The Philadelphia Eagles were openly discussed as a Super Bowl contender and ranked in the NFL’s top 4 after thrashing Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The 9-3 overachievers were led by backup QB Mark Sanchez, an NFL laughingstock since his infamous “Butt Fumble” two Thanksgivings earlier, suddenly looking like the league’s most improved player.
Then they played Seattle at home, the first of three consecutive losses that destroyed the high hopes of Eagles fans and put a chink in Chip Kelly’s aura of invincibility. Kelly never lost three games in a row at Oregon. Heck, his Ducks never lost two in a row unless you count the 2010 season’s National Championship Game and the first game of the following year, against #5 ranked LSU (with a young defensive tackle named Bennie Logan starting for the first time).
The Seattle loss was tough, though hardly a surprise. The loss to Dallas (also at home) was a backbreaker, though. And the road loss to the 3-11 Washington Deadskins was soul-crushing. To no one’s surprise, Washington exploited cornerback Bradley Fletcher repeatedly, and DeSean Jackson had a big game.
Also to no one’s surprise, Jackson handled his success with all the class and professionalism of Honey Boo Boo’s Mama June. First, he reprised his bird-flap-and-kick dance from game 3 (which Washington lost), adding a little wanking motion at the end as a bonus. Then, he graciously said
“Get the f-ing Birds out of here. … They’re going home. Tell them goodnight. Toodaloo. Bye bye. The bird’s chirpin’.”
Spotting a Philadelphia reporter he knew, he shouted
“Whatcha doin’ here? I bet you they’re over there crying. You should go back over there with them.”
Jackson, who has told reporters he’s not bitter over his release by the Eagles and has “moved on,” then said that a lot of Eagles players miss him and “constantly tell me how much they miss me…” I’m guessing those friends must play on the offense because DJax went on to insult all of the Eagles defenders who had been his teammates:
“They’re very naive and they play how they play. They could care less who is out there or who is at wide receiver, they’re going to play their defense the way they play it. That’s the Philadelphia Eagle defense. I’ve been there a lot of years and witnessed a lot of players — wide receivers, tight ends — get off on some huge games on them, and I’m just happy to be on this side and be able to send them home with a loss.”
Do the Eagles miss Jackson? Not on the field. Mark Sanchez passed for 374 yards against Washington (who only threw for 220, of which Jackson had 126), and Philadelphia outran the Skins as well. Zach Ertz set an Eagles record with 15 receptions, the breakout game we’ve been expecting all year, for 115 yards.
It was turnovers and bad pass defense that blew this game. This has been the story all year long for the Eagles, and having DeSean on board wouldn’t have done a thing to remedy either.
Two new causes of failure were racking up 13 penalties (to Washington’s 3) and Cody Parkey’s collapse. The rookie kicker missed 2 of 3 field goal attempts (in a three point loss) after missing only 2 of 31 attempts the entire season.
Now one game remains. With the Birds eliminated from the playoffs, pride is the only thing on the line. This would be an easy game to lose, with nothing to play for, better draft position losing, and the Giants at home seeking revenge for their 27-0 shutout in Philly earlier this year.
Some perspective is in order, and as usual Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz is a great person to get it from. People are talking about shaking up the roster, trying different combinations on defense, or starting Matt Barkley at quarterback Sunday to see what he can do.
That’s not Chip’s approach, as Lawlor points out. Kelly believes in a very particular process, starting with lots of reps in practice. How you perform there (and in games) determines how much playing time you get. He’s not going to throw out that process to test out someone doing poorly in practice — such as March Smith II. Kelly has openly said in press conferences that Smith needs to play better in practice to get time on the field.
It’s impossible to know what Kelly sees (or doesn’t see) in those closed practices, and you can certainly accuse him and defensive coordinator Billy Davis of stubbornly refusing to bench Bradley Fletcher. (Davis’ argument is, who would replace him inside in nickel and dime packages? Fletcher is vulnerable on the outside but he’s worse playing inside. If Brandon Boykin or Nolan Carroll moved out wide, who fills the middle in dime? Jaylen Watkins?)
A simpler solution would be giving Fletcher some safety help, or a linebacker to jam tougher receivers at the line of scrimmage before handing him off. Fletcher has simply not been able to disrupt routes even when theoretically playing press coverage. Against the Skins, the one time Fletcher got help, safety Nate Allen intercepted another long pass targeting Jackson.
Be that as it may, this Eagles team got to 9-3 despite bad quarterback play all year long, even before Foles was injured, despite leading the league in turnovers, relying on a rookie kicker and defending horribly on 3rd and long. These are flaws in talent, there on tape for all to see, and it finally caught up with Philadelphia in week 14.
The surprise isn’t that they collapsed, but that they stayed afloat for so long. Before the season, I predicted they’d go 10-6, which is an improvement over last year’s identical record given the tougher schedule. That’s where they’ll end it up if they can gut this one out against the odds.
Vegas is calling the Giants a 2.5 or 3 point favorite. We’ll have all spring and summer to debate the Eagles flaws, Chip Kelly’s mistakes, and Nick Foles’ potential as a franchise quarterback. (The Sanchez question, at least, is settled: No.) If the Eagles pull together and grind out this game, they’ll go a long way toward affirming that Chip Kelly’s long-term rebuilding program is on the right track. As long as they get a CB or two this off-season.
Top photo from video