Vick Leads Another Eagles Comeback in Win over Baltimore

Eagles guard Danny Watkins (63) gives quarterback Michael Vick a huge lift after his one-yard run put the Eagles on top for good in the win over the Ravens. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Birds Overcome Four Turnovers to go 2-0

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA–When a team commits nine turnovers in two games in the National Football League, that team is usually staring at a 0-2 record and praying that they don’t fall to 0-3 the next week.

But the Eagles are 2-0 in spite of their on-going penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. The Birds needed another fourth-quarter comeback by the offense to tough out a 24-23 victory over a physical Baltimore Ravens squad Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Despite committing four turnovers, Michael Vick and the offense saved the day for the second straight week with another fourth quarter comeback. With the Eagles trailing 23-17 with 4:43 left in the game, Vick put the team on his back and led them on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was culminated with his one-yard plunge for the game-winning touchdown.

Michael scores the winning touchdown for the Eagles. Photo by Webster Riddick

“Even though we’ve been down, even though we haven’t played our best, we’ve turned the ball over, we’ve fumbled, we found a way to win the game,” said center Jason Kelce, who left the game with a sprained knee. “I think that’s huge. Fighting through adversity is something that all championship teams have to do. The fact that we’ve won these first two games by one point shows that we’ve been fighting through adversity.”

For the game, Vick completed 23-of-32 passes for 371 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. On the Eagles first drive of the game, Vick threw an interception in the end zone after completing his first five passes and driving the Eagles to the Baltimore 12. Head coach Andy Reid said he told Vick not to get down on himself.

“I told him to just keep playing, you just keep playing,” Reid said. “He’ll work through this. He has enough history to know what a great player he is and that part hasn’t changed.

“I thought he saw things and he made some great decisions and some huge throws. He’s still firing and there’s no hesitation. That’s important. There’s a confidence he has.”

Vick said the thing he has to work on understanding that he can’t always make the really big play and not try to force things when it’s not there, especially on his first interception.

“To come out and get off to such a great start and to have it all negated by a turnover when you know there’s better decisions that could have been made,” Vick said. “You can’t always hit a homerun, sometimes you gotta get singles and doubles. That’s what I have to understand. I force too many balls sometimes.”

What also helped the Eagles against the Ravens is that they showed some balance on offense.   After throwing the ball 56 times last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Eagles passed the ball 32 times and ran on 41 snaps from center.

“It kind of kept them off-balanced a little bit,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 81 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown and one fumble. “I think in the second half they kind of focused a little bit on the run because you could tell some lanes weren’t as big and a lot of their guys were in the box. I think it was the call of just switching it up and not being so predictable.”

The Eagles offense managed to move the football on the game-winning drive despite losing Kelce, Jeremy Maclin (hip-pointer) and left tackle King Dunlap (hamstring). Reid said he considered using some members of the Eagles defensive line, Cullen Jenkins in particular.

“(Reid) came and talked to me and it was definitely on my mind for the rest of the game,” Jenkins said with laughter. “When he came and told me, I didn’t know if he was joking or not. The more I looked at him, I’m like he’s serious here.”

The Eagles defense gave up some big plays, but when the game was on the line, they kept Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense from scoring on the final drive of the game.

After gashing the Eagles defense for some big runs in the first half, Ravens running back Ray Rice, who gained 99 yards on 16 carries, was held to just 21 yards rushing in the second half.

“The defense, we let some things get out on us, some mistakes,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “But I’m proud of the way we continue to fight back and close the game out and had to play four quarters. That’s a mindset that we had to get.”

Vick Expects to Play Better Against Baltimore

The Eagles can ill afford turnovers against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens strolling into South Philly on Sunday, Eagles fans are hoping that Michael Vick and the offense don’t duplicate the first 44-minutes and 32- seconds of their season-opener against the Cleveland Brown.

If the Eagles commit the turnovers, penalties and have a lack of balance on offense against a tough Baltimore squad, the day will with a crescendo of resounding boos at Lincoln Financial Field because the Birds are not going to walk off that field with a win.

Even though the Eagles won last week on the final drive of the game, Vick has probably been more scrutinized this week by fans and media than both President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign.  Throwing four interceptions in the last game you played makes you a topic of conversation.

But Vick said he definitely wants to put the last week behind him and wants to come out on Sunday with a better performance than he had this past week.

“I’ve got to go into the next week, I can’t dwell on the last game because I don’t plan on having that type of ball game again,” Vick said with a large crowd of reporters surrounding his locker.  “Regardless of what the situation dictates, I think you have to go out there and play your game. Don’t get frustrated and don’t get too high or too low when things aren’t going your way. Just keep pounding, keep plugging and good things are going to happen in the end.”

Oddly enough, Vick said the only motivation he has for Sunday’s game is going over the game field and seeing the game film.

“Nobody really has to motivate me, I motivate myself, I watched the film, I’m the one who lived it,” Vick said. “This is about playing the game that I love. Every game is not going to be easy.”

Just about every aspect of Vick’s game has been criticized this week from his inability to read defenses, not finding secondary receivers, not playing enough snaps during the preseason, and for holding onto the ball too long. Head coach Andy Reid defended Vick from such criticism and likened Sunday’s game versus to a basketball player getting hot late in the game after struggling.

“He finished strong and so you gotta take that and roll with it,” Reid said. “He finished the way a great player finishes.  You see this all the time in basketball. Great shooters when they have an off-day they keep shooting and when it comes down to the end, the great ones sink the winning shot.

“Michael, that’s what he did, he kept firing. He didn’t seem hesitant at the end of that game of that game where everything was on the line, he continued to fire. He’s a great player, he didn’t have a lot of reps in preseason, but he’ll continue to get better.”

Vick admitted that he has to work on his decision-making and stop trying to players when it’s not there. In Sunday’s game against Cleveland, Vick inexplicably threw passes into double and triple coverage.

“You can’t force throws, you can’t try to stick a ball in a tight spot when a guy’s not really open and try to make something happen,” Vick said. “You’ve got to give it time, you gotta work your way downfield and take what the defense gives you and keep it simple.”

While folks might think that the Ravens are salivating at the opportunity to force Vick into more turnovers, Lewis said he doesn’t think Vick will toss four interceptions against his defense.

“He’s going to get past that real quick because that’s one thing professionals do, especially a guy like that who has the ability to bounce back and make those plays,” Lewis said.”The same mistakes he made last week, we’re not looking for him to make those same mistakes this week.

“ We understand who we’re playing and we understand what Michael Vick is going to give us when we come to Philly. We’re not going to let what happen in Cleveland last week fool us into what’s going on when we come to Philly.”

In a Tough Loss, Joe Flacco Comes Up Big For Baltimore in AFC Title Game

Ravens Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

This was supposed to be a crowning moment for Joe Flacco.

With 15 seconds  left in the game, Flacco had methodically marched the Baltimore Ravens deep into New England Patriots territory in range of what is normally chip-shot field goal to send the game into overtime. Two plays earlier, he was a dropped pass by Lee Evans away  from what should have been the winning touchdown.

Instead, Flacco had to see his outstanding performance go by the wayside as Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal went wide left allowing the Patriots walk away with a 23-20 victory to win the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis.

After a week of being criticized by fans, media and his teammate Ed Reed for a lackluster performance in the Ravens divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans, Flacco not only played well enough to win the game, he outplayed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (22-of-36, 239 yards and two interceptions). He was 22-of-36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns with one interception. He had a 95.4 passer rating.

Flacco, even with Patriots defensive lineman Vince Woolfork in his face throughout the game, was a decisive, efficient quarterback against the Patriots. He used his feet to maneuver his way out of the rush and found open receivers. If it wasn’t there, he ran it or threw it away. Flacco didn’t hold the ball too long to allow the pass rush to sack him. More importantly, he helped the Ravens to keep chains moving. Baltimore was 9-of-17 on third down conversions.

Joe Flacco congratulates Tom Brady after AFC title game

“I thought Joe played a great game, obviously he played well enough to win this game,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “I’ve said it all along to run down the qualities that make Joe Flacco a great player, great quarterback, a great person, I’ve said it many times his best football is in front of him. He only gets better, he’s our kind of guy. He’s a tough guy, he’s a competitive guy and he’s a leader. I can’t wait to see where this thing goes with him and we’re proud to have him as our quarterback.”
If someone were to say to you hat the Ravens were going to out-gain the Patriots potent offense in total yardage and that Flacco was going to have a better passing rating than Brady, who threw two interceptions with no touchdown passes, you would probably say it was the recipe for victory for the Ravens.

It should have been.

On both sides of the football, the Ravens played the Patriots tough and didn’t allow them to just push them around the field. When the Patriots offense scored, the Ravens offense, thanks to Flacco, kept up with the Pats.

On defense, the Ravens had their moments when they allowed the Patriots, especially in the running game, to move the ball up the field, but when they got into the redzone, they more often than naught held the Patriots to field goals.

After Flacco threw his first interception of the game, the defense got the ball right back when Brady tried to go deep down the middle to Matthew Slater, but the ball was tipped by safety Bernard Pollard into the hands of cornerback Jimmy Smith for the interception.

The Ravens defense got the ball back for the offense late in the game with 1:44 left thanks to Ed Reed batting away a Brady pass intended for tight end Aaron Hernandez on third down and four.

Flacco drove the Ravens from their own 21 down to the Patriots 14 and put the Ravens into the position to win the game, but the dropped pass by Evans and the field goal miss by Cundiff was the final dagger in the heart of the Ravens.

If the Ravens win this game, all the sports media types would be celebrating Flacco as a clutch quarterback who came through in a big game.

But in a painful loss, Flacco displayed his “clutch gene” an emphatic way in the AFC Championship and proved to his critics that he has the ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.





Ravens and Giants Prove that Defense Still Matters in the NFL Playoffs

By Chris Murray

Giants Defensive End Osi Umenyiora Strips Aaron Rogers, causing one of four Packers turnovers in Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoffs.

For the Chris Murray Report

The Sunday games of this weekend’s NFL playoffs was a reminder that no matter how explosive your offense is during the regular season, the strength of your defense will ultimately determine how far you advance in the postseason.

Yes it’s that old cliché about defense winning championships, but in today’s games it was the defense that helped both the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants to clinch spots in next week’s conference championship games.

In Green Bay, the Packers (15-2) came into their NFC Divisional Playoff game with New York Giants (11-7) with the league’s highest scoring offense at 35 points per game. With quarterback Aaron Rogers, the league’s highest rated passer, under center this game was supposedly a mere formality on the road to defending their Super Bowl title.

But the Packers also have the league’s worst defense and Giants quarterback Eli Manning exploited it to the tune of 330 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-33 passing. Perhaps the big back breaker came seconds before halftime when Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on a 37-yard touchdown pass to give the Giants a 20-10. Green Bay would come no closer than 10 points for the rest of the game. Nicks ran roughshod through the Packers secondary catching seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

On the defensive end, the Giants roughed up the Packers explosive offense by sacking Rogers four times and forcing four turnovers. It didn’t help that Green Bay receivers dropped numerous and if the Giants defense didn’t make the sack they forced Rogers to overthrow and under-throw his receivers.

“We just boosted it up a notch. We just came out here and played even harder and we just rose to another level,” said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. “Our cornerbacks and safeties did well and our defensive line did a great job. That’s all that really counts. Everybody played as one.”

Throughout the 2011 season, the Packers simply outscored their opponents while ranking at the bottom of the league statistics in total defense and passing defense. The saving grace for the defense was that it had the best league’s best takeaway/giveaway percentage.

However, it was the Giants defense that came up big against the Packers high-powered offense. They held Rogers to under 50 percent passing. They were the ones forcing the turnovers and they slowed down the Packers offense.

If there was an MVP in this game, it was the physical Giants defense that dictated the outcome as well as the Packers 32nd ranked defense’s inability to stop Manning and the New York offense.

(from left to right) cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Ed Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis celebrate stopping the Houston Texas offense late in the game.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, the defense coming up big is a familiar story.

The Ravens jumped out to a 17-3 thanks to a pair of turnovers that gave the offense a short field to score touchdowns in the first quarter.

After the first quarter, the Ravens offense scored just three points for the rest of the game and managed just 227 yards of total offense. The Texans offense, thanks to the running of Arian Foster who gained 95 of his 132 yards in the first half, cut the Ravens lead to 17-13 and seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the game.

But in the second half, the Ravens held the Texans scoreless, forced two turnovers including a drive-killing interception by Ed Reed. Foster was held to just 37 yards on the ground in the second half.

“Defensively for us to come out and pretty much pitch a shutout that’s our standard of football,” Lewis said after the game. “You really have to take your hat off to our team.”

For all the talk of high-powered offenses like the Saints and the Packers dominating the 2011 season, you still need a solid defense to ultimately win a Super Bowl. For all the points and yardage those two teams racked up during the regular season, they are out of the playoffs because their defense failed to stop the other team’s offense.

Baltimore proved today that even when your offense is in a deep freeze, a good defense will not only keep in the game, it can also help you win it.