It may not always be sunny in Philadelphia, but Philly sports fans could not have asked much more from the last official Sunday of summer.
On a day so gorgeous that it was hard to stay indoors, there were rewards to be had for those who were glued to the tube for the NFL and MLB action. Late September can be a wonderful time of year—both indoors and outdoors—when things fall into place. Yet it was looking a little cloudy at around 4:30 p.m. or so.
The Eagles visited the usually toothless Detroit Lions and proceeded to get on the board on a well-timed 45-yard throw-and-catch from the rehabilitated Michael Vick to speedster wideout DeSean Jackson. The next 15 or so minutes was all Detroit—and more specifically, impressive rookie Jahvid Best—who scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-7 lead.
The Birds struck back quickly to score two touchdowns in the last four minutes of the first half to regain a hard-earned 21-17 lead.
While it would have been tempting to catch some rays at halftime, the pennant race beckoned, and the Phils—behind the solid pitching of Joe Blanton and two RBI from backup battery-mate Brian Schneider—were cruising to a 3-1 lead over the Nationals (and a series sweep) after five innings. Of course, that was before, some guy named Michael Morse (what TV series was he in again?) channeled his inner Albert Pujols and mashed a three-run homer to right center.
When another nobody named Danny Espinosa took Danys Baez deep in the top of the seventh—thus winning the all-important battle of the Dannys—the Nats took a 5-3 lead.
Meanwhile, love him, hate him or still feling neutral (and do we ever have mixed feelings in sunny Philaelphia?) Michael Vick looked like the Vick of old (and even better in leading the Eagles to a ho-hum 35-17 lead over those de-clawed Lions. Andy Reid even rediscovered LeSean McCoy, who would rush for 120 yards and 3 touchdowns on a relatively high 16 carries. The huge lead left plenty of time for catching some rays...
...of hope from the Phillies. Down 5-3 in the bottom of the 7th, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley singled to put runners on first and second with none out. With RBI machine Ryan Howard (and hot bats to follow in Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez) things were looking good until someone named Scott Burnett (who is actually much better than his 0-7 record would indicate) struck out Howard and Werth back-to-back and retired Ibanez.
The Nats would stretch their lead to 6-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, and it was time to see how much the Eagles had padded their lead...
...only career backup Shaun Hill—of all people—was leading a touchdown drive, capped by a two-yard run from Best to make the score look a little better for Lions fans, 35-24. Before you knew it or had a chance to concentrate on the Phillies, Hill was finding star-crossed Calvin Johnson (who caught the game-winning touchdown last week only to be screwed, er... denied... by a terrible ruling) for a touchdown that was, of course, called back. No problem, Hill found him again for a touchdown that held up, and a two-point conversion to close within a field goal, 35-32.
When the Lions recovered the (expected) onside kick with good field position and nearly two minutes to tie or win the game, it was looking just a little dicey for a defense that is still trying to find its identity.
Meanwhile, one wanted to see if the Phillies could pull off one of those amazing, patented ninth-inning comebacks of theirs. Down a field goal, er, three runs, Polanco slapped a single to left center, followed by a double down the left field line from Utley. With the base open, the Nats elected to pitch to Howard who stroked a clean single to center, plating Polanco and Utley.
The scene was set for Jayson Werth, who has had an up-and-down year, and is just starting to wake up and show signs of hitting in the clutch. Werth, who missed a friendly looking fastball earlier in the count, worked a full count and fouled a pitch back. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, the bearded wonder launched another fastball from Drew ("I Have Three Career Saves") Storen that was headed towards the 409-foot sign in dead center. Could it be?
Let's just say that it's September in sunny Philadelphia, the Phils are white hot, and the Bank had no shot at holding it. Ho-hum, a four-run inning with no outs in their last at-bat to sweep the Nats and stay three games ahead of the Braves going into their three-game showdown starting tomorrow.
Was there truly a cause for celebration? Yes, as the Birds defense stiffened up in time to force Shaun Hill and company into a four-and-out. Exhilaration from the Phils, and relief from the Birds with two or so hours of sunshine remaining!
Let it be said that the Birds and Fightins were carried today, by Michael Vick and Jayson Werth, respectively—two players that will probably be playing elsewhere next year. But that discussion is for anther time.
With a couple hours to bask in all this, it was now time to tune into a player who was our franchise for 11 years, and was now hurling pigskins in Washington, D.C. Donovan McNabb, looking sharp despite no effective running game (sound familiar?), a suspect O-line (hmmm), and his top two wideouts consisting of aging smurfs Joey Galloway and Santana Moss was throwing for over 400 yards and no turnovers.
But the Houston Texans, behind a huge game from underrated quarterback Matt Schaub, rallied to tie the game at 27-27 to force overtime. The overtime had more drama that I'll recount here, and featured a game-winning 52-yard field goal by a Redskins kicker named Graham Gano that would have been good from about 72.
Hold on. Houston was apparently "in the process of calling a timeout" and, forced to do it again, Gano's kick was wide right. The Texans took advantage of the great field position to mount a short drive that would culminate in a 35-yard "walkoff" field goal to deny McNabb and the Skins a 2-0 start to their season.
All the better for the Eagles, who found themselves now tied with the Skins at 1-1, and a game ahead of the dreaded Cowboys who were losing to Jay Cutler and company to drop to 0-2. All we needed was a New York Giants loss, and a share of (very early) first place in the NFC East would be ours.
Could it be? It was time to watch a little Sunday night football, as the Giants traveled to Indianapolis for the Manning Bowl. Eagles fans, and Philly Nation as a whole, got their wish and the cherry to a beautiful Sunday sundae as Peyton and the Colts trounced Eli and company 38-14.
First place (of sorts) for the Birds and three games up in first for the Phils.
Yes, it was close to midnight, and it was also quite sunny in Philadelphia, even if the weather forecast was pending the outcome of the upcoming three-game showdown between the Phillies and the Braves.