WTF:Bad Play Call Dooms Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New England's Vince Butler makes the game-saving interception for the Patriots in their 28-24 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

New England’s Malcolm Butler makes the game-saving interception for the Patriots in their 28-24 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

I have been an observer of pro football since I was six-year-old kid growing up in Baltimore back in 1968 and I like to say that I’ve seen it all.

But the minute you start thinking that something else happens to boggle your mind and make you say, “Huh?”

With under 30 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks had the football at the New England Patriots one-yard line on second down after a four-yard run by Marshawn Lynch. Two plays earlier, an improbable juggling catch by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse put the Seahawks at the Patriots five-yard line.

With the score 28-24, most of America is expecting another run by Lynch to put the game away for Seattle.

Instead the unthinkable, the unfathomable happens.  Russell Wilson passes the ball on a slant to Ricardo Lockette, but Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped the route and made the game-ending interception. Game over, the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl in an unforgettable football game.

“The last play we had a formation where we could throw it on them,” Wilson said after the game. “Lockette was coming underneath and the guy made a great play. That’s what it really comes down to—the guy just made a great play.”

The Patriots are the Super Bowl Champions and looking forward to their parade in Boston while Seattle fans at home and at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. were no doubt uttering the phrase, “What the f…..?!”

Let me get this straight, you have one of the league’s most powerful running backs, you’re one yard from pay dirt with one timeout left and you call a risky pass in that situation?

It was a dumb call.

“There’s really nobody to blame, but me and I told them that clearly,” said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll.  “A very, very hard lesson. I hate to learn the hard way, but there’s no other way to look at it right now.”

Granted, it wasn’t the only thing that beat the Seahawks. You have to take your hat off to Brady and the Patriots for overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against the league’s best defense. The Seahawks offense didn’t take advantage of chances to increase their lead and let the Pats hang around.

All that said, you don’t pass at the one-yard line with one time out when you have Lynch, who gained 102 yards on 24 carries and was averaging 4.1 yards running through the Patriots defense. Carroll tried to rationalize the call when he spoke with reporters after the game.

“It’s just because of the matchups,” Carroll said. “At this time, it seems like overthinking, but they have goal line guys on. We have three wide receivers, a tight end and one back in that situation; they’ve got extra guys at the line of scrimmage. So we don’t want to waste a running play at that.

“Yeah, I just told them ‘Make sure, let’s throw it here.’ We’ll run on third or fourth down.’ “

Third down, along with their second straight Super Bowl victory never came for the Seahawks, who will be second-guessed ad infinitum all winter until minicamp and organized team activities in the spring. In the lore of NFL history, the fans will talk about this game for a long time.

But when you get beyond what was an extraordinary moment in an exciting, well-played Super Bowl, there were some other moments that determined the outcome of this game.

As much as folks may not like Brady, he made the big plays when it counted. He rallied the Patriots from a 10-point deficit with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns passes. For the game, he was 37-of-50 for 328 yards and four touchdowns.  It was not surprising that he was named the game’s most valuable player.

“(Brady) is so calm and collected. He’s the best,” said Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola. “He gets everybody to play at a higher level. He’s our leader emotionally. … He’s the best quarterback we all love playing for him.”

After taking a 10-point lead in the third quarter, the Seahawks offense failed to extend their advantage. On their third possession of the third quarter, the Seahawks had a third and two at the New England 47.  Wilson found Kearse streaking down the sideline.

Kearse had the ball in his hands but dropped it deep in New England territory. Seattle was forced to punt.  The Seahawks went three and out on their next two possessions before that fateful final drive.

“They busted their tales and did everything they needed to do to put us in position to win and unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” Carroll said. “(Seahawks) were on the precipice of winning another championship and unfortunately the play goes the other way.”

 

 

Champs Again: Eagles Should Win a Weak NFC East

Order of predicted finish: 1. Eagles 2. Washington 3. New York Giants 4. Dallas Cowboys.

Note: Because the nickname of the Washington NFL franchise is considered to be an offensive racial slur to Native Americans, The Chris Murray Report will no longer use that name in its editorial content.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—After all the OTAs, off-season acquisitions and sitting through preseason games, we are finally into the regular season. The Eagles will open the 2014 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m. CBS).

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds will come into the 2014 season as the defending NFC East champions and there’s no reason to think they will not be in that same position when the regular-season ends in January even with a tougher schedule and the loss of speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

I don’t know if Nick Foles (27 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and LeSean McCoy (314 carries, 1607 yards) will put up the numbers they did last season, but they have a year under head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle read-option offense and they are expecting to be even better.

With additions like speedy veteran running back Darren Sproles on the team, McCoy said he’s expecting the Eagles offense to be even better in 2014 whether he touches the ball more than 300 times or not.

“I think with the mix of Sproles doing different things, sometimes a 65-yard carry can be the same as a 65-yard (pass) route with Sproles,” McCoy said. “I’m learning that it doesn’t take a lot of reps or a lot of touches to be more productive and get what you want done. You could do it with less.

“I know I’m going to be the key guy they’re watching … but the guys up front with the way they’re blocking and the guys around me, especially with Sproles in there mixing it up with screens and runs and passes. With Maclin getting back and healthy, we have a guy that can stretch the field and do things across the middle. We definitely have weapons.”

Eagles’ fans are no doubt wondering if Jeremy Maclin, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since the end of the 2012 season, can be the deep receiver that can stretch the defense in the way that Jackson did last season.

The question for the Eagles is whether or not the defense can improve upon their performance late last season in 2014? The Birds ranked fourth in the NFL in the takeaway-giveaway category last season, but was 32nd against the pass.

But the big concern for the Eagles is whether they can generate a pass-rush, something that hurt them in the loss to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season. During the preseason, the first team didn’t get a sack.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s confident in his defense because his players are more familiar with the team’s 3-4 scheme. He won’t know how better his defense is until the lights come on against Jacksonville.

“Every year is a new year, so you don’t know until the final whistle goes off in the Jacksonville game, really what our starting point is,” Davis said. “But we are more confident because we know them better.”

Both Davis and Kelly said they are expecting big things from backup defense end Vinny Curry and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The Birds added a pair of free agents in veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll to bolster the secondary.

The Eagles will win the NFC East because quite frankly the rest of the division isn’t that good. Look for them to finish 10-6. Actually, 9-7 might be enough to put the Birds over the top.

Washington (Predicted finish: 8-8)

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden's offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Among the teams other than the Eagles that could win the NFC East, the Washington squad could be that team.

With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett running the defense and veterans like linebacker Brian Orakbo, defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Trent Murphy, along with newcomer defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys last season, Washington will be decent on defense.

The Redskins will have a veteran secondary with players like safety Ryan Clark and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The question is whether Washington’s offense with Robert Griffin III at quarterback can be consistent. The team has the weapons on offense with running back Alfred Morris and wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon.

RGIII struggled in preseason so badly that former Washington quarterback and TV analyst Joe Theismann said the team should start Kirk Cousins instead of Griffin. The former Michigan State star did a better job of moving the team during the exhibition season—albeit against second and third string competition.

In Griffin’s defense, Washington’s first team offensive line didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback during the preseason. The same could be said for last season as Washington quarterbacks were sacked 43 times.

One of the things Washington did to get better for 2014 was cut center Will Montgomery, who reportedly made incorrect line calls that probably caused some of the sacks of Griffin and Cousins. This season, Kory Lichtensteiger was moved from guard to center and they also signed six-foot-3, 315-pound guard Shawn Lauvao, who played with the Cleveland Browns.

The offensive line will be the key to protecting Griffin and making holes for Morris.
New head coach Jay Gruden is sticking with RGIII as Washington’s starter for now. If Griffin struggles in the early going will Gruden pull the plug and go with Cousins?

Under Gruden’s system, Griffin won’t be running the read option. He has to make plays from the pocket and not take off and run when his first option is not open. That may be an adjustment for Griffin, but he’s also smart enough to discipline his game to do it.

If RGIII can get off to a good start and can be consistent with the weapons he has on offense, Washington can make this a competitive race and perhaps win it if a few things break their way.

New York Giants (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had the worst season of his career in 2013. He threw 27 interceptions. Coming into this season, New York hired former Green Bay Packers quarterback Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator who will install a West Coast-style offense.

With the sudden retirement of running back David Wilson due to a neck injury, the Giants running game will feature former Oakland Raiders ball carrier Rashad Jennings and former Boston College star Andre Williams, who gained 2,177 yards as a senior and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

At the wideout position, Victor Cruz should be the beneficiary of the Giants new West Coast system. New York also has rookie wide receiver and former LSU star Odell Beckham, who has been slowed down by a hamstring injury. The G-men will also return Reuben Randle who has shown flashes of brilliance at times.

The key to Giants on offense will be their offensive line, which was the main culprit of the Giants woes last season. New York will have a revamped offensive line with left tackle Will Beatty (6-6, 319 pounds) as its most experienced player.

The Giants will need to develop some chemistry along that offensive line to make sure McAdoo’s schemes can work.

On defense, the Giants are hoping that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can have the kind of season he had in 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks. The Giants also have veterans Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins. Key free-agent acquisitions include corner back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain.

The Giants are average at best and don’t necessarily scare anybody on defense. But then again no one in the NFC East does.

Dallas Cowboys (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Speaking of defenses that don’t scare anybody, the Cowboys were awful on defense last season even with DeMarcus Ware and they will be awful without him this season. They lost former Penn State star Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury during OTAs.

The Boys will be without injured cornerback Orlando Scandrick and cornerback Morris Claiborne didn’t play during the preseason. Throughout the preseason, the Cowboys got pushed up and down the field.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to figure out a way to make chicken soup out of chicken bleep or lemonade out of lemons. However you want to look at it, Marinelli has to make something out of a defense that is destined to give up a whole bunch of points and a lot of yards this season.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they are stacked offensively.

Everybody’s favorite whippin’ boy, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is not only coming off of back surgery, he’s also coming off a season in which he threw 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

In week 16, his last game before his surgery, Romo rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point deficit in the last five minutes to beat Washington to keep their playoffs hopes alive to that point in the season.
With receivers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys are going to put points on the board.

They also have a solid running game with DeMarco Murray, who gained 1,121 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season. If you have Bryant, Witten and Murray on your fantasy team, you will no doubt score points.

It is also no doubt in my mind that Dallas’s defense will also give up just as many points as Romo and the Cowboys will score. Dallas will win games by scores like 38-31 or 51-48 and they will lose games like that as well. When you’re playing from behind or having to score on every possession, mistakes are going to be made.

Romo will throw a few “Hell-no’s” along the way which means you’ll be hearing a lot from his critics.

This Woman’s Worth … The Ray Rice Suspension and What the NFL Really Thinks of Women

Janay and Ray Rice's press conference to explain spousal abuse incident in New Jersey.

Janay and Ray Rice’s press conference to explain spousal abuse incident in Atlantic City last February.

By Denise Clay

of the Mad (Political) Scientist

Over the last few years, the National Football League has been trying to attract women by having breast cancer awareness games, and fun events, like my friend Tashyra Ayers’ “Female Football Frenzy” benefit for the American Heart Association.

But it’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of guys wearing pink gloves and shoestrings in October and an appearance from a hunky wide receiver at a benefit to get the taste of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s latest move out of women’s mouths.

On Thursday, Goodell announced that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice would be serving a two-game suspension for abusing his fiancee’, now wife, Janay in an Atlantic City hotel in February. He’ll also be paying a $58,000 fine and getting some counseling. He’ll also lose more than $500,000 in game checks.

(Or as I like to call it, his Petty Cash…)

“This league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game,” Goodell said in a letter he sent to Rice telling him of his suspension. “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”

This is a strongly worded letter…for a two-game suspension..

Okay…

But in some light of some other punishments meted out by the league on a few other, not as blatant offenses, I’m a little confused.

So let me get this straight.

In the NFL, killing dogs as part of a dogfighting ring, the offense committed by New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick, gets you first suspended indefinitely, suspended for four games once you’re reinstated, and earns you the permanent enmity of a whole lot of misguided pet lovers.

Shooting yourself in the leg at a nightclub, the offense that put former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress on the hot seat, gets you suspended for four games.

Taking a fertility drug in hopes of helping your wife get pregnant, the faux pas that has Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis riding the pine, gets you suspended for four games.

But decking your fiancee’ in a casino hotel, dragging her into an elevator and making her sit through a press conference that probably made Kobe Bryant’s wife Vanessa say “Damn! That sucks!” costs you two games and about $500,000.

No wonder Janay Rice looks like she hasn’t got a damn left to give. If I don’t stop scratching my head so hard, I’m gonna need stitches.

Now from everything I’ve read about Ray Rice, the whole “beating the snot out of my significant other” thing is out of character.

But my guess is that it’s not as much “out of character” as it was “finally got caught”.

According to the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, one-third of all women who have experienced a severe instance of domestic violence will experience another similar event in the same year. African Americans also make up one-third of the intimate partner homicides in the country.

I would be willing to bet my last dollar that Goodell took none of what I just mentioned into consideration when he made his decision.

Now let’s be honest here. The NFL has got a whole lot of issues. In addition to the whole “One of our teams is named for a racial slur” thing, the NFL has a culture of sexism bordering on misogyny.

There, I said it. And I meant it too.

From the cheerleaders for my beloved Oakland Raiders being forced to sue for their pay to the rather ridiculous hygiene rules placed on the Buffalo Bills’ pom-pom wielders, what women have to put up with to be involved with football makes my feminist skin crawl.

And don’t even get me started on the beer-and-testosterone-soaked shenanigans in the stands. Or the way that players use women like napkins. Or the fact that the marriage vows for most of the players should have written on an Etch-A-Sketch.

But if the league is serious about getting women (and their money) into the stands to keep the billions flowing in, it can’t afford to add “tolerance for domestic violence” to that mix.

Because like a woman who’s had enough, we’ll get up and walk away.

Denise Clay is a columnist with the Philadelphia Public Record and writes for her own blog, The Mad (Political) Scientist.  You can check out her columns at denisethewriter1.wordpress.com.

 

Game 81: Phillies Drowning Themselves at the Halfway Point of the Season

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg feels his team has to improve in every aspect the game.

Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg feels his team has to improve in every aspect the game.

PHILADELPHIA—At about this time last week when the Phillies went 5-2 on their last road trip, including a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

All of sudden there was some optimism for a hot minute in the City of Brotherly Love, especially since the Phillies are within striking distance of the leaders in the National League East even looking up from last place.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, this current homestand brought us back to a stark reality that they are still going nowhere fast. It reminds me of the two Japanese groundskeepers in the movie, “Major League,” who kept saying their team was “still sh—ty.”

Since winning five straight last week, the Phillies have lost seven of their last nine games including today’s double-header sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Brave at the Citizen’s Bank Park Saturday afternoon and evening.

The Phillies lost the first game 10-3 and the second game 5-1 to sink themselves further down in the National League East race. They haven’t been able to score more than three runs in the first three games of this series. They were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the second game of the double-header.

“It is disappointing we came with momentum, a winning streak,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “We could have won another game against the Marlins, but these last three games. … It was a tough for sure. It was a lot of things a lack of offense, a big inning there on the pitching side of things and not so good play on defense.”

The Phillies are nine games below .500 at the true halfway point of the season-game No. 81. It’s the same old problems for the Phillies—lack of hitting, poor defense and pitching, though that aspect of their game has improved significantly. Uniting the three kingdoms of offense, pitching and defense on a consistent basis has been a monumental struggle for the Phillies (36-45).

“We have to do things differently,” Sandberg said. “We definitely have to have more opportunities to score runs and then we have to actually score runs. We have to be more consistent in putting the pitching and the defense together.”

In the Phillies last nine games, they are hitting just .139 with runners in scoring position. Sandberg said he still believes his team is good enough to contend, but they have to play fundamental baseball, something they don’t do on a regular basis.

“We can definitely sharpen up on just playing clean baseball and execute in situational things,” Sandberg said. “The starting pitching has to be consistent, but we have to play good defense behind that pitching.”

In the first game of the twin-bill, first baseman Ryan Howard committed two errors that led to a pair of unearned runs that got the Braves back into the game after the Phillies had taken a 2-0 lead. The bullpen gave up five runs in the eighth.

Centerfielder Ben Revere said despite the Phillies current run of misfortune, the team is still capable of putting together a solid run to get back in the race. At the rate they are losing and the way they are playing, it just doesn’t seem to be possible that the Phillies can turn it around.

“We can go on a roll at any time, win a couple series and sweep a couple of good teams and we’re right back in it,” Revere said. “We have to keep battling. We’re at the halfway point, but it’s a long season and we have the team to do that.”

They better to do it quick because the season is not far from being on life support, if it’s not there already.

 

Up and Down Phillies Fall to Rockies Despite Revere’s First Career Homerun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Ben Revere gets his first career home run in loss to Colorado.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ben Revere gets his first career home run in loss to Colorado. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Any optimism from the Phillies rout of the Colorado Rockies on Monday night was soon gone and forgotten after Tuesday night’s lackluster performance.

Reverting back to the team that fails to get timely hits and has a bullpen with a bad habit for turning small deficits into even larger ones, the Phillies found themselves on the bad end of a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Rockies in front of 23, 159 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

The Rockies broke a 1-1 in the top of the seventh on a three-run home run by catcher Willin Rosario off Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels, who had been pitching well coming into that inning. He started the inning by getting the dangerous hitting Troy Tulowitzki to ground out to third.

Hamels then gave up walks to Corey Dickerson and Michael Cuddyer. After getting first baseman Justin Morneau to fly out to center, Rosario swung at Hamels first pitch and knocked it into the seats in right field.

“It was just a poorly executed pitch,” Hamels said. “(Rosario) is an aggressive hitter. I know he’s swinging and I have to be able to make that pitch.”

While Rosario’s home run was the decisive blow of the game, it probably shouldn’t have come down to that because the Phillies offense failed to come through when it mattered most.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Phillies had the bases loaded and nobody out, but failed to score a single run. The Phils inability to come through in what could have been a big inning was a huge momentum killer.

“We wanted to come away with at least one run there and possibly more,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “With (Ben Revere) and he happened to get a pitch inside there and he hit it to the defense. It’s just something about getting the job done in that situation. We’ve talked about that approach the pressure is on the pitcher. We’re to get one run in first before you get two or three.”

The Phillies got their only runs of the game on a pair of solo home runs. The first came in the fourth inning from first baseman Darin Ruf. The second came from a player least likely to knock the ball out of the park—centerfielder Ben Revere who homered to right in the bottom of the seventh inning.

It was Revere’s first career home run and it took 1,466 at-bats in the major leagues to get his first round tripper. The homer by the diminutive centerfield was the lone bright spot of an otherwise terrible performance by the Phillies.

“It was definitely good getting that monkey off your back, I guess,” Revere said. “My game is mainly hit line drives and hit a ball on the ground. I get into a lot of trouble when I hit the ball in the air. At least that time, it went over the fence. I was hoping we would have won the game.”

Revere’s home run cut the deficit to 4-2 coming into the eighth inning. Unfortunately, the Phillies bullpen gave up two more runs. Phils reliever Jeff Manship gave up a triple to Rockies pinch-hitter Josh Rutledge and an RBI double to centerfielder Drew Stubbs, who later scored on an RBI ground out by Brandon Barnes.

“(Manship) is our guy in the eighth right there,” Sandberg said. “The guy has got to step up.”

Phillies Notebook: Utley Trade Rumors Not True

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

With the Phillies struggling, there is speculation that the Phillies could trade second baseman Chase Utley by the July 31trade deadline.

With the Phillies struggling, there is speculation that the Phillies could trade second baseman Chase Utley by the July 31trade deadline.

PHILADELPHIA–Despite rumors to the contrary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Philadelphia media before Tuesday’s game, the team has no interest in trading second baseman Chase Utley.

“First off, no one wants to trade Chase Utley and no.2 I don’t think Chase Utley wants to go anywhere and he has the power to decide what he wants to do,” Amaro said. “The point is kind of moot. The same with Jimmy. The same story.”

The website, Rant Sports, recently reported the Yankees were interested in Utley in exchange for some top-rated prospects and a mid-level veteran.

Amaro said those rumors happen all the time because the Phillies (22-26) are not in first place. Utley is currently batting .337 with four home runs and 25 RBI. His contract runs to the end of 2015.

Sandberg open to Platooning Howard and Ruf

In Monday’s win over the Colorado Rockies, Ryan Howard had a breakout performance with five runs batted in and three hits after batting just .088 in his last 10 games coming into the game and hadn’t hit a home run since May 8.

As much as Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg would like to keep Howard in the lineup just to keep his groove going, he rested Howard Tuesday and replaced him at first base with Darin Ruf in order to give him some time with a lefthanded pitcher on the mound for the Rockies.

“I’ve been looking for a day to give (Howard) a break. He’s played a number of games in a row and he had a real good approach against a right-handed pitcher (Monday) and I was happy with that,” Sandberg said. “I want to give Darin a chance against a left-hander with four right-handed pitchers in a row after that.

“After a big game like that, sometimes it’s a good time to give a guy break, make it a positive and let (Howard) build on that against the right-handed pitching that’s coming up after tonight’s game.”

Sandberg said if Ruf, who bats right, can be productive at hitting left-handers on a consistent basis, he will be open to platooning Howard and Ruf against right and left-handed pitchers.

“If it happens to work, it’s an opportunity to have a lineup like that that produces, it becomes an an opportunity and a possibility going forward just to get some consistency in the offense against right and left-handed pitching,” Sandberg said.

“If it’s effective and if it works, maybe it’s a positive for two players. It’s a positive for the team, but that’s yet to be seen. (Tuesday) is an opportunity to take a look at that.”
Sandberg may have to at some point. Ruf homered in tonight’s game.

There’s seems to be a belief on the Phillies (22-26) that if they can just somehow put every aspect of their game together on a consistent basis, especially the offense, they can contend for a division title.

“It’s hot, it’s cold, but at some point we can get scalding hot,” Howard said after Monday’s game. “For as hot and cold as we’ve been all year, we’re still not out of it. That’s the bright side of things. If we can get on a good streak, we’ll be right there.”

Franco Not Ready for Prime Time Just Yet

Maikel Franco needs more time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to get ready for MLB competition according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Maikel Franco needs more time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to get ready for MLB competition according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Even with starting third baseman Cody Asche on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said rising prospect Maikel Franco, who missed a couple of games with a respiratory illness, is not ready to come up from the Triple-A Lehigh High Valley Iron Pigs to the big league ball club just yet.

“He’s just not playing good enough baseball yet, he’s not really ready to be a big leaguer yet. And he’s not feeling all that well,” Amaro said. “He played like he was sick yesterday. There’s no reason to bring Franco unless he’s ready to be a big leaguer as far as I’m concerned.”

So far this season, Franco is batting .231 with a .358 slugging percentage and a .311 on-base percentage with the Iron Pigs. In the month of May, the 21-year-old Franco is batting .291 with three homers and 12 runs batted in. He also has .384 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage.

“Offensively, he’s made some adjustments, he’s made some improvements better than in the earlier part of the season, but he’s not really going on all cylinders now. We’re still contemplating it,” Amaro said. “If he was ready to be in the big leagues, he would be up.”

Smith Not a Bad No. 1 Pick for the Eagles

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

The Eagles are hoping former Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith can rush the quarterback on a consistent basis.

The Eagles are hoping former Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith can rush the quarterback on a consistent basis.

PHILADELPHIA-With Eagles fans hoping that they would draft a wide receiver to replace DeSean Jackson, the Birds filled another much-needed position when they drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith (6-foot-3, 251 pounds) out of Louisville in the first round.

After a trade with the Cleveland Browns that included an additional third-round pick, the Eagles traded out of the 22nd pick to get to the 26th pick when it became apparent that six of the players they were targeting were off the board by the time of their selection.

With Smith, the Eagles are getting a solid pass-rusher who was second in the nation in sacks with 12.5. He also had 16.5 tackles for loss during his senior at Louisville. He was named the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Not bad for a guy who was originally recruited to play  quarterback for Louisville.

The pick of Smith may not be the sexiest first-round selection  for the Birds considering their other needs. On the surface picking Smith, a second-team All-American, had many fans scratching their heads on Draft night.

That said, the Eagles did need a good pass rusher in their 3-4 scheme. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly likes Smith’s potential for the Eagles defense.

“(Smith) is a big kid, he’s transitioned to the outside linebacker position,” Kelly said. “I think he has a huge upside. He’s a very, very good athlete. He’s over 6-3. He’s in the 250-255 pound range. He ran a 4.68 40. He’s got speed coming off the edge. We thought adding a pass rusher was a big thing for us.

“He’s a young to bring in behind Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin). Those guys can show him the ropes. His ceiling is very, very high.”

Like last year’s No. 1 draft pick Lane Johnson, who also started his collegiate career as a quarterback, Smith said it took him a year to make that transition to playing defense and he’s gotten better with each year.

“I think what I’ve learned over the years, I’ve gotten better each year and this year I had an outbreak,” Smith said. “I feel like I can carry everything that I did this year to the NFL. I want to make an impact right away and I know the coaches they have in Philly will train me up and get me ready for the season coming up.”

Considering how the Eagles defense can go back and forth from being a 3-4 to a 4-3 team, Kelly believes Smith’s experience at Louisville playing defensive end and linebacker will help him get acclimated to the Eagles system.

“There is film of him playing defensive end and film of him playing as a standup outside linebacker. It’s not a projection like you do sometimes,” Kelly said. “Hey, let’s take this defensive end who may be a little undersized to be an NFL defensive end, but he has the skill set to be an outside linebacker. He’s actually played the position.”

With his size and athleticism, Smith will be expected to drop back in coverage in the passing game as well as rush the passer. He said he has experience in pass coverage as a linebacker during his time at Louisville.

“It was 50-50. I believe they dropped me 50-50 last year. Maybe not as much my junior year, but last year, they dropped me back more,” Smith said. “Going into the middle of the season I started rushing a lot more because they wanted me more involved getting to the quarterback. They wanted somebody to get to the quarterback. I was doing both so I would say 50 percent.”

If he can bring the same kind of wood to opposing receivers that he brings to quarterbacks, he has the potential to be the enforcer in the middle of the defense that this team has lacked for several years.
 

 

 

 

 

Hopkins Wants to Fight Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Boxing’s Oldest Champ wants  to unify light heavyweight crowns and then wants  a shot at Pretty Boy Floyd 

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Bernard Hopkins was back in the gym in this week after last Saturday's win over Beibut Shuemenov. Photo by Chris Murray.

Bernard Hopkins was back in the gym in this week after last Saturday’s win over Beibut Shuemenov. Photo by Chris Murray.

PHILADELPHIA—The one thing you will not see in this column about Bernard Hopkins is a line that talks about his defying the boundaries of age because with all his accomplishments in recent years.
It’s an old story, and telling it has gotten old as well.

I’m also getting out of the business of pleading with Hopkins, who turns 50 in January, to get out of the boxing game. Yes, he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer as a boxer and a promoter who doesn’t have to prove a damn thing to anybody, but if he wants to keep taking (and giving) the punches, who am I to judge?
Besides, the real story with the legendary Philly fighter is always about what’s next. Nearly 48 hours after he easily dispatched Beibut Shumenov to unify half of the world light-heavyweight championship, Hopkins was training at Joe Hand’s Gym in North Philadelphia and talking about plans for future fights.

“It’s never a time to rest, especially in victory,” Hopkins said. “That’s the time to work harder and smarter …What fighter in the last 30-40 years that’s publicly made it known, win, lose or draw, that he’s in the gym Monday? This ain’t showing off, this ain’t bragging, this is what I do.”

As he approaches 50 with strands of gray popping out of his unshaven face, Hopkins wants to become the undisputed light-heavyweight champion.

And just for the sport of it, Hopkins wants to drop down in weight and take on Floyd Mayweather Jr., arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the history of the sport and definitely the greatest of his generation.

No, you didn’t read that wrong. Hopkins, who now calls himself, “The Alien”; wants a shot at Mayweather, who currently holds the World Boxing Council welterweight and World Boxing Association super welterweight championship belts.

“Yes, if it’s an opportunity to fight the baddest, one of the smartest minds, along with myself, in the game…Listen, why wouldn’t a chess player love to take on another good chess player?” Hopkins asked rhetorically.

If Hopkins gets into the ring with Mayweather, they would probably fight at 154 pounds. Hopkins said he would be able to handle that weight because he fought as Oscar De La Hoya at 154 pounds when he was the world middleweight champion.

By the way, Hopkins won that fight with a 9th-round knockout. I know that was 10 years ago. But after watching Hopkins beat up younger fighters like Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik, I’ve learned to never the count the old man out.

But while he wants to take on Mayweather, who will defend his welterweight crown against Marcos Maidana on May 3, Hopkins won’t be sitting idly by. His next goal is to unify the light-heavyweight crown by taking on unbeaten World Boxing Council champion and Ring Magazine titleholder Adonis Stevenson (23-0-1 with 20 KOs).

“I’m collecting belts in the process, I’m not sitting back there, getting fat and eating bon-bons,” said Hopkins, who owns the International Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association titles. “I’m making history, too. It’s not like I’m waiting around doing the Amir Khan thing , ‘Please give me a shot and all that stuff.

“I’m going to continue being “The Alien,” and make history. The one guy out there that’s been knocking everybody’s heads off is Adonis Stevenson. …He’s a dangerous puncher. …Any second, any chance you get hit by him, you’re going to sleep. I need that risk to be in the game at this level.”

In addition to being a crafty fighter in the ring, Hopkins is pretty good at promoting and creating storylines.

In the scenario he’s set up, Hopkins would beat Stevenson. After that, he’d take on Mayweather (45-0) who is five fights away from breaking Rocky Marciano’s record for the most wins without a loss.

“Fifty-Fifty promotions,” Hopkins said. “He has a chance to get 50 wins, I turn 50. Fifty-Fifty promotions. …I want to show that I’m the first 50-year-old to be the baddest man and biggest paying guy in the boxing business. Wouldn’t that be a great way to leave the game?”

It would be for Hopkins. But the fun part would be watching the spectacle and the buildup to it. Can you imagine the trash talk between those two? Hopkins said he would have cameras on him 24-7 so the world can see him go through his training regimen.

A Hopkins-Mayweather fight would be a huge boost to boxing. The curiosity alone would hype the fight. Criticism of the fight as an absurdity by more than a few sports writers and columnists would only add fuel to the flame. It would be “Old School versus New School.”

And win or lose, the guts that Hopkins has to even dare to embark on this journey would only solidify his stature in the sport.

One Last Hurrah for the Answer

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Allen Iverson gives a salute to Sixers fans at the Wells Fargo Center as the team retired his jersey during halftime of the 76ers game versus the Washington Wizards.  Photo by Yahoo.com.

Allen Iverson gives a salute to Sixers fans at the Wells Fargo Center as the team retired his jersey during halftime of the 76ers game versus the Washington Wizards. Photo by Yahoo.com.

PHILADELPHIA—As they raised the banner with his No. 3 jersey above the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center, Allen Iverson looked up in amazement as the crowd roared its approval with some chanting MVP.

It was one last good-bye and one final cheer from the crowd for the 39-year-old Iverson, who wearing a Black fedora, some chains around his neck and some studious-looking glasses. He put his hand to his ear to really feel and hear the energy of the crowd one more time.

After the ceremonies ended, Iverson said hearing that crowd cheer for him was a bittersweet occasion because he knows it may be the last time he gets to hear the roar of the crowd again until he is eventually inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

“It feels good, but you know in some part of my heart, it hurts,” said Iverson, who won four NBA scoring titles and two All-Star Game MVP Awards. “I realize and I understand that it’s over. When I come into the arena, I’m stepping onto the basketball court with street clothes on and I know it will never be in a uniform again.

“That part of it brings back so many memories just hearing the roar of the crowd, doing my signature put my hands up to my ears.  It brings it back, but it hurts still. I’m a basketball fan, it’s hard for me to watch the Sixers play. … It feels like just yesterday I was here trying to entertain these fans.”

The Philadelphia 76ers organization retired Iverson’s number during halftime ceremonies of the Sixers game versus the Washington Wizards.  To keep it real, those who witnessed Iverson’s jersey being raised above the rafters to go along side the likes of Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Wilt Chamberlain will probably not remember the outcome of the game itself.

That’s because they came to celebrate a player in Iverson who was perhaps the embodiment of what means to be an athlete in a broad-shouldered city like Philadelphia. If there was a Mount Rushmore of gritty, tough athletes in this town, you’d have to carve out a statue of Iverson.

Philly fans will never forget Iverson leading the Sixers run to the 2001 NBA Finals. The 6-foot former Georgetown star was brilliant in the Eastern Conference semifinal and finals. Fans will never forget the fourth quarter of the Sixers Game 1 win over the Los Angeles Lakers and the three-pointer he hit while stepping over Tyronn Lue.

“The best one was in Toronto when Vince (Carter) got 50 and the next game Allen goes back and gets 50. You don’t see that in a playoff series,” said former Sixers general manager Billy King. “It was games like that … beating Milwaukee, winning the first game in LA. The whole year was magical. (Iverson) getting MVP of the All-Star game, I was blessed to be a part of it and to have a front-row seat.”

During the course of the evening, Iverson was showered with affection from all-time great Sixers like Erving and his former head coach Larry Brown, who appeared on the Wells Fargo jumbotron, congratulated Iverson for having his jersey retired.

There were video accolades from current players like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Ray Allen and Chris Paul who paid tribute to Iverson and thanked him for being an influence on them as players.

Some of the players Iverson played against were also in attendance. One of them was former Seattle Supersonics guard Gary Payton. Known as the “Glove” for his defensive prowess, Payton said Iverson was difficult to defend.

“He was always a nightmare to guard because you knew he was going to score,” Payton said. “He could get to the basket and hit jump shots. You just had to contain him and hope he had an off night.”

Iverson was also an iconic figure to the mid to late 1990s hip-hip generation. His braided hair, jewelry and tattoos gave a voice to a generation of young fans that the world would prefer not to see or hear. Iverson brought street swag to the NBA like no other player before him.

“He changed a lot of things with the cornrows, he changed a lot of things with the chains,” said former NBA guard Gary Payton. “He changed a lot of things in the NBA as an icon. When he goes to the Hall of Fame, it will solidify his greatness.”

Iverson, who won the NBA’s MVP award in 2001, said he took a lot of criticism from the media for the way he looked, the way he dressed, the friends he hung with and his attitude. If he had to do it all over again, he would still do it his way.

“I enabled this generation now and took the beaten, so they can express themselves and be who they are,” Iverson said. “It’s a bittersweet situation, but I wouldn’t change it for nothing else.”

 

 

 

 

 

Garrett Holding Out Hope for Romo, Orton Says He Ready to Go Just in Case

by Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Kyle Orton has been getting first team reps for the Cowboys with Romo trying to get relief from a herniated  disc in his back.

Kyle Orton has been getting first team reps for the Cowboys with Romo trying to get relief from a herniated disc in his back.

PHILADELPHIA–With all the reports saying that Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo will probably miss Sunday night’s game for the NFC East crown against the Eagles, head coach Jason Garrett still is not ruling his starting quarterback out just yet.

Romo has not practiced all week and, according to the Dallas Morning News, hasn’t attended meetings this week as well. Garrett said there are some players who can step in play without practice. If Romo, who has a herniated disc in his back, is feeling better by Sunday evening, he could play.

“We don’t have any hard and fast rules that if he doesn’t practice by this day, he can’t play,” Garrett said during a conference call with the Philadelphia media.  “We don’t believe in treating everybody the exact same way in that regard. Certainly a more experienced player is more comfortable and you give him more of an opportunity if he hasn’t practice. Tony would certainly fall into that category.”

That leaves open the possibility that Romo might give fans at Cowboys Stadium a Willis Reed-like moment circa the 1970 NBA Finals. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back-up quarterback Kyle Orton, who has started 69 games as a pro with 35 wins, said he’s confident because he has weapons like running back DeMarco Murray, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten to help him out.

“You just ease your way into the game a little bit and get the ball to the guys that can do great things,” Orton said. “We’ve got plenty of those guys. I’ve been here for a couple of years and so timing is not too big of an issue, so we went out and had a good practice today.”

Though he’s only thrown 15 passes in a Cowboy uniform, Orton told the Dallas media Thursday that he’s no spring chicken and has worked extensively with the starters during minicamp and organized team activities back in May and June while Romo was rehabbing from another injury.

“I’ve been here for a couple of years it wasn’t like I was just walking through the door,” Orton said. “I’ve had plenty of experience with these guys and like I said these guys are great players and they get open.”

With the memory of getting picked apart by a Minnesota Vikings squad playing with a back-up quarterback still fresh in his mind, Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said the Birds are not taking the Cowboys lightly.

“We saw what happened to us the last time we faced a back up,” Barwin said. “There’s nobody taking anybody lightly this week.  … I think (Orton) is hard to get to because he gets the ball off fast. He doesn’t mess around back there. It’s important for us to get our hands up and in get in the way of those.”

On Thursday linebacker Sean Lee was ruled out and Dez Bryant left practice early because of a sore back. With all the injuries cropping up in Cowboys camp these days, it’s easy to say that Dallas has an uphill climb to win on Sunday night against resurgent Eagles squad. Witten said his team doesn’t have time to dwell on their injury woes.

“Obviously, it’s been tough, but now is not the time to feel sorry for yourself,” Witten said. “We’re going out there and so we’re going out there and preparing because we have a tough opponent in the Eagles.”

It would be also easy to say the Cowboys are even more fired up for this game after missing the playoffs in the last two years because they lost in week 17. Witten said the team can’t get too caught up in the emotion of the last two years.

“There’s no question that being in this situation and experiencing what we did the last two years and obviously we came up short, it sits deep in your gut and you feel that,” Witten said. “I really think you have to take the emotion out of it because it’s a new year, a new team.

“What our focus has to be on and needs to continue to be on is what’s going to allow us to execute in a game against a tough opponent?”

That’s a question both teams will know the answer to come Sunday.