But Barkley might have been in a better position to compete, in his second NFL appearance, had his coach spent the week getting him ready with first-team practice reps, instead of trying to pretend Michael Vick was OK.
Though Vick said he felt a "pop" in his injured left hamstring on the third Eagles series, when he scrambled for a yard gain on first down from his 31, the 33-year-old quarterback looked hesitant and hobbled from the moment he took the field. He threw a terrible interception to Antrel Rolle in the first series, and took a 12-yard sack, during which he had to recover his own fumble, in the second series.
Halfway through their season at 3-5 but still just a game out of first place in the NFC East, the Eagles face the weeks ahead not knowing when either Vick or concussed QB Nick Foles will be able to play. Vick indicated he decided he had to play against the Giants when Foles went down in last week's 17-3 loss to the Cowboys. The implication wasn't that Vick suddenly felt great when he saw Foles wobble off, it was that he thought the team needed him and he'd better go, ready or not, an undercurrent throughout the week - but one to which Kelly apparently was oblivious.
"Watching him in practice, I didn't see any ill effects," Kelly said. "None of our coaching staff or training staff or doctors saw that . . . He said he felt good . . . When it was originally diagnosed, it was supposed to be 10-to-14 days [something Kelly never disclosed until yesterday]. It was actually 21 days."
Apparently, Kelly didn't read anything into Vick's reluctance to cut loose and run hard in practice before Friday. On Thursday, Kelly downplayed the idea that Vick was risking reinjury. "I'm hoping that we can clean it up and our guys in the strength room are doing some different things with him from that standpoint so that this thing doesn't occur again," Kelly said then.
The "guys in the strength room" didn't do that, and the Eagles wasted their defense's second solid effort in a row, a phrase we never thought we'd be typing a month ago.
"I really can't say if I should have or shouldn't have played," Vick said after completing six of nine passes for just 31 yards. The Giants piled up a 116-16 yardage edge in the first quarter. "I took it upon myself to try to get ready to go out there and help this football team win . . . Once Nick got hurt last week, I just made up my mind that I was going to try to get out there."
Asked how many first-team reps he got, Barkley said: "Not many."
Kelly said: "I think Matt's been thrown in twice into some tough situations." (The media corps did an admirable job of refraining from yelling in unison, "YA THINK???")
"They said he didn't feel right," Kelly said when asked how Vick looked to him before the reinjury. "But when they asked him if he could go back in, he said he could. After the [fourth] series, I went over and talked to him and said, 'Mike, where are you?' And that's when he told me he couldn't go."
The decision to play Vick was just the first stone in an avalanche of questionable Kelly decisions yesterday. There was the naked boot with Barkley on first-and-goal from the Giants' 2, coming out of a timeout with a minute and 14 seconds left in the first half. Barkley was hit and fumbled the ball away. The Eagles had plenty of time, on first-and-goal, to hand it to LeSean McCoy, probably more than once, but instead Kelly put the entire drive on the shoulders of the rookie QB.
There was the onside kick after the gift Najee Goode touchdown on a bad Giants punt snap, with more than 4 minutes remaining in the fourth, the Eagles down eight points. There were punts that sure seemed like good chances to go for the first down, and one time, early in the third quarter, when the Eagles went for it instead of kicking a field goal that would have gotten them on the board and maybe bought Barkley some confidence. It was hard to discern a coherent philosophy at work, beyond "What the hell, let's give this a try."
Kelly gave an insight into his thinking when he talked afterward about "instability at the quarterback position" being the problem in these back-to-back home losses within the division in which his team has not scored a touchdown. Then he talked about how he's the play-caller, and said: "In the last 2 weeks I haven't done a very good job of it."
Kelly is right that you're dead in this league if you don't get good quarterbacking. But it's disappointing that after the Dallas loss, knowing he probably wasn't going to get stellar QB play yesterday from a guy coming off an injury or a rookie, Kelly couldn't figure out a way to run the offense through McCoy, (15 carries, 48 yards) or razzle-dazzle his way to even one touchdown.
"I think when you're unsettled at that position in this league, it's real difficult," Kelly said. "I was concerned all week long. When you're not settled at that position in this league, you better have a quarterback. And right now we're unstable at the quarterback spot and we are not playing well at the quarterback spot, and we lost our last two games because of it."
The way the Eagles' offensive line talked all week, it seemed they had a plan to run the ball effectively against the Giants. Whatever the plan was, it didn't work, like every other plan the Eagles tried.
"It starts with me," McCoy said afterward. "I have to get out there and get it going."
Nobody's going to run Kelly out of town until he has a chance to prove his system with his own (probably first-round) quarterback out there next season, and more of the weapons he chose. But these last 2 weeks have been disquieting, and yesterday's muddle was really a head-scratcher.
Why an onside kick with 4:11 left in a one-score game? (Putting aside that the execution of the kick was awful, Alex Henery blooping it into Rolle's breadbasket.)
"I only had one timeout, so it didn't matter if we kicked it deep, it was still the same amount of time on the clock," Kelly said, neatly avoiding the issue of how, once the Giants recovered, they were almost within range of a field goal that would have made it a two-score game.
Why punt at the Giants' 47, on fourth-and-4 with 10:21 left, down 15-0?
"It was a two-score game," Kelly said. "So I knew we were going to stop them."
Yet, the very next Eagles series, it was still a two-score game, and Kelly elected to have Barkley throw for it on fourth-and-10 from the Giants' 36. Then, when Jason Avant was proclaimed to have committed offensive pass interference while gaining the first down, Kelly went for it again on fourth-and-20.
The boos came early and often in the Eagles' franchise-record 10th loss in a row at home, where they don't play again until Nov. 17, against the Redskins.
"It's more a matter of us losing," regardless of the locale, linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Home or away, it's us dropping games we should have won, and that's the disappointing part."
On Twitter: @LesBowen