After losing a gamble, Kelly goes with a sure thing

Chip Kelly's call for a QB sneak on fourth down could have been costly, but the Eagles still won. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Chip Kelly's call for a QB sneak on fourth down could have been costly, but the Eagles still won. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: December 31, 2013

ARLINGTON, Texas - Chip Kelly gambled. He lost. But he went back to his bread-and-butter, his zone read, his franchise tailback, his explosive running attack, and the Eagles won.

Kelly had not yet been asked to win a game, not only of this magnitude, but of this type in his first season as the Eagles' coach. When the Eagles have won it has been either by a large margin or by them holding on by the skin of their teeth after they jumped out to a big lead.

There were games that were tight and that the Eagles put away with strong fourth quarters on the road - against the Giants, the Buccaneers, and the Packers.

But Sunday night's game against the Cowboys was altogether different. Kelly needed to recover after he blew a series by the Dallas goal line late in the third quarter when he went for it on fourth down at the 1.

"We felt with the ball at the half-yard line, we've got to be able to punch it in," Kelly said.

The Eagles were up, 17-16, and the call was a quarterback sneak. Nick Foles, though, couldn't muster a yard behind an offensive line that was inconsistent all night. But the Cowboys didn't capitalize on the turnover on downs, and when the Eagles got the ball back, Kelly went to the ground.

Starting from their own 40, Kelly called for rushes on nine of 11 plays - the last a Bryce Brown 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles a 24-16 lead and enough to hold off the Cowboys and win the NFC East title in the coach's first season.

"Just felt like that's what we needed at that time," Kelly said.

LeSean McCoy was held to no gain on his first carry on the drive, but Kelly stuck with his tailback after Foles connected with Riley Cooper for 19 yards. McCoy, who won the NFL's rushing title this season, ran for 8 yards, then 1, then 2 - converting a third down.

Foles hit Jason Avant on the next play for 6 yards, but that would be the last pass of the drive. Brown zoomed around the corner for 5 yards, and McCoy gained 3, 6, and 6 yards on three straight carries down to the 6-yard line.

Brown, who broke out last week for 115 yards after a frustrating first 14 games, got the call on the next play and went off the left end and into the end zone. Kelly's play-calling was perfect.

It was the opposite one series earlier, especially inside the red zone. On the first three plays of the drive, McCoy rushed three times for 24 yards. He gained only 1 yard on his first tote, but McCoy picked up 13 and 10 yards on the next two tries down to the Dallas 38.

Foles hooked up with Brent Celek on the next play for 22 yards, and the Eagles had first and goal at the 6. But Kelly got cute. He had Brad Smith motion into the backfield, and Foles handed off to the wide receiver/man of many talents.

The play was designed for Smith to throw back to Foles, but the Cowboys covered the quarterback. Smith then rolled out and tried for Zach Ertz in the back corner of the end zone, but he threw it behind the tight end.

"We were trying to score," Kelly said. "We thought we were going to be in man coverage down there. We had a throwback to the quarterback, if not, we just missed Ertz."

Kelly had similarly used Smith in the red zone earlier this season when he had him take a direct snap - no, it wasn't the Wildcat, Kelly insisted - against the Cardinals. But he fumbled the snap and lost yardage. The Eagles settled for a field goal.

The coach's gamble didn't cost the Eagles the game. They hung on to beat Arizona. And it didn't cost him here.

A play after Smith's incomplete pass and a Foles errant pass, DeSean Jackson caught a pass a yard shy of the goal line. Kelly kept his offense on the field on fourth down, and the ball was snapped, but Dallas had called a timeout just before the exchange.

Kelly didn't change his mind after the reset. Ahead by 17-16 and looking to expand the lead, the call was a sneak. Foles tried to churn his legs behind his line, but the Cowboys wouldn't move an inch. He was stopped, and the momentum switched back to Dallas.

The Cowboys went 59 yards the other way as the Bill Davis defense kept bending. But on fourth down, linebacker Connor Barwin batted a Kyle Orton pass down at the line of scrimmage, and the Eagles held. More important, Kelly and his offense had another opportunity to quickly erase the memory of that sloppy sequence.

The last time the Eagles called for a quarterback sneak on fourth down at the 1-yard line they were successful. The circumstances were similar. The Eagles led the Lions, 22-20, early in the fourth quarter, and Kelly wasted no time deciding to go for it.

The offensive line got tremendous push up front, and Foles plowed ahead behind left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis. When he scored, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson were jubilant and hugged.

The Eagles had run all over the Lions, but Kelce explained after the game that that run play was the most pleasing. He said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland had introduced a new way to block that sneak, and the line had waited almost the entire season to pull it off.

But it didn't work against the Cowboys.

It didn't matter.

Kelly got it right the next time.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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