of business. So for the whole organization, we wanted to get this win, but we came up short.”

Contenders or Pretenders: Will Newcomers Help Phillies Overtake Washington in the NL East

20 Dec
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies  will be  a good team even if they don't  add another right -handed bat via trade or free agency.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies will be a good team even if they don’t add another right -handed bat via trade or free agency. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Perhaps the biggest question the Phillies will have coming into spring training and the 2013 season is if they’re better than last year’s 81-81 record.

An even deeper question is if they’re better than the Washington Nationals team that won the National League East last season.

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. The Phillies still need a right-handed corner outfielder who can hit.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said even if he doesn’t find the right-handed bat via trade or free agency, he’s satisfied with his current set of corner outfielders including right-handed hitters  John Mayberry Jr. and minor-league sensation Darin Ruf, who batted .333 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 12 games at the major league level.

“I think we have talent there,” Amaro said. “How we’re going to maximize that talent. I’m not sure yet. If we have to go with those guys if we feel the other alternatives all that much better, there’s no reason to go out and do something that doesn’t make sense for us.”

On the other end of that quote, Amaro could be open to bringing in Cody Ross, Vernon Wells or even 36-year-old Alfonso Soriano, who hit 32 home runs, drove in 108 runs and batted .282 with an OPS (slugging percentage and on-base percentage) of .821 for the Chicago Cubs last year. He played in 151 games in 2011.

That’s if and only if the price is right.

If you’re looking at things two months before spring training and taking in the Phillies new off-season acquisitions, I’m going to answer the question I used to start this column with a no. I don’t think they are better on paper than the team that was supposed to win the division last season.

But I’m not going to say that the Phillies will be taking space in the bottom of the division in 2013 either.

What I will say is that they’ll be competitive enough to be in contention for the National League East in 2013. The team solved their center field situation on the cheap by trading up and coming right-handed pitcher Vance Worley and a Double-A to the Minnesota Twins for speedy centerfielder Ben Revere.

If you look at his numbers from last season, the 24-year-old Revere, a left-handed hitter, played in 124 games, batted .294 and had a .333 on-base percentage. He batted .314 against left-handed pitching. He stole 40 bases, which ranked him third in the American League.  Revere had 150 hits and scored 70 runs. He is a career .278-hitter with 72 stolen bases and 64 RBI with zero home runs during his time in Minnesota.

Of course, Phillies fans are concerned about Revere’s lack of power and the tendency of teams around the American League to position outfielders to move in a little closer to take away the bloop singles Revere lives on.

“Hopefully here, I get that one big ol’ gust of wind to push it that five-feet,” Revere said of his lack of homerun power. “I’ll be doing cartwheels on the bases.”

Revere is a younger, faster version of Juan Pierre.  His ability to steal bases will definitely be a boost to the Phillies offense. You would think that Phils manager Charlie Manuel would work with the  young Revere on generating more power.  His speed on defense is also an asset.

“That’s what they want me out there for,” Revere said. “To make the defense much better and hopefully make the offense more dangerous.”

More than likely, Revere will bat eighth, but I think batting him in the No. 2 spot would be interesting because of his speed and Jimmy Rollins’ ability to swipe bases could make life difficult for opposing pitchers, especially with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming up in the lineup.

Phillies new third baseman Michael Young said he's excited to be in Philly. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies new third baseman Michael Young said he’s excited to be in Philly. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Phillies solved their third base vacancy with the acquisition of Michael Young from the Texas Rangers. Despite being 36-years-old and seeing his numbers decline in 2012 from 2011, Young is still an upgrade offensively from Placido Polanco.

In what was a down year for Young, he batted .277 with eight homeruns and a .682 on-base plus slugging percentage (ops). He also had 67 runs batted in while playing 156 games. Polanco batted .257 with in 90 games in an injury-riddled 2012.

Young will get to play one position—third base—that he didn’t get to do a lot in his last few years in Texas. He played shortstop, second base and first base for the Rangers.

“I think that my time at third will be easier because I can devote all my time to my reps at third,” Young said at a press conference on Tuesday.  “The toughest part about playing different spots is dividing your reps—all my time is devoted to one spot.”

After trading Vance Worley to the Twins, the Phillies found their fifth starting pitcher by signing John Lannan to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Last season, Lannan spent most of his season with the Nationals Triple-A Syracuse club. In six appearances with the Nationals last season, Lannan  was 4-1 with a 4.13 earned run average.

The Phillies also bolstered their bullpen, which often blew leads last season, by signing set-up man Mike Adams, who was 5-3 with a 3.27 earned run average. How effective he will be depends on how he has recovered from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which a rib bone presses against the bone causing numbness in the arm.

Another Episode of Bad Football Theatre in Eagles Loss to the Bengals

14 Dec

Second Half Turnovers Doom Birds

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

A tough night for Nick Foles and the Eagles offense as they committed five turnovers. Photo by Webster Riddick.

A tough night for Nick Foles and the Eagles offense as they committed five turnovers in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

All the positive vibes that came from the Eagles last second win over the Tampa Buccaneers five  days ago vanished in a second half deluge of disastrous turnovers as the Cincinnati Bengals came away with a 34-13 victory Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

In a span of  close to nine minutes that started late in the third quarter, the Eagles committed four turnovers in five plays that led to 24 unanswered points for the Bengals, who improved their record 8-6 on the season. This latest meltdown was emblematic of an otherwise awful season for the Birds.

“It hurts when you go out there and you give it all and turnovers happen,” said defensive end Brandon Graham, who had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. “I know that the person that did it didn’t really want it to happen. It’s just the same story over and over. We gotta keep repeating ourselves and say it’s going to get better. I don’t know what to say after that. It’s just part of the game.”

On a night when the biggest concern among some Philadelphians was the outcome of the winter finale of the ABC- TV series, “Scandal,” the Eagles dropped to 4-10 on the season while treating fans to yet another episode of “Bad Football Theatre.”

You can’t blame this one on the defense. They sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton six times and forced two turnovers while holding the Bengals to just 249 yards of total offense.  The Birds had overcome an early 10-point deficit and held a 13-10 lead at the half.

But the defense’s best effort of the season went for naught because of the implosive misadventures of the Eagles offense, especially during that horrific stretch late in third quarter and early in the fourth quarter.

“In the game, things are looking well and we’re playing well and then one thing happens, it sno-balls on us and puts the defense in some really tough spots,” said tight end Clay Harbor. “They (Eagles defense) did a good job. We just got to be tougher mentally and fight through those spells like that.”

The first bad thing that happened, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles short-armed a pass intended for a wide-open Jeremy Maclin and was intercepted by cornerback Leon Hall at Eagles 16. He returned the ball Birds 40-yard line. Eight plays later, the Bengals scored on an 11-yard run by Dalton to give his team a 17-13 lead.

“I under threw [WR] Jeremy [Maclin] and the guy came back and made a play. So it’s a bad throw, it’s one that I can’t have. But it happened and I just have to, next time it happens just really throw it out there,” Foles said.

Two plays into the Eagles next drive, Foles tried to hand the ball off to running back Bryce Brown who fumbled the ball after being hit by defensive tackle Pat Sims. The ball was picked up by Wallace Gilberry, who ran it in for a 25-yard touchdown return to increase the lead to 24-13.

The comedy of errors for the Birds continued one play after the ensuing kickoff when Harbor coughed up the football after catching a pass from Foles at the Eagles 25. The ball was recovered by safety Chris Crocker who returned it the Eagles 13. The Bengals ended up getting a field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff,  a short kick by Josh Brown wound up in the hands of rookie defensive lineman Cedrick Thornton, who fumbled the football at the Eagles 33.

After Taylor Mayes’ recovery, it took the Bengals just five plays to score on a five-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to wide receiver A.J. Green and that was your ball game.

Spoilers: Eagles Hope to Derail Cincinnati’s Playoff Plans

11 Dec

Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy Back in Practice for Birds

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Rookie Nick Foles hopes to build on Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. He passed for 381 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winner to Jeremy Maclin. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Rookie Nick Foles hopes to build on Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay. He passed for 381 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winner to Jeremy Maclin. Photo by Webster Riddick.

After getting their first win since the end of September, the mood in the Eagles locker room on Tuesday was obviously a lot more upbeat than it’s been in a long time as the team prepares for Thursday night’s nationally-televised matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field.

For one thing, the Eagles are excited about the possibility of derailing the playoff plans of the 7-6 Bengals who are trying to make a late-season push for the postseason.  They are tied for second with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.  Cincinnati is coming off a heartbreaking, last-second loss 20-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

“It will be real big because winning is our No. 1 thing,” rookie defensive lineman Fletcher Cox.  “They’ve got playoff potential and our thing is to go out there and fight and win the game on Thursday.”

Bengals defensive tackle Geno Adkins said he thinks the Eagles are better than their 4-9 record and that getting a win on the road will not be easy.

“I just look at it as No. 1, they’ve got pride,” Adkins said in a conference call with the Philadelphia media on Tuesday. “They may be 4-9, they’re going to play and two, I think they’re going to use it as a motivation to spoil our chances for making the playoffs.”

If there was one thing about Sunday’s last-second 23-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that gives this team some confidence coming into Thursday’s game was the manner in which they won it.

It was looking like another Eagles defensive meltdown after the Bucs took a 21 -10 lead with 7:21 left to play.  The Birds, thanks to the passing of Nick Foles, scored on their last two possessions of the game including a game-winning one-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin as time expired.

After being gashed early in some games and late in others during the Eagles eight-game losing streak, the much-maligned Birds defense came through when it mattered most in the win over Tampa Bay. They stopped the Bucs offense on two straight possessions in the game’s final seven minutes.

“Hopefully, we can progress on what we did last week,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “It’s been a long time since we had a win and we were to close now and  played too well up until that point to let it slip. Whatever we had to do, bear down and make this play to get off the field to give our offense a chance.”

The Eagles not only saw it as an end to a horrific losing streak, but as a glimpse of what could the future could be like for the Birds who are trying to use these final games of the regular season to build a foundation for the next year.

“One thing that we have to do is to continue to play hard throughout the remainder of this season,” Maclin said. “We’re going to go out there and approach these games as if it’s our last, go out there and play hard and for these guys to get some more games under their belts.

For Nick (Foles) to keep progressing as a quarterback, these last three games are going to be key. Hopefully, we can get this thing going in the right direction.”

Foles said while he enjoyed celebrating the victory on the plane ride back from Tampa, he had to set his sights on getting ready to be even better against the Bengals.

“We can improve on that (win over Tampa), there was a lot of stuff in the film that we could have done better,” Foles said. “I missed some throws. There’s things to improve on even in wins. We just have to keep moving and keep playing together as a team.  Don’t change anything keep moving forward. Trust the offense and trust the reads.”

NOTES—Back up quarterback Michael Vick and starting running back LeSean McCoy practiced with the team for the first time since both players sustained concussions. Both players participated in practice on a limited basis with the scout team.

Wide receiver Jason Avant said Vick looked good throwing the football to him and that the veteran quarterback was eager to get back out there for practice.

“He’s itching to get back out there,” Avant said. “He looked good. It’s still the same, spirals. He was one of the most spiral-throwing quarterbacks you’ll ever meet.”

Foles, who took Vick’s starting job last week, said there was no awkwardness between the two and that former Va. Tech star has been nothing but helpful to him in his preparation.

“I will always support Mike and I know that he’ll always support me no matter what,” Foles said.  “Our relationship will always be the same.”