… or is it?
After weeks of despair and dissension, the 4-7 Philadelphia Eagles rallied to stun the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 35-28. Chip Kelly outsmarted coaching legend Bill Belichick in their first head-to-head battle. Sam Bradford returned from injury and outdueled uber-QB Tom Brady, playing efficient, error-free football.
Best of all, on Monday night the discarded DeSean Jackson blew a key late-game punt return, helping his Washington team lose to Dallas. That means that the Eagles are tied for first place in the NFC East with four games to go.
So everything is positive and happy in Philadelphia now, right? Yeah no. Don’t be ridiculous.
The Eagles still have a lot of problems that haven’t gone away, notably the offensive line. The defensive line is banged up as well, and while Bradford didn’t make mistakes, the offense was anemic at best.
The team needed three touchdowns from special teams and defensive plays to outpoint the Pats. Darren Sproles ran back a touchdown, Najee Goode ran back a punt blocked by Chris Maragos, and Malcolm Jenkins intercepted a ball at the goal line, running it back beautifully for a 100-yard pick six.
Philadelphia led the NFL last year with 11 non-offensive touchdowns, almost doubling the next closest team (which had six), but they’ve been curiously scarce this season. Sunday’s game doubled 2015’s total to 6, a three-way tie for best in the league.
Chip Kelly finally shook up his roster, leaving WR Miles Austin inactive (and cutting him outright the day after the game). Highly paid RB DeMarco Murray got only 8 carries, third most for the game behind Sproles (15) and ex-Duck Kenjon Barner (9).
Murray complained after the game to both Chip and owner Jeffrey Lurie, but on the field he continued to underachieve, netting only 3.0 yards per carry versus about 4.4 for Barner and Sproles. After the game, Chip said the change was just an attempt to match up against New England’s big linebackers with smaller, quicker runners, but Murray is unlikely to complain his way into more playing time.
If anything, he may even be inactive for Sunday’s game as Ryan Mathews, the team’s best running back this year, returns from the concussion that has kept him out for three games.
If you’re looking for the negative, the team’s passing remained weak, and the offensive line’s weakness contributed to Murray’s problems. There was plenty more good news, though. This team doesn’t need Bradford to win games with his arm; he just needs to execute the offense, make a few key plays, and avoid turnovers.
He did all of that Sunday, scoring touchdowns on both of the team’s red zone visits and hitting a key third-down pass to Riley Cooper under heavy pressure, on a 4th-quarter drive to run out the clock. Most importantly: no interceptions and no fumbles.
Beyond the return of big plays on special teams, the Eagles’ run defense returned to strength after two bad weeks, and the pass rush finally got home, pummeling Brady with 4 sacks and 10 QB hits (to match his 2 interceptions). Best of all, rookie cornerback Eric Rowe established himself as a potential star of the future. Brady did his best to target the 2nd-round draft pick, and paid the price:
Eric Rowe was targeted 12 times. He only allowed 4 catches. He had 2 PD. Tom Brady had a 44.4 rating when targeting him.
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 7, 2015
Doubts about the team’s culture were answered decisively, as the players rebounded from the only three-game losing streak of Kelly’s career to beat the best team in football. Afterward, it was Boston reporters questioning their team’s talent and guts.
Now the Birds face the Buffalo Bills and LeSean McCoy, who is still salty over being traded for Kiko Alonso last year. McCoy told reporters he isn’t mad about the trade anymore, before going on to say that he’d never shake Chip’s hand or answer his phone call or talk to him because he’s got nothing to say to him.
Shady had the two best seasons in his seven-year career under Chip, and is on track to barely crack 1,000 yards in Buffalo this year, after 1,607 and 1,319 yards his last two years in Philly. But while still in Philly he complained about the hard Saturday practices and Chip’s ban on colored socks. (Maybe that’s what he perceived as racism?)
Buffalo will be a tough game, and Arizona the following week will be tougher. But even losing both, the Eagles will likely win their division as long as they beat Washington and New York in the season’s final two weeks.
Things aren’t perfect, but for the first time since the season started, they’re not bad.
Top photo from video — NFL Game Pass
Mark Saltveit’s newest book is “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.
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