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Eagles' Samuel Has Heart in Philly, Eye on Former Team

Dec 14, 2009 – 7:15 PM
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Thomas George

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Asante SamuelEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After the Philadelphia Eagles' huge victory over the Giants here on Sunday night, Philadelphia cornerback Asante Samuel talked about how Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks made two catches for 86 yards, including a 68-yard score, in the first half, but only two catches for 24 yards in the second half.

"They were using a lot of double moves on me in the first half and he was good at it,'' Samuel said. "I just went back to playing my technique in the second half. Anytime you get a divisional rival in this league late in the season, and you are playing for a chance at the postseason, the games come down to making plays that turn the game.''

And though the Eagles defense was lit up for 27 first downs, 512 yards of total offense, two rushing touchdowns and three passing ones, it was that defense that forced the Giants to punt on successive possessions at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth -- stops that preceded Philadelphia ultimately taking control.

The second of those defensive stops set up the Eagles' 12-play, 91-yard scoring drive that gave them a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, en route to a 45-38 victory.

With their victory, the Eagles (9-4) lead the NFC East. Samuel's old team, the New England Patriots (8-5) lead the AFC East.

Samuel joined the Eagles as a free agent before last season. His last game as a Patriot was in their Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants.

Samuel has remained tuned to Patriots' musings. He is aware of New England linebacker Adalius Thomas' criticisms of head coach Bill Belichick after he and three other players were sent home late Wednesday after being late to team meetings. He's also aware of allegations about receiver Randy Moss dogging it, and about the Patriots' reach to be included among elite teams this season -- rather than settling in as a good one.

Samuel said: "I think it's good he [Thomas] spoke up. More up there should. It certainly got to be a place where I didn't want to be. I am happy to be gone. I am happy here. They know how to make you feel wanted and appreciated here, but it's not the way I found it over there.''

Samuel remains an unusual, gifted, interesting player to watch perform his craft.

Some view him as simply a zone defender, a guy who covers a certain area and pounces on balls on the break as good as any cornerback. Few are impressed with his tackling skills, but all are impressed with his ability to close quickly on routes due to his anticipation, quickness and length.

Eagles speedster DeSean Jackson, who ripped the Giants on a 60-yard scoring reception, a 72-yard scoring punt return and on several plays before, in-between and after, said Samuel gives him plenty to handle in practices.

"He's one of the better corners around,'' Jackson said. "He has great instincts. He's quick. He gets to the ball so quickly. He's smart. Few players at that position can make the plays he can make.''

Samuel was a big part of the Patriots' defense for five seasons, and there is no way they are a better defensive team without him. In fact, many personnel experts in the league see Samuel's departure in free agency in 2008 -- along with the departure of some other defensive stars, especially traded end Richard Seymour -- as part of the Patriots' slip from their usual lofty perch.

"There are still three weekends of football to be played to determine the playoff picture,'' Samuel said. "Neither one of us [Philadelphia and New England] is in it yet. One thing I did learn with the Patriots that I still believe in: let your play do your most talking.''

Speaking of Moss, Belichick and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady were firm in defense of their star wide receiver following Sunday's win over Carolina.

Moss was one of the late-arriving players whom Belichick sent home last Wednesday.

Belichick struck a chord with several players and coaches from around the league that I had conversations with on Monday morning about Moss. Belichick said of Carolina Panthers defensive backs Chris Gamble and Chris Harris saying that Moss was dogging it on Sunday: "That's a lot of conversation from a team that just lost another game.''

New England beat Carolina at home 20-10, dropping the Panthers to 5-8.

Here is what one veteran NFL defensive back had to say about the ruckus, which reflected comments from several others: "I'm sure if those Carolina players studied the tapes before the game, they must have seen some of what they saw on Sunday. Why not speak up then, before the game? You lost. Moss did not play well. But you lost. Those are things easy to say when Moss doesn't play well. They should have been things difficult to say when you lose. And they really should have been said beforehand if you really mean it. It does sound like the talk of losers to me.''

With both the Saints and Colts sitting at 13-0 with three regular-season games left, NFL officials are beginning to dream about a Super Bowl pitting undefeated teams. Of course, it has never happened before.

We are still far away from it actually happening. But they can dream, right?

"If we get these two teams in Super Bowl XLIV with 18-0 records, it would have to rival the biggest game for us in league history,'' an NFL senior administrator said. "How can you not root for an event such as that?''

Root, he reminds all. Not interfere. Not force.

The Saints have games at home against Dallas and Tampa Bay, then finish at Carolina. The Colts play at Jacksonville on Thursday, then host the Jets and travel at Buffalo.

It looks like New Orleans is the team most suited to reach 16-0. The Saints have more of an interest and commitment to it than the Colts, and two of the Saints' final three games are inside the boisterous Superdome

Privately, the Giants are clear in their assessment that veteran Eagles play-callers Andy Reid and Marty Morninhweg did a number on their first-year defensive coordinator, Bill Sheridan.

"It was like taking candy from a baby,'' one Giants official said. "It was almost unfair. You have to give them the credit, and we'll just have to take the growing pains from that.''

In fairness, first-year Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was in a similar situation -- and had a similar result -- versus the Giants' veteran offensive coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

The Giants want Sheridan's defense further simplified so that players are not thinking as much as running and hitting. This process has been occurring over the last few weeks. Look for it to be increased enormously by the time the Giants play at Washington next Monday night.

The Giants hope that is the answer for a defense that ranks 28th in scoring allowed (25.4 points per game) with 26 sacks earned -- 21 NFL teams have more. The other answer is not pretty -- that the defense simply is not good enough or talented enough.

After the Redskins, the Giants (7-6) play Carolina and finish at Minnesota. If their playoff chances come down to winning against the Vikings, the Giants have plenty to fix on defense to even be in contention in that game, if the Vikings play their starters throughout. Currently, the Giants are nowhere near the Vikings' class in terms of defensive speed and playmaking. Minnesota is first in the league in sacks (41) and 10th in scoring defense (18.7 points allowed per game).

Buffalo Bills coach Perry Fewell is 2-2 since replacing Dick Jauron. The Bills won at Kansas City 16-10 on Sunday.

Is there any chance that Fewell can retain the Bills' head coaching spot into next season? Would three more victories, including one over New England this weekend in Buffalo, give Bills ownership reasons to consider that?

"Yes, he can do it,'' one Bills player said. "I don't think he was ever looking for the opportunity under these conditions. But he has stepped in and done his part. He has changed expectations on the team. We are more cohesive as a group, with all three phases on offense, defense and special teams now more aware of each one's goals in each game. He's made other small changes.

"He's made us competitive. We're all playing for our livelihoods. And players here are responding to helping him build some leverage for any possibility of returning as the coach. We don't know what management will do. But we are trying to make it a tough decision to let him go.''

NFL owners and their management teams will meet in Dallas beginning Tuesday to gain an overview of where labor negotiations stand. They will also discuss several other key issues, including how tapes of college players are gained from colleges now, if that system is in jeopardy, and if the league should take over the system in an ownership way.

One NFL owner, requesting anonymity, said: "These meetings are getting more important as we begin to move toward an uncapped year in 2010. Our goal is to stay united on whatever front we choose. We have to have that. The players were more united than we were in the last negotiations and it hurt us. That won't happen this time.''
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