Kelly goes all in, and wins

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy shares his celebration with fans after a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy shares his celebration with fans after a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Posted: December 24, 2013

APPARENTLY, conventional logic has no place in the Chip Kelly Experience.

With virtually nothing to gain, it would have made sense last night for the Eagles to dispense to the Bears a healthy dose of Bryce Brown, Damaris Johnson, Allen Barbre, Brandon Graham, James Casey, and, what the heck, Matt Barkley; why risk even Michael Vick to injury?

Instead, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jason Peters, Trent Cole, Brent Celek and Nick Foles kept their understudies in the wings.

It was a heady gamble by Kelly, a first-year NFL coach known for innovation and for daring. Dallas' afternoon win at Washington rendered the prime-time matchup almost worthless for the Eagles. Regardless of last night's outcome, the Eagles would still need a win (or, less likely, a tie) in Dallas to make the playoffs. The Eagles could improve their seeding, and they could gain a half-game on the Cowboys . . . but at what possible cost?

The gamble paid nicely. The Eagles' offense recovered from a poor outing in Minnesota and scored three first-quarter touchdowns. The defense stifled a powerful Bears attack.

The Eagles won, 54-11.

The Eagles exited with no serious injuries.

The Eagles, and Kelly, earned the former; they got lucky with the latter.

Consider:

Mike Smith chose to play his starters in the Falcons' season finale last season. The game carried no weight, but Smith believed his team, with a bye week looming, could use the postseason tuneup. So, he played his best players.

That included 34-year-old defensive end John Abraham, who had 10 of the Falcons' 29 sacks in 2012. He helped the Falcons to the top seed in the NFC, the star of a defense that watched Matt Ryan, receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzales present an insoluble problem for most teams.

Then, Abraham sprained his ankle in that meaningless season finale.

Abraham still played in both the Falcons' playoff games. He not only got no sacks in the playoffs, he got no tackles in his 69 plays.

The Falcons had allowed a total of 40 points in their final three games. They surrendered 56 in their two playoff games: 28 in a win over Seattle (which came 2 weeks after Abraham's injury) and 28 in a loss to the 49ers.

Abraham is the most recent and the most cogent argument against playing regulars in meaningless games. He is the argument that the Eagles ignored.

Kelly had little more to play for last night than the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 4. There existed the remote possibility that, should the Eagles tie in Dallas on Sunday, an Eagles win over the Bears would be the difference in the division title. Of course, an Eagles tie in 2008 helped them reach that season's playoffs, and a Packers tie has kept them in this year's race.

Still, when the Eagles kicked off last night, there had been two ties in the 2,528 NFL games since 2008; so there was a 0.8 percent chance the Eagles would tie Dallas.

So you're telling me there's a chance.

Yeah, Lloyd. There's a chance.

Three Eagles offensive linemen - Peters, Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce - played this season coming off season-ending leg injuries in 2012. Herremans and Kelce have admitted their legs remain weaker than before their surgeries. Peters and Herremans are each 31 years old. So is Cole.

The defense entered having played 1,070 plays in 14 games, compared with 964 in 16 games last season. At that pace, by the final gun at Dallas, Eagles defenders will have played about four more games' worth of plays than they did in 2012.

Can extra sleep and tailor-made smoothies compensate for that much more wear and tear? Sports science or not, a week off might have been nice.

Such thinking is heresy for Kelly, whose commitment to excellence outstrips any conservatism.

Foles had played poorly the 2 previous weeks, and every rep helps him grow. Last night marked just his 15th career start.

McCoy and Jackson each had club records in their sights and career years in their hands. Why deny them?

Besides, resting the regulars doesn't always work.

Sure, the Eagles want to be playing their best when the playoffs begin. Firing on all cylinders, gears meshing . . . insert your favorite hackneyed cliché here. However, for the Eagles, the playoffs begin Sunday in Dallas, and the Birds had thrown away their chance at a bye.

In a perfect league, competitive integrity should be tantamount. If teams competed for the best regular-season record, it would be tantamount. In reality, teams compete to reach the playoffs, and then to advance in those playoffs.

Not in Chip Kelly's reality.

To the players' credit, and to Kelly's credit, the Eagles played like their professional lives depended on it.

Their best pass rusher, Cole, ended the Bears' first series with a sack of Jay Cutler, the first of his three sacks in the game.

Foles took a big hit on his second pass attempt but ended the Eagles' first drive with a lovely, running touchdown pass to starting receiver Riley Cooper.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin played, too, a week after suffering a concussion. His punt coverage set up a safety in the third quarter, and he returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth.

Starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher - who, along with starting cornerback Cary Williams, covered kickoffs - stripped Devin Hester to set up the second Eagles touchdown.

Jackson, who returned punts, as usual, took two hellacious hits on that drive. McCoy finished it with two tough runs. The Birds converted fourth-and-goal, from the 1, the first of McCoy's two fourth-down conversions . . . in the first quarter.

Celek caught a TD pass, too.

Play to win?

It's the only way Chippah knows how to play.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

|
|
|
|
|