The ovations for Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb were positive and sustained, as anyone from Philadelphia knew they would be. Their return to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night was a reminder of what was for the Eagles, and what might have been.
Then they played a football game, a demonstration of what is.
And what it is, well, is maddening.
This was the first real setback of Chip Kelly’s tenure. And when offered the chance to blame it on the short week, Kelly was adamant: “I’m not blaming it on anything except our poor execution.”
Just when you think quarterback Michael Vick has embraced this offense and turned into a player who can limit his mistakes and still be productive, Vick throws two interceptions and loses a fumble against Kansas City and nearly throws a couple more picks, leading the way to a five-turnover day for the Eagles.
Just when you think the defense can’t stop anybody, it plays an excellent game for a long time against a quarterback, Alex Smith, who would much rather not make a mistake than make a play.
Just when you think LeSean McCoy might be seriously injured -- he stayed down after a tackle for a long time and had x-rays on his leg at halftime -- he returns triumphantly in the first minute of the second half and ends up with another monster rushing game. Get this: the Eagles rushed for 260 yards as a team and lost.
Just when think the offensive line is the strength of the team...
Ah, forget it. It is going to be like this all season. The only goal now is to avoid getting dizzy as you watch the thing unfold. And on this night, what that meant was hanging on tight as the Eagles clawed their way back from a 16-6 halftime deficit, to a 23-16 deficit in the fourth quarter -- and then watching their defense finally run out of gas.
The Chiefs drove 15 plays and 75 yards and held the ball for 8:15 in the fourth quarter, leading to the 38-yard field goal that sealed a 26-16 victory. Reid goes home with a 3-0 record and whatever vindication he chooses to recognize. Kelly heads to (gulp) Denver with a 1-2 record and as many questions as he has answers.
Take his offensive line. It got pushed around all night by the Chiefs -- including left tackle Jason Peters, the best player on the line. And while it is true that the Chiefs have a fine defensive front, it needs to be repeated that the Eagles' offensive line is supposed to be a strength of the team. Every quarterback struggles when the line struggles, but Vick is particularly affected -- at least partly because he isn't very tall. He had a really rough night on Thursday, getting sacked five times, throwing the two picks and also throwing a handful of those oh-no passes where he stares down the receiver and begs the defender to intercept them.
As Kelly weighed the blame after the game, he put more of it on the line than he did on Vick. He said, “We gave up too much pressure tonight. A lot of times they were just rushing four...We put Mike in a lot of bad situations.”
Kelly said it was not a schematic issue, adding, “We got beat in some individual match-ups against some good guys.”
The O-line was supposed to carry them this year. Vick was supposed to be different this year. We had evidence from the first two games, when neither Washington nor San Diego seemed able to stop the Eagles’ offense. In those first two games, the only times the Eagles were stopped was when they stopped themselves, with dropped passes and penalties and the like.
As Kelly said, “We can move the ball up and down the field -- I think we’ve proven that.” But they are leaving the ball on the ground. They are making mistakes. Maybe that is understandable, given how new everything is, and maybe it was naive to expect uninterrupted progress, but the errors are mounting. Because of that, their drives are shorter than they should be and the defense is gassed at the end.
“We’re not running enough plays,” Kelly said.
So we thought we saw something that the Eagles were building. And then Andy Reid came to town and everything reverted back to the old days.
This was absolutely a setback. And now we get a chance to look at Chip Kelly with the heat turned up a little higher.