Extra Points: Brown a bright spot in Eagles' dismal season

The Philadelphia Eagles have now lost their starting quarterback, top running back and No. 1 receiver over the past three weeks.

DeSean Jackson joined the concussed Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy on the sidelines Monday night when the diminutive receiver fractured a couple of ribs. Before Philly's triumvirate of playmakers hit the bench, 80 percent of the team's projected offensive line was already there.

That's a quick synopsis of why the once highly-regarded Eagles are currently sitting at 3-8 and Andy Reid is winding down his 14-year tenure as the Big Cheese in the City of Brotherly Love.

It's been a miserable season at Lincoln Financial Field but all is not lost. While Vick's tenure is likely over in South Philadelphia, McCoy and D-Jax will be back and Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans will all get healthy again, meaning the cupboard is hardly bare for any coach who agrees to take on the challenge of America's toughest sports town.

The Eagles also now have an extended period of time to look at young players in hopes of finding a contributor or two for 2013 and beyond.

The jury is still more than out on rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who completed 16-of-21 passes but managed just 119 yards in a 30-22 loss to Carolina on Monday night as Philadelphia lost a seventh straight game for the first time since losing the final seven during the 1994 season.

The good news?

Rookie running back Bryce Brown made his first start since high school in place of the injured McCoy and set a franchise rookie record by exploding for 178 yards on 19 carries, including an electrifying 65-yard touchdown run off right tackle in the second quarter.

"I just wanted to play our style of football," Brown said. "We knew we were going to run the ball coming into the game and I was prepared for it. The coaches told me we were going to run the ball to help Nick out, so I was up for the challenge. I anticipated it happening and it did."

Few know it but Brown has always been special.

A high school prodigy in Wichita, Kansas, who once clocked a 4.32 40-yard dash, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Brown rushed for an amazing 1,472 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman before trumping that with an encore of 2,039 yards and 26 TDs as a sophomore.

That's when the offers came piling in. More than 50 in fact as Brown was named the EA Sports National Sophomore of the Year.

The hype machine hardly slowed from there after a 1,825-yard season convinced USA Today to tab Brown as the only junior on its annual Prep All-American Team. By the end of his senior season in high school Brown has amassed 7,209 rushing yards, was named to the USA Today All-USA First Team for the second consecutive time, and was considered the best running back prospect coming out of Kansas since Barry Sanders.

His downfall or at least the start of it can probably be traced to an unscrupulous hanger-on named Brian Butler, who once described himself as Brown's trainer and handler through the college recruiting process.

Looking to cash in on Brown's enormous athletic talent, Butler sold updates of Brown's recruitment on a website, something that caught the eye of the NCAA, whose amateurism certification staff launched an investigation to determine whether anything had been done to jeopardize Brown's amateur status.

In a rare moment of clarity, the NCAA eventually cleared Brown to play and the speedster orally committed to joining his brother Arthur at the University of Miami.

Brown never did sign a letter of intent, however, and again sought the limelight by setting up a press conference on National Signing Day in 2009, naming Miami and five other schools as "finalists:" LSU, Tennessee, Oregon, USC, and Kansas State.

"If I was Randy Shannon and the Miami staff, I would tell the kid and Brian Butler to go jump in a lake," ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill said at the time. "I got to imagine that deep down, Miami's coaches have to be thinking, 'This is getting ridiculous.'"

Miami did in fact bail on Brown, Butler and all the games forcing the star to shift gears toward the SEC and Tennessee. Things changed at Rocky Top and Brown wasn't the guy from the get go, spending his rookie campaign at the school as backup to senior Montario Hardesty.

Whether it was a lack of maturity or just a case of homesickness, Brown announced his decision to leave the program on the first day of Tennessee's 2010 spring practice. He and his brother Arthur were moving to Kansas State.

You can make the requisite Dorothy reference here and talk about there being no place like home but both Brown brothers got caught up in the Nevin Shapiro Miami scandal, accused of receiving impermissible benefits from the ex- booster.

In what has become a troubling pattern in Brown's life, he turned tail and left the Wildcats football team "at least temporarily," before entering the 2012 NFL Draft as an early entry.

By April the bloom was off the rose and Brown was no longer a can't miss prospect, downgraded as much for his off the field exploits as anything else.

Through it all, however, the incredible physical gifts remained and Brown was going to be given a chance by someone, somewhere. That someone turned out to be the Eagles, who drafted Brown in the seventh round with the 229th overall pick.

"We took a chance here with Bryce Brown," Reid said after selecting him. "He's had kind of a wild ride here through college football since being the number one running back coming out of high school into college. You're talking about a kid who is an inch under six foot and is 220 pounds who runs a 4.4 forty. You're talking tremendous, tremendous skill here."

It's hard to believe there were 228 better football players than Brown but there were probably that many better fits. In a league where personal behavior is a problem, red flags are taken very seriously and likely took Brown totally off a number of team's draft boards.

These days Brown is no longer a big man on campus. He was an afterthought on a high-profile team, which possess one of the better running backs in all of the NFL, McCoy.

The Philly-area media was barely interested in him until he turned that corner and did his best Adrian Peterson impression on Monday night.

There is still plenty of work to be done, however,

Brown remains as green as the grass he was running on against the Panthers and had a a pair of fumbles in the third quarter that had a profound effect on the outcome of the game.

"My performance doesn't matter to me at all," Brown said. "The important thing is us getting the win and that didn't happen tonight. Like I said, I think a lot of that had to do with my two turnovers. I think that really, really cost us."

That said, in an Eagles season which has been defined by Murphy's Law, Brown gave the city an early Christmas present -- hope.

"Bryce really did what we thought he could do coming into the game," Reid said. "He's a talented kid, and it's a shame that he had those two fumbles -- particularly the last one, because he was on a roll. Those things cost you, and he'll learn from it. He's a smart kid and he's very, very talented. He has got a great future."


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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - Overall record against the spread (82-88-6 .483). Last week (10-4-2).

New Orleans (5-6) at Atlanta (10-1), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.

LINE: Falcons by 3

THE SKINNY: The New Orleans Saints are fresh out of mulligans. New Orleans put itself squarely behind the 8-ball with a disastrous 0-4 start before rebounding by winning five of six. That momentum was halted, however, by a Week 12 hiccup against the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers in the Big Easy. Things don't get any easier this week for the Saints, who must travel to 10-1 Atlanta on short notice for an important NFC South matchup.

The Saints may be far more desperate but Atlanta has plenty to play for also. The Falcons could deliver the death blow to New Orleans' faint playoff hopes this week while inching closer to the NFC South title. The short week and the lack of preparation also trends toward the home team. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win 31 of his first 35 starts at home.

PREDICTION: Falcons 27, Saints 24.

Seattle (6-5) at Chicago (8-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Bears by 4 1/2

THE SKINNY: Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is 5-0 at home with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions but just 1-5 on the road with six TDs and eight picks. This one is in the Second City, so you do the math.

PREDICTION: Bears 23, Seahawks 14

Jacksonville (2-9) at Buffalo (4-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Bills by 6

THE SKINNY: Mike Mularkey, who spent two seasons as Bills head coach (2004-05), returns to Buffalo with a new quarterback who has given the moribund Jaguars life. Chad Henne has passed for 615 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception since taking over for the injured Blaine Gabbert. The Bills hope to ride the dynamic C.J. Spiller, who has 100-plus yards from scrimmage in six straight games and averages 6.7 yards per rush, tops in the NFL.

PREDICTION: Bills 24, Jaguars 20

Indianapolis (7-4) at Detroit (4-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Lions by 4 1/2

THE SKINNY: Andrew Luck will try to keep steering the Colts toward the postseason and become the first No. 1 overall pick to record eight wins as a starter since the 1970 merger. The Stanford product has already thrown for 3,205 yards, the most by a rookie QB in NFL history through his team's first 11 games and has five 300-yard passing games, most ever by a first-year player. The Lions, meanwhile, will be aiming to bounce back from a tough Thanksgiving Day overtime loss to Houston behind their own signal-caller, Matthew Stafford, who is 5-2 versus AFC teams with 17 TDs versus just one INT over the past two seasons.

PREDICTION: Lions 21, Colts 20

Minnesota (6-5) at Green Bay (7-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Packers by 9

THE SKINNY: Things don't look good for Minnesota here. The Packers have won four straight over the Vikings and nine consecutive games overall in NFC North play while Aaron Rodgers has 18 touchdowns passes and a 116.5 passer rating in eight career starts against Minnesota. The Vikes only hope is Adrian Peterson, who has rushed for 737 yards (147.4 per game) and five TDs over his past five games, although he did fumble twice in Chicago last Sunday.

PREDICTION: Packers 34, Vikings 14

Carolina (3-8) at Kansas City (1-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Panthers by 3

THE SKINNY: Kansas City's push toward the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft continues against the Panthers, who recorded a rare win last Monday night in Philly. Cam Newton, immersed in a sophomore slump for most of the season, awoke against the lowly Eagles, throwing for 306 yards with two TDs through the air and two more on the ground. The Chiefs' hopes generally rest on running back Jamaal Charles, who has averaged 98 rush yards per game over his past three games.

PREDICTION: Panthers 20, Chiefs 14

New England (8-3) at Miami (5-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Patriots by 7 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Patriots, who average an NFL-best 37 points per game and 435.8 yards per game, can clinch their latest AFC East division crown with a win here. The Dolphins are swimming up stream since New England has won 11 straight in December and has averaged 44 points per game in its last four wins in South Florida.

PREDICTION: Patriots 31, Dolphins 17

Arizona (4-7) at NY Jets (4-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Jets by 4 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Cardinals haven't won since September and are starting overmatched rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley. Conversely the Jets are having a miserable season but are 5-0 against Arizona dating back to the 1978 season.

PREDICTION: Jets 23, Cardinals 13

San Francisco (8-2-1) at St. Louis (4-6-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: 49ers by 7

THE SKINNY: The 49ers and Rams meet again after playing to a 24-24 tie in the Bay Area back on Nov. 11. Niners quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion in that game and second-year man Colin Kaepernick has laid claim to the job after going 2-0 as the starter since, and flashing the big play ability Smith lacks. The Rams hope to build on a win over Arizona last Sunday and their QB, Sam Bradford, is unbeaten in his last four NFC West starts (3-0-1).

PREDICTION: 49ers 27, Rams 17

Houston (10-1) at Tennessee (4-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Texans by 5 1/2

THE SKINNY: Houston, which is a perfect 5-0 on the road this season, is on the verge of setting the single-season franchise record for most wins (10 in 2011 and 2012) and capturing the AFC South. The Texans can set a new franchise record and take the division with a win over the Titans, who are out of the playoff conversation after a devastating loss in Jacksonville last Sunday.

PREDICTION: Texans 30, Titans 20

Tampa Bay (6-5) at Denver (8-3), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: Broncos by 7

THE SKINNY: The Broncos, who have won an NFL-best six straight, can clinch the AFC West with a win, while the Buccaneers remain in the middle of the NFC playoff hunt despite having a four-game run halted by Atlanta last Sunday. Denver has outscored its opponents 183-107 during its winning streak, averaging 30.5 points per game during that span. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, leads the NFC with 228 points (32.6 per game) since Week 6.

PREDICTION: Broncos 31, Buccaneers 28

Pittsburgh (6-5) at Baltimore (9-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: No Line

THE SKINNY: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Charlie Batch will most likely remain his starting quarterback for Sunday's game against Baltimore, but didn't rule the injured Ben Roethlisberger out just yet. "Big Ben," who is extremely unlikely to play, is almost a necessity for the slumping Steelers considering the Ravens have won 15 straight home games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Baltimore is also shooting for its third consecutive season with at least 10 wins.

PREDICTION: Ravens 24, Steelers 13

Cleveland (3-8) at Oakland (3-8), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Pick 'em

THE SKINNY: The Raiders will be aiming to snap a four-game skid, the longest losing streak for Oakland since the 2008 season, in the first of three straight at home for the Silver and Black. Cleveland enters the contest after a rare win over Pittsburgh but may not have rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who suffered a concussion against the Steelers. If Weeden can't go backup Colt McCoy, who replaced Weeden for the final two series against Pittsburgh, will be in line to start.

PREDICTION: Raiders 24, Browns 21

Cincinnati (6-5) at San Diego (4-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Bengals by 1 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Bengals head to Southern California this week with a three- game winning streak under their belt and "playoffs" back in their vocabulary. Of course the last time Cincinnati won three straight it followed that up with four consecutive losses. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has picked up his play recently, throwing for 639 yards with nine TDs and no interceptions during the team's winning streak. The Chargers on the other hand have lost three straight and will be fighting for their playoff lives.

PREDICTION: Bengals 21, Chargers 20

Philadelphia (3-8) at Dallas (5-6), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

LINE: Cowboys by 9

THE SKINNY: The banged-up Birds will try to ride Brown against a desperate Dallas team coming off a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Redskins.

PREDICTION: Cowboys 27, Eagles 14

NY Giants (7-4) at Washington (5-6), Monday, 8:30 p.m.

LINE: Giants by 2 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Giants lead the NFC East by two games over Dallas and Washington but the Redskins can close the gap on Monday night. The two teams met earlier this season in Week 7 with the Giants winning 27-23 when Victor Cruz got behind the Washington defense for a game-winning 77-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 remaining.

The Redskins, however, have won two in a row -- both against NFC East opponents (Philadelphia and Dallas) -- and have been led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft has thrown eight touchdowns over the past two games and is the only rookie in NFL history with four passing touchdowns in back-to-back games.

PREDICTION: Redskins 23, Giants 20