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Eagles score high grades in NFC Championship Game

Eagles score high grades in NFC Championship Game

Grading the Eagles' 38-7 win Sunday night over the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field to advance to Super Bowl LII (see breakdown):

QUARTERBACK
Nick Foles: 26/33, 352 YDS, 3 TD

From the Eagles' opening snap, Foles looked sharp, picking up right where he left off last week. Yet, even the way he was slinging the football on those first few possessions, I doubt anybody envisioned this performance coming. Foles completed 78.8 percent of his passes, averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and connected on touchdown passes of 53, 41 and five yards — against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. He moved well in the pocket but stood tough when called upon to do so. Most importantly, no turnovers and just one sack. This was the finest moment of Foles' career, which is truly saying something for a guy who set multiple franchise and NFL records in 2013.

Grade: A+

RUNNING BACK
Jay Ajayi: 18 ATT, 73 YDS, 3 REC, 26 YDS

Though Ajayi got the bulk of the word, LeGarrette Blount had the play of the game. Blount would not be denied on his 11-yard touchdown in the first quarter, barreling over and through Vikings defenders on his way across the goal line. It was exactly the kind of hardnosed postseason mudding the Eagles envisioned when they signed the two-time Super Bowl champion, even if he only finished with 21 yards on six carries. Ajayi was having a mediocre game, but picked it up on the Eagles' final possession and did his part to help put Minnesota on ice.

Grade: A-

WIDE RECEIVERS
Alshon Jeffery: 5 REC, 85 YDS, 2 TD

Torrey Smith was seen apologizing to Foles after dropping what should've been a 50-yard pass on the Eagles' second play from scrimmage. Smith did a bit better than "I'm sorry" in the third quarter, making a tough 41-yard grab at the pylon to complete a 41-yard flea flicker. That wasn't even the longest play by a receiver, falling short of Jeffery's 53-yard score in the second quarter. The play fell apart, so Jeffery broke off his route and headed for the end zone. All told, Jeffery, Smith and Nelson Agholor combined for 13 receptions, 213 yards and three touchdowns. Flat out dominant against the league's No. 2 pass defense.

Grade: A+

TIGHT ENDS
Zach Ertz: 8 REC, 93 YDS

It became clear early the Vikings had no answer for Ertz. The Pro Bowl tight end hauled in all eight targets that came his way, leading the Eagles in both receptions and receiving yards. Brent Celek and Trey Burton weren't as productive with their opportunities, combining for one 12-yard catch on three targets, but no matter. Ertz was a monster.

Grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE
Credit Jeffery for turning his route up the field and catching the ball (see Roob's observations). Credit Foles for hanging in the pocket and delivering a perfect pass. But make sure you credit the offensive line as well for giving Foles' 53-yard touchdown to Jeffery time to develop. That pretty much personified the unit's performance. The quarterback was only hit five times and sacked once. The Eagles weren't nearly as strong on the ground, averaging a modest 3.7 yards per carry. Regardless, the run blocking wasn't exactly ineffective, either, not to mention that really seems like nitpicking.

Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE
Chris Long: 2 TKL, 2 QBH, 2 PD, 1 FR

Long has been good all season, but it was as if he took a dip in the Fountain of Youth right before this game. The 10th-year veteran caused a momentum-altering interception with one of his two quarterback hits, then fell on the fumble forced by fellow defensive end Derek Barnett's strip sack, both plays in the first half. Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry each got two pressures on the signal caller as well, as the D-line made throwing down the field next to impossible for the Vikings. Minnesota ball carriers averaged a respectable 3.9 yards per carry, but it wasn't enough to influence the game in any meaningful way.

Grade: A

LINEBACKERS
Mychal Kendricks: 8 TKL

Ugly start for this unit. The Vikings' offense went right down the field on the game's opening drive, largely at the expense of Najee Goode. Playing for the injured Dannell Ellerbe, Goode was torched for 25-yard touchdown pass amid some confusion, and generally looked in over his head. Goode was on the field less as the game progressed, while it seemed at times there were two of Kendricks, who led the team in tackles. After a quiet first half, Nigel Bradham picked up his play as well, finishing with four tackles. No major complaints are given the outcome.

Grade: B

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Ronald Darby: 7 TKL, 3 PD

Who knows the way this game may have transpired were it not for Patrick Robinson's interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Robinson took the woefully underthrown pass forced by Long, weaved across the field and outraced the Vikings' offense for a 50-yard score. Darby threw a key block on the return and later forced another turnover, one of his three pass breakups deflecting into the hands of Corey Graham. The Eagles' secondary was active and physical, as Minnesota completed just 58.3 percent of pass attempts for 5.6 yards per attempt.

Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS
Donnie Jones: 43.3 AVG, 3 IN20

Little of note from special teams. All three of Jones' punts pinned the Vikings' offense inside their own 20-yard line. Jake Elliott was perfect on one 38-yard field goal and five extra points, and all six kickoffs went for touchbacks. Kenjon Barner returned one punt for 10 yards. It was exactly what it needed to be.

Grade: B+

COACHING
Eagles' record: 15-3

Absolutely masterful job by the Eagles' coaching staff on both sides of the football. Doug Pederson's play-calling was brilliant from start to finish, keeping the Vikings' No. 1 defense completely off balance. Jim Schwartz's defense recovered after an opening march 75 yards on nine plays for paydirt — it was the last time Minnesota would score. This was the No. 2 seed in the NFC, a team with 14 wins, including playoffs and the Eagles, went right through them like it was nothing. Amazing job and an amazing season overall by Pederson and Schwartz.

Grade: A+

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

You can't really fake it at an All-Star Game, especially one where people are actually trying. There's no lucking your way into a couple open shots and a couple generous foul calls and all of a sudden rolling your way to a 30-plus-point game; there's no isolating one defensive mismatch and exploiting it to make yourself look like '01 Shaq. Generally speaking, an All-Star Game shakes out as it should: The best shine the brightest, and those who aren't ready yet fade into the periphery with extra motivation to step things up for next year. 

And that's why it's so awesome that Joel Embiid, a mere 75 games into his NBA career, unquestionably belonged on the biggest stage with the biggest names last night. Playing for Stephen Curry's squad, JoJo posted 19 points on 8-13 shooting, with eight rebounds and two blocks, and a +5 rating for the night — the only positive plus/minus for the Steph starters. 

Out of context, those numbers may not sound particularly impressive for an All-Star outing, considering the final score of 2017's game was 192-182. But thanks to increased financial and personal motivation in this year's game, the competition was ratcheted up, and though the final score was still a robust 148-145 — Team LeBron emerging victorious — no one player really went off in this one, with Team Stephen being led in scoring by DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard (21 each). Consider that JoJo's 19 outpaced both teammates James Harden (12 points on 5-19 FG) and Curry himself (13 on 4-14 FG) — only two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. 

And what's more, down the stretch it was Embiid who seemed most ready to rise to the moment. With minutes remaining and his team up one, Embiid posted up LeBron James — LeBron James!! — for an easy bucket, and with the score tied and under a minute left, he got stuck isolated on the perimeter against Paul George, and still ended up blocking George's shot to win the possession back for his team. Had his squad been able to hang on in this one, he would've been able to mount a fairly compelling case for MVP, which would've made him the first player since at least the 20th century to win top honors in his first All-Star appearance. 

Of course, it didn't happen that way, and Team Stephen coach Mike D'Antoni might get most of the blame as to why. With his squad up one and Team LeBron inbounding out of a timeout, D'Antoni opted for some incomprehensible reason to bench Embiid, his best defensive player — which, somewhat unsurprisingly, resulted in LeBron scoring quickly and easily at the basket to go up one, and then DeMar DeRozan throwing the ball away at the other end. Embiid entered for the final possession, with his team needing a three to tie, and he had a chance to hoist one, but understandably passed to Curry, who drove his way into traffic and ended up not even getting a shot off. Team LeBron won, and James took home his third MVP. 

Frustrating finish, but it can't ruin what came before: Joel Embiid squaring off against the best the NBA has to offer, and proving himself a factor. (Also nailed a three and then blocked a Russell Westbrook drive at the other end, btw, so that beautiful random feud lives on.) He got as good as he gave — LeBron drilled a triple in his face immediately after JoJo took him down low — but he was in the mix, and a crucial part of his team's successes and failures. It should be the first of many such All-Star starring roles for Embiid, and hopefully the last for some time that doesn't also include him being flanked by Process Truster in Arms Ben Simmons. 

But even if it isn't — even if nothing good ever happens again with Joel, and we look back at this All-Star Game 25 years from now as the high point of this career — it still would have all been worth it. It was worth it when the team went 10-5 two Januarys ago. It was maybe worth it when Embiid gave his first-ever post-game interview following a Sixers win. 

That's what people will never understand about The Process, and that's what makes nights like this so gratifying. Franchises go decades, entire generations, without getting a moment to feel this way about one of their players, and even getting the chance to feel it about one of ours is worth seasons of sacrifice. JoJo lives, and somewhere in the bowels of the Staples Center last night, Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie had to be there and be smiling. Hope he enjoyed the Fergie national anthem as much as I did, as well. 

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

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SB Nation/Twitter

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

Updated at 12:50 a.m.

Early Sunday, a video surfaced on social media that appeared to put Sixers’ guard JJ Redick in an extremely poor light. Redick has since responded to clear up the situation.

Here’s what happened:

At about 8 a.m., a post appeared on Reddit showing a screenshot and caption alleging that Redick said a racial slur during a video from NBA players wishing Chinese fans a Happy New Year. The video caused a huge uproar on social media. If you wish to see the video, it is located here, at the top.

On the surface, without a response, it looked odd from the start. Redick, who we have come to know as a well-spoken individual who is typically very appreciative of basketball fans, isn’t someone you’d expect this from, let alone with a camera pointing directly at his face with an NBA microphone in front of his lips.

He offered this response on his official Twitter account, saying he was tongue-tied and had no intentions of saying what he did on the video.

Fans reacted on both sides of the issue, some still asking for an apology and others taking Redick for his word. 

On Sunday night, Redick followed up with a longer statement on his Twitter and Instagram, where he further explained himself and indeed issued an apology.

Please read. Thank you.

A post shared by JJ Redick (@jjredick) on

Early Monday, Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin tweeted a statement saying that he spoke with Redick and believes the Sixers' guard didn't say a racial slur.

With the All-Star Break going on, Redick won’t be available for a few more days for the media to ask him about this. There’s a chance this story will continue into next week.