Chip Kelly Era Recap Part 4: The Hammer Falls
Despite an overhaul of talent in the offseason, the 2015 Eagles had a fantastic preseason. After outscoring their opponents by large margins and playing as a cohesive team unit. Best of all, they made believers out of experts and fans alike.
However, all of this was irrelevant until the official games were played. And from the very start of the Birds’ first regular season game against the Falcons in Atlanta, it became obvious to all that the preseason dominance was over.
What transpired wasn’t pretty. Julio Jones torched the Eagles “new” secondary for 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Despite trailing 20-3 at halftime, the Eagles had an opportunity to take the lead with just over two minutes remaining. However, Cody Parkey, who struggled towards the end of the 2014 season, missed a 44-yard field goal. The Eagles lost 26-24.
The Falcons loss was tame compared to the Cowboys debacle a week later. Despite losing quarterback Tony Romo to an injury, Bradford had three turnovers, including a fumble on a shotgun snap, and the Cowboys beat the Eagles 20-10. Don’t let the score fool you: the Cowboys were in control on the game the entire time. Murray, in his first game against his former team, rushed for only two yards behind an offensive line that was already a mess. Replacements Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner were quickly showing why they were backups instead of starters.
After a win against the Jets up in North Jersey, the Eagles fell to 1-3 the next week after a 23-20 loss to the Redskins. Kicker Caleb Sturgis, who replaced an injured Parkey, missed an extra point and field goal. Murray, who seemed more and more out of place in Kelly’s system, voiced his displeasure with getting only eight touches.
The heat was starting to come down on the team and Kelly. Even though his 2013 Eagles squad also started off 1-3 but later won the NFC East, there was a different feeling this time. The team didn't seem to be coming together, it seemed to be coming apart. Kelly, who was never Mr. Warm and Fuzzy in his press conferences, couldn’t get away with his sarcastic one-liners with the same leniency as before. His demeanor, which initially seemed funny in the outset of his coaching tenure, now came across as arrogant and condescending. Moreover, there was even reports that he was rapidly losing locker room support.
Amidst the alleged dissension in the ranks, the Birds managed to win three of their next four games, including a thrilling overtime win against the Cowboys in Dallas. Bradford, after initially struggling, seemed to be finding his groove.
However, any momentum the Eagles found in the Dallas game dissipated quickly, as the team squandered a 13-point lead the next week in a 20-19 loss to the Miami Dolphins. In the game, Bradford suffered a separated shoulder and concussion, while replacement Mark Sanchez threw a crucial interception, sealing the Dolphins victory. The next two weeks represented some of the worst football the team played in the Kelly era. The Birds' next two losses were by a combined margin of 59 points. The first was a 45-17 laugher to the below-marginal Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the second a 45-14 drubbing to the equally bad Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. The team seemed to be in turmoil again. This time, well-respected veteran Malcolm Jenkins came forward with criticisms of the lack of overall team accountability created by Kelly and his staff.
Despite the inconsistency on both sides of the ball throughout the entire season, the NFC East was still up for grabs when the Eagles went into Gillette Stadium to play the Patriots in early December. In a game nobody ever expected the Eagles to win, they shocked the football world by upsetting Tom Brady and co., 35-28. Bradford returned and effectively ran the offense, while the defense and special teams scored touchdowns as well. The Eagles continued their momentum with a victory against former Eagle LeSean McCoy and the Bills at Lincoln Financial Field.
With the NFC East somehow still up for grabs, the Eagles weren’t able to duplicate their success of the previous two weeks, getting blown out at home by the Arizona Cardinals, 40-17. The Eagles had numerous chances to stay in the game, including a failed attempt to capitalize when trying to tie the game on a 4th and 1 on the Cardinals’ eight-yard line. DeMarco Murray (now was relegated to a backup role) who is 14 for 14 on third and fourth downs of two yards or less in his career, was not even on the field for the play.
While many figured Arizona to be a tough opponent for the Eagles going tinot the game, the team still controlled their own destiny as biggest game of the year took place the next week at home against the Redskins. With the unspectacular NFC East hanging in the balance, all the Eagles needed to do was win their final two games of the season to take the division. Instead, Washington toppled the Eagles, 38-24. The game was a microcosm for their entire season: wide receivers dropping crucial passes, the defense giving up big plays, and ridiculous penalties combined with crucial turnovers. Jason Peters, one of the best offensive lineman in Eagles history, removed himself from the game for reasons that still aren't clearly known. After winning the NFC East in 2013, Kelly’s Eagles missed out on the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Kelly’s future with the Eagles might have been decided when he basically embarrassed himself at the press conference following the Redskins loss. Kelly, who was handed complete control of personnel by Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie last January, tried to claim he was not the Eagles’ general manager and that he didn’t run their personnel department. Throughout his tenure as Eagles coach, Kelly had rarely publicly acknowledged his own shortcomings in regards to the Eagles’ inconsistency over the past several years. When he then emphasized that that the coaching staff had “not done a good enough job at coaches of putting them in position to make plays,” it felt like an Andy Reid press conference all over again and things had truly come full circle. Clearly, nobody was buying what Kelly was selling anymore. Most importantly, Jeffrey Lurie wasn’t, and his opinion matters most.
What transpired over the span of Monday’s press conference and Kelly’s eventual “release” Tuesday evening is only known by Kelly and Lurie. It has been reported that Lurie asked Kelly to relinquish his personnel title and Kelly refused, which led to his firing.
Lurie basically said at his press conference that Kelly’s firing was a result of an evaluation that took place over Kelly’s three seasons with the team. Although Lurie was quick to thank Kelly for the job he did during as time as coach of the team, he did acknowledge (though indirectly) that he needs his next coach to clearly communicate with his players. Lurie could have talked at that press conference until he was blue in the face, but the bottom line is that he saw the way Kelly was handling things and he didn’t want to see it anymore. The fact that he didn’t wait until the end of the season to pull the plug speaks volumes.
Last week also gave players on the Eagles the chance to voice their opinions on Kelly’s firing. While Bradford and linebacker Connor Barwin claimed to have a good relationship with their former coach, offensive lineman Lane Johnson, offered praise for the coach, but didn’t shy away from offering his thoughts as to why he thought Kelly was dismissed. Not every coach and player is going to get along, but when you lose the team as a whole, there's no going back. And by most accounts, Kelly lost the team.
A Final Thought:
When we look back on the Chip Kelly era, there’s only one word that can be used to describe it: Disappointing.
Of course, Philadelphia is no stranger to expectations that are never fulfilled. Randall Cunningham, Eric Lindros, Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb are just a few of the highly touted athletes who came into town with championship aspirations. Unfortunately, they only turned out to be just that: aspirations. And no matter how many memorable moments were provided by the foursome over the years, I’m sure each and every one of you would exchange all of them for something similar to the 2008 World Series trophy the Phillies have on display inside Citizens Bank Park.
While Chip Kelly wasn’t an athlete, he did come with lofty expectations. For a college coach with no prior NFL experience, perhaps a bit too lofty. Nevertheless, while some say that Kelly might have gotten too quick of a firing and should have been allowed to coach for one more year, this Eagles team was a rudderless ship with no consistency, no accountability, and most importantly, no direction. It was (and is?) heading downward fast, and Kelly, who coached this NFL team of grown adults like a bunch of college students and thought his players were interchangeable, gave Lurie no choice but to pull the plug. At first, his offense was very impressive, but Kelly failed to realize that talent is more important than a system, and not everybody fits into the system just because you're Chip Kelly.
Sometimes, if you take a gamble, you’re going to get burned, and it will most likely take the Eagles several years to recover from this debacle.
Yes indeed, less than three years after hiring a coach, the Eagles are back to square one once again.
And in the process, fans' championship hopes are dashed.
In the next few days, we'll have more on all of this.....
If you missed the first three articles of the Chip Kelly era recap, you can find them in the links below:
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