PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly has had a few misadventures in his first circuit around the National Football League. But his play calling in the second half of Sunday's 24-16, white-knuckle victory over Washington does not qualify.
The first-year Eagles coach has been criticized locally for taking his foot off the gas while protecting (and almost failing to protect) a 24-0, fourth-quarter lead. But Kelly was only doing what he did in wins against Tampa Bay and Green Bay, and he was universally praised for fourth-quarter, clock-draining drives in those games.
“When we have an opportunity to put people away,” Kelly said, “we have to put them away, and we didn't do that.”
Well, they did, but it took until Robert Griffin III threw a floater into the arms of Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds left. The issue is whether or not Kelly's play calling facilitated the Washington comeback, and the answer really comes down to two plays.
The first: On fourth-and-1 at the Washington 38, Bryce Brown was stuffed for no gain by linebacker London Fletcher. Kelly might have been wrong for not having LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, carry the ball there. But a rushing game that averages 4.9 yards per carry should be able to pick up a yard with Brown toting the ball.
“No. 1,” Kelly said, “we were on the 38-yard line, so we weren't going to kick a field goal in that situation. I felt at the time if we could get another first down there, that would have been huge for us. We had had a 13-play drive for a touchdown in the third quarter, so we had proven we could consistently move the football, and we were just half a yard short on the (third-down) pass play to LeSean. Thought we could go with it really quick and try to get one in there.
“I'll give them credit. Fletcher made a great play standing Bryce up in the hole and made the tackle and we didn't convert.”
Kelly is forgiven for not anticipating that a defense pitching a shutout would allow a touchdown on the very next play. And it was a very strange play. Griffin bought some time with his legs and found fullback Darrel Young standing alone along the left sideline. If you're the Eagles, Young is probably the one guy you don't expect to beat you for a 62-yard touchdown.
“We've got to convert offensively,” Kelly said, “but we also can't let them go one play and score a touchdown defensively. It's a combination of both.”
The Eagles' next series was probably Kelly's least impressive, in terms of play calling. But that's better understood if you accept the fluky nature of Young's touchdown, and if you harken back to the 9-minute, 32-second drive in Green Bay.
The Eagles moved the ball from their own 20 to their 44, picking up two first downs on five runs and two passes. If Foles completed the third-down pass to Riley Cooper on third-and-12, maybe we're discussing another epic, game-clinching drive. But he didn't, and Washington scored another touchdown on their ensuing possession.
That brings us to the second pivotal play. On third-and-4 at the Eagles' 23, Foles was flushed from the pocket. He ran to his right, and Washington cornerback Josh Wilson caught him. Foles reached forward, and the on-field officials marked the ball at the 27 for a first down. Washington coach Mike Shanahan challenged the spot and it was moved back far enough to make it fourth-and-inches.
That was the margin between another long, clock-killing drive and giving Griffin the ball with a chance to tie.
“If we had gotten the first down, we may have put them away,” Kelly said. “I know we're trying to do it, but we're not there yet.”
They were there in Tampa and in Green Bay. They were very close Sunday. The play calling was the same in all three situations.