NFL Nation: Alex Henery

Midseason report: Detroit Lions

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
11:00
AM ET
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Matthew Stafford stood at the podium a continent from home last month, almost giddy.

The sixth-year Detroit Lions quarterback had completed the unthinkable a few moments earlier, leading the Lions to their second straight double-digit come-from-behind win against an NFC South team, this time a 22-21 win against the Falcons in London.

There Stafford stood, possibly happier than anyone in the United Kingdom at that moment. In the NFL, these types of comebacks don't happen. This isn't college and Stafford is no longer at Georgia. Yet there he was, running the offense for the inexplicable, improbable, unbelievable Detroit Lions. They are 6-2 and controlling their own playoff future for the second straight season after a first half of a season that has included big comebacks and some of the worst kicking performances in recent NFL history.

MVP: The defensive line. This was a tough call because of the sustained strong play of receiver Golden Tate, who has often been the sole reason the Lions were able to have offensive success. But the Detroit defense has been in the top 10 in almost every category for the majority of the season, and all of that begins with the 10 men on the defensive line. Ndamukong Suh is the No. 5 defensive tackle in the game, according to Pro Football Focus, and Nick Fairley, before his knee injury, was ranked 12th by PFF. Why this unit earns the MVP award, though, is because of its role players. George Johnson was an off-the-street find who has given the Lions another pass-rusher besides Ezekiel Ansah at end. Jason Jones is playing back to form and Darryl Tapp is showing versatility against the run and pass. The Lions don't have anywhere close to the top-rated defense in the league if not for the front four.

Biggest disappointment: Nate Freese and Alex Henery. The Lions' first and second kickers this season were abysmal. Freese turned into a wasted draft pick who probably should not have been kept in training camp over Giorgio Tavecchio. Freese was cut after an inconsistent preseason and three weeks of missed kicks. The Lions replaced him with Henery, who on paper looked to be a decent option. However, he missed three field-goal attempts against Buffalo, including a potential game-winner, and he was gone the next day, replaced by Matt Prater. That the Lions couldn't figure out their kicking situation until Week 6 reflects on the coaches and front office.

Best moment: The last four minutes against New Orleans. The first of two improbable comebacks in the first half of the season, the way Detroit came back from 13 points down against New Orleans in the final four minutes -- a long Tate run-after-catch for a touchdown, an interception by Glover Quin and then a Stafford touchdown pass to Corey Fuller -- encapsulated what the Lions are trying to be this season. It showed Detroit's explosiveness on offense and defense, and after the season it could be one of those wins that is viewed as a turning point.

Worst moment: Calvin Johnson's ankle injuries. The first, against Green Bay, didn't look too bad. Johnson hobbled off the field a little bit but returned later in the game. What followed, though, ended the effectiveness of the top receiver in the NFL for the first half of the season. Johnson was hobbled against the Jets and played against Buffalo, when he aggravated the ankle on his only catch of the day. He hasn't played since, and it has not been good for the Detroit offense or for Johnson, who has dealt with finger, knee and ankle injuries the past two seasons.

Key to the second half: Improved offensive line play. Stafford was sacked 24 times in the first half of the season -- one more time than all of last season. Though the protection has improved the past three weeks, including no sacks allowed against Atlanta, the Lions need to protect him better for there to be sustained success. They also need to figure out a way to block for the run more effectively. The Lions have one of the two worst rushing offenses in the league a season after running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell were considered one of the best tandems in the NFL. Games at New England, Chicago and Green Bay are going to be much tougher for Detroit to win in winter if it can't find its run game.
[+] EnlargeMatt Prater
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoMatt Prater, the Lions' newest kicker this season, went 1-of-3 on field goals Sunday at Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Another week, another round of questions and a vote of confidence from Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell about his kicker.

At least this time, he has years of statistical evidence to back up that confidence.

Caldwell and the Lions would rather not be answering kicking questions again after a 17-3 win against Minnesota on Sunday, but Detroit is bordering on historic failures when it comes to making field goals. Matt Prater -- the third kicker the Lions have had in six weeks -- went 1 of 3 on his field goals at gusty TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday leading to ugly stats and more issues.

"Wind like we had today had an issue," Caldwell said. "He kicked a 52-yarder, which was great, and we have all the confidence in the world in him. The guy's got a great track record and we feel good about him."

They can't, though, feel good about their kicking game. This is a unit that has missed 10 field goals this season, currently at 5 of 15 through six games. Last season, no team missed more than nine throughout 16 games.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions are also the first team since the Cleveland Browns in 1981 to miss 10 field goals in their first six games. Only three Lions players – center Dominic Raiola, cornerback Rashean Mathis and long snapper Don Muhlbach -- were alive when that happened.

Even more jarring: Ten Lions players were born in 1991 or later, meaning they could have been a decade away from being alive.

As for the Lions' latest kicking conundrum, Prater had not kicked since last season's Super Bowl and had spent the first five weeks of the 2014 unable to play due to suspension.

So he expected to be a little bit off -- but not as rough as he was Sunday, where he missed a 50-yarder wide left and clanged a 44-yarder off the left upright and out.

“Yeah, but not like that,” Prater said. “I didn’t hit it as well as I should have.”

The 44-yard miss dropped the Lions to 0-for-7 this season on field goals between 40 and 49 yards. Consider, entering Sunday, 20 teams were perfect this season from the same distance and every team made at least 50 percent of those kicks except Philadelphia, who had not attempted one from that yardage, and Detroit according to ESPN Stats & Information.

While it is unlikely the Lions shift away from Prater at this point -- he's too established and has too good a track record -- there is at least a little bit of reason for concern considering Detroit’s kicking history this season.

Plus, unlike some of the other misses by his predecessors Nate Freese and Alex Henery, the Lions still won Sunday.

“I’m supposed to make them, so I’m upset with my performance today,” Prater said. “But I’m glad we got the win.”

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Three kickers. One job.

Yes, that can describe both the Detroit Lions' kicking job to date and also the tryout the team will have Tuesday, when the Lions will bring in Matt Prater and Jay Feely, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, along with Connor Barth, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Prater
Feely
One of those guys will likely be the Lions’ next kicker, their third kicker this season. This has been crushing for the Lions, who have put together enough on offense and defense to not have to worry about a kicking game continuously gone awry.

And this has never really had to be an issue before for coach Jim Caldwell. He had good kickers in Indianapolis and Baltimore. Then he came to Detroit and it all unraveled. Though he wouldn’t say it has completely altered offensive play calling and decisions, consistency would help the Lions.

"Consistency makes a difference in terms of how you look at things, how you call plays," Caldwell said. "What determinations you make on what you want to do in a certain situation in areas of the field. All of those things you have to look at."

The Lions need to find a kicker they can trust -- something imperative if they want to have any modicum of success throughout the rest of the regular season and any hope of a playoff berth.

Detroit’s kicking circus has cost the Lions a game already -- anyone who says it wasn’t the biggest factor in the Lions losing to Buffalo on Sunday isn’t being honest -- and considering the majority of NFL games are decided by one possession or less, the Lions have to get it right this time.

They were wrong in keeping Nate Freese over Giorgio Tavecchio, who appeared more consistent throughout training camp. And they missed again on the signing of Alex Henery, who struggled during the preseason with Philadelphia, lost his job and couldn’t kick the ball straight in two games for Detroit.

Caldwell explained that judging a kicker is tough because they don’t see in-game action during tryouts, so the Lions are going to lean on experience and past results as they continue to hunt for a suitable replacement for Jason Hanson, who retired following the 2012 season.

Prater is the most likely option. He’s still young at 30 and made 25 of 26 field goals last season. In his career, he is 51-of-54 in the fourth quarter and overtime, including eight from 50 yards or farther. He was 10-of-10 in the fourth quarter and overtime last season. Had he not been suspended for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, he might still be with the Broncos.

Feely has the experience and the hometown-ish connection as a former Michigan kicker. Though not as efficient as Prater, he also would not carry any of the baggage Prater has. He also could be a good mentor to punter Sam Martin, who is still in his second year in the NFL. Feely is an 82.7 percent kicker in his career and had his best season -- 21-of-23 on field goal attempts -- for the Dolphins in 2007.

Barth is a career 84.2 percent kicker who has been at 82 percent or higher for all but one of his five NFL seasons. But he hasn’t kicked since 2012.

Those are the candidates. By Tuesday evening, it is pretty likely one of them will be the next guy to try and solve the Lions’ kicking woes.
DETROIT – The first one clanged off the upright. The second one didn’t have a chance. The third finished wide left.

This was Alex Henery’s day Sunday as Detroit -- which dropped to an NFL-worst 4-of-12 on field goals -- lost 17-14 to the Buffalo Bills.

And it didn't take long for Henery's job security to become a topic on Twitter. Free agent kicker Jay Feely, who played at the University of Michigan and was cut by Arizona in August, tweeted Sunday evening that he is waiting for the Lions to call. He, along with Matt Prater, would be options if the Lions choose to release Henery.


Detroit led or was tied the entire game until Dan Carpenter’s decisive 58-yard field goal with four seconds left. That came after Henery missed a 50-yarder with 26 seconds remaining.

“It’s unfortunate. I know Henery feels extremely bad, but hopefully he turns that bad feeling into motivation to working hard and to find a way to make these kicks,” said wide receiver Golden Tate. “Because, to me, that’s one game, when we’re up the whole game and moving the ball the way we are, that’s one game that I think we need to win.

“I just hope that doesn’t come back and bite us later in the season.”

Henery
Tate and others offered support for Henery, but kicking has been an issue for the Lions since the preseason, when Nate Freese beat out Giorgio Tavecchio. Then Freese missed four field goals in three games and the Lions cut him for Henery, who has four misses in two games for the team’s 33.3 percentage.

The last time a team started the season this poorly in the kicking game five games into the season was 2009, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made only 2 of 6 field goals. Unlike the Lions, though, the Bucs were 0-5. The Bears were also 2 of 6 through five games in 2005 and were 2-3.

The Lions are 3-2.

Prater
Feely
Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said he couldn’t explain why the Lions have had their issues with field goals, other than performance. But it appears the coaching staff and front office whiffed twice this season with their kicking decisions.

Six of Detroit’s eight misses have been between 40 and 49 yards. Two have been from 50 yards or longer. Caldwell wouldn’t comment on Prater, who was released by Denver earlier this week, as a potential replacement if the team looks to replace Henery.

“This is the big leagues, plain and simple,” Caldwell said. “If I don’t do my job right, same thing will happen. All of us are called into question in that regard. We’ve got to perform.”

It has cost the Lions, especially with a defense playing well and an offense often driving at least into field goal territory.

“It’s definitely frustrating to leave points out there on the board when you move the ball like we did,” Tate said. “But even today, offensively, we can’t worry about, and we can’t we can’t go into games thinking, ‘All right, what’s the special teams going to be?’

“That’s not our job. That’s the coaching staff and we believe the coaching staff is going to put us in the best position to win and that’s that.”

Tate, in part, said he should have done more on his 55-yard reception that put the Lions in position for the game-winning field goal attempt. It capped a seven-catch, 134-yard day when both Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson missed portions of the game to injury.

But as well as the offense and defense have played this season, kicking has failed them.

“This is a performance-based league, plain and simple,” Caldwell said. “You’ve got to perform. So anyone that doesn’t, we take a look and see if we can improve that one way or another.

“That’s our obligation to our fans, our team, our organization.”

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

October, 5, 2014
10/05/14
4:30
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DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 17-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field.

What it means: When two phases fail, a team is not going to win a game, and the Lions learned that lesson Sunday. Special teams was atrocious with three missed field goals from Alex Henery, including a potential game winner from 50 yards. The offense, beaten up by injuries, wasn't much better, struggling to move the ball.

It all rolled into the toughest loss of the season for Detroit, which had 263 yards offense -- and only 95 yards of it in the first half. Matthew Stafford looked inaccurate. Calvin Johnson was barely able to play and the running game was ineffective. It looked an awful lot like the Lions of last season, except Detroit's defense played well and shut down the Bills' running game with 49 yards.

Stock Watch: Rising -- George Winn. In his first NFL game, the suburban Detroit native did pretty well. He ran just like he did in the preseason -- hard and with purpose. Winn had 11 carries for 48 yards and became the primary running back when Reggie Bush left with an ankle injury. Falling -- Calvin Johnson. Things aren't looking great for the Lions' star. A week after he was limited with an ankle injury, he appeared to reinjure it on his one catch of the day, a 7-yard slant from Stafford. He went to the locker room and wasn't seen again. Falling -- the Lions' offense. A wicked day of injuries for them. Besides Johnson, the Lions were without Joique Bell for the entire game and Bush in the fourth quarter.

The kicking circus continues: The Lions signed Henery, a veteran, two weeks ago in the hopes he would stabilize the kicking issues from rookie Nate Freese, who the team released. That hasn't happened. Henery missed three field goals -- from 50 yards to win the game, 44 yards off the upright and way off from 47 yards -- and once again left calls for the Lions to seek their third kicker of the season. Don't be surprised if the Lions hold tryouts again, especially since Matt Prater is available.

Game ball: Linebacker DeAndre Levy was everywhere again. He made 13 tackles, had a tackle for loss and generally snuffed out the Bills' running game. Right now, he may be Detroit's best defender. He was the biggest bright spot on a defense that played pretty well but couldn't overcome the rest of Detroit's issues everywhere else.

What's next: The Lions head to Minnesota for their first division road game of the season, facing the Vikings on Sunday.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Alex Henery started receiving text messages in his Omaha, Nebraska, home on Sunday afternoon.

Henery
Nate Freese had missed another field goal for the Detroit Lions. His friends knew the out-of-work kicker had flown out to Michigan for a workout earlier in the week, so there was a chance Henery would once again be employed if something happened with Freese.

So after another missed kick, that became more of a possibility. On Sunday night, Henery’s three-week unemployment stint ended as the Lions called and expressed interest in signing him to replace Freese.

“It’s one of those things that happens,” Henery said. “I was glad to get a call.”

Henery wasn’t sure exactly what would happen when he left Allen Park, Michigan, last week following a workout with the team along with Garrett Hartley and the late Rob Bironas. Henery felt he kicked well and said he made a 60-yard field goal during the tryout.

But the Lions didn’t give him much of an indication, although he said he felt the Lions wanted to see how Freese would respond last Sunday.

Once Freese missed that kick -- combined with Detroit coach Jim Caldwell’s postgame response that they would once again evaluate the position -- sealed Freese’s fate with the Lions and opened up a job.

Henery, who played with Ndamukong Suh at Nebraska, said he kicked field goals and punted in college. Then, with the Philadelphia Eagles, he kicked field goals and handled kickoffs and made 74 of 86 field goals in his three years with Philadelphia.

In Detroit, he said he has been told he’ll only handle field goals since the team has Sam Martin to handle punts and kickoffs -- as well as being Henery’s holder.

So, Henery got on a plane from Nebraska to Michigan on Monday morning and now rejoins the NFL workforce once again.

“Excited to get out here,” Henery said. “And get underway.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – This was never going to end well in Detroit for Nate Freese.

Not after a shaky start to the preseason. Not after he missed three field goals in the first two weeks from 40 yards or further. And certainly not after Sunday, when Freese missed another field goal from 40-plus yards, dropping him to 0 of 4 from a length that has to be makeable for a reliable NFL kicker.

It became apparent Detroit’s coaching staff lost faith in the rookie drafted in the seventh round in May after Lions coach Jim Caldwell said the team would be evaluating all options for the second straight week. That he said the team would have a decision soon on Sunday also was a poor sign for the rookie.

Freese
And it’s a tough deal for him. Kicker, along with punter and quarterback, are the most solo positions on the roster and the one where poor production is blatantly obvious to everyone involved. When it’s a kicker, it’s even rougher because chances are the team doesn’t have a ton invested in the player.

So if he isn’t producing -- and Freese was not producing on any level over the first three weeks of the season -- he wasn’t going to have a job for much longer.

Detroit, in some ways, got lucky over the past three weeks. Freese’s errant leg did not cost them a game, although his two misses against Carolina certainly changed the tenor of the Lions’ only loss. But most games in the league are decided by one possession or less.

And when you have a kicker who is not hitting field goals and does not have a track record of professional consistency that gives you the idea he can work his way out of it, it is tough to keep him around.

So in his place, the Lions will sign Alex Henery, a former fourth-round draft pick who lost his job in Philadelphia last month. Henery has shown the ability to make field goals in clutch situations and to be consistent throughout a season.

That, more than anything, is what the Lions need from a kicker right now as they continue to find a replacement for Jason Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Detroit is hoping Henery ends up being it.

Free-agency primer: Eagles

March, 7, 2014
3/07/14
11:00
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.

Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.

What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season, SI.com’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.

Philadelphia Eagles season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014
1/08/14
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 11
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

Biggest surprise: Easy. Nick Foles. He started six games as a rookie in 2012, winning one of them and pretty much disappearing amid the debris of a 4-12 season. He seemed like a terrible fit for new coach Chip Kelly's offense, especially in contrast to the mobile Michael Vick. When Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles seized the starting job with epic numbers: 119.2 passer rating (third best all time), 27 touchdowns and two interceptions (best ratio ever). Foles won eight of his 10 starts and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. Anyone who says they saw Foles' season coming is fibbing.

Biggest disappointment: The outcome of Saturday night's playoff game against New Orleans -- which says something about how thoroughly Kelly changed the culture here. No one expected the Eagles to win their division and reach the playoffs, but once they did, plenty of people expected them to win the first-round home game. But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, didn't have his best game, and the Saints caught the Eagles off guard by running the ball so much themselves. The Eagles appeared capable of beating almost anyone, including the Saints, which made the loss hard to swallow.

Biggest need: Defensive difference-makers, especially in the secondary. The cornerbacks were solid and improved steadily by season's end, but a shutdown corner or legitimate playmaking safety would help a lot. A close second would be a pass-rushing threat, preferably from the outside. Trent Cole had a good year making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, but he's not going to play forever. Funny: For the midseason version of this, I listed quarterback as the biggest need. That's how shocking Foles' performance was.

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage, setting Eagles franchise records in both categories. No one could argue with you if you named McCoy MVP of the team, or even of the NFC. But McCoy was the running back when the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point. It wasn't until Foles took over the starting quarterback spot that the Eagles began winning games. That seems like the very definition of "most valuable." Nevertheless, the Eagles' first NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren probably earns McCoy the team MVP award.

 

New Orleans SaintsAl Bello/Getty ImagesThe Eagles had their chances but couldn't do the little things to beat the Saints.
PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Nick Foles warmed up on the sideline, waiting for another chance, for one more possession.

It never came. Instead of running onto the field to try to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to one more score, Foles watched the New Orleans Saints celebrate a 26-24 playoff victory. Instead of regrouping for a playoff game against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday, Foles and his teammates will spend the offseason picking at the seams of a game they let slip away.

"It's tough right now," Foles said. "There are a lot of emotions and I'm holding it together. ... I'm hurting inside right now in my heart."

"They killed us slowly," running back LeSean McCoy said. "It was a terrible feeling. There was nothing we could do but watch."

By the time Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, there was nothing they could do. But for the 59 minutes and 57 seconds before that, there was plenty they could have done.

That's why these are the hardest games to lose, the ones in which a dropped pass here, a missed field goal there accumulate like individual snowflakes until a team's hopes are buried in an avalanche. On Saturday afternoon, the Eagles were improbable NFC East champions with a chance to do something special in coach Chip Kelly's first season.

By midnight, they were finished. Buried.

"It's just disappointing," Kelly said. "I don't think us winning the division or getting to the playoffs was a surprise to us. I just think everybody is really disappointed that we're not moving forward."

"I've never been out of the first round of the playoffs," left tackle Jason Peters said. "I felt like this is the year. But we got knocked out and we're at home now. That kickoff, the missed field goal, a couple drops, that sack -- there's a bunch of stuff that went wrong that's messing with me right now. Just got to get over it."

It will take some of them longer to get over than others. Peters is 31. He tore his Achilles tendon twice and had it surgically repaired twice. After missing the entire 2012 season, he returned this year and earned another Pro Bowl berth. He doesn't know how many more chances he's going to get.

Cornerback Cary Williams won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens last year. He was seething after losing this game, to this team, with so much at stake.

"I don't know whether it was the moment or what it was," Williams said. "But we've got to get better in that scenario, in these situations. We failed. We lost to a team that wasn't necessarily better than us. They weren't better than us, period."

Williams was in the middle of the single play that cost the Eagles most dearly. Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 24-23 lead with 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Shoot the final gun there and Foles' remarkable season is extended by the kind of fourth-quarter comeback that burnishes quarterbacks' reputations. Instead, the Eagles had to kick off. Darren Sproles took the ball 2 yards inside his own zone and somehow got through the Eagles' first wave of tacklers.

"He broke contain," Williams said. "I'm the safety valve there. I didn't want to dive, because if he steps out of my tackle, it's six points. I just wanted to get the man down, just give our defense a chance to get on the field and make a stop."

[+] EnlargeCary Williams and Darren Sproles
AP Photo/Julio CortezCary Williams' horse collar tackle on Darren Sproles proved costly -- it gave the Saints a short field on the game-winning drive.
Williams went high, tackling Sproles and drawing a penalty for a horse-collar tackle. The Saints got the ball at the Philadelphia 48. They ran the ball, converting three first downs and draining the clock until calling a timeout with three seconds left. There would be no time for Foles and the offense to get that one last chance.

"The game came down to us as a defense making a stop, and we knew it was going to come down to that," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "That is what the playoffs are all about. Whoever is on the field last has to stand up and make a play."

But it was all the plays before that created the situation:

Foles held the ball too long and took a sack that turned a makeable Alex Henery field goal try into a 48-yard miss.

Wide receiver Riley Cooper dropped a third-down pass in the third quarter with nothing but green in front of him.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks slapped the ball from Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's grip, but a replay showed the fumble occurred a moment after Graham's knee touched the ground. Instead of a turnover, the Saints kept the ball and kicked a field goal.

Foles' pass to McCoy on third-and-6 in the red zone picked up 5 yards. Instead of a touchdown and a 21-20 lead, the Eagles kicked a field goal and trailed 20-17.

Those are the little loose threads that the Eagles will pick at when they reflect on this game. It didn't matter that they had exceeded expectations to get to this point. They had a chance to keep playing and they fell short.

"There was a missed opportunity tonight," Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said. "We were a dangerous team."

They will be a different team in 2014. Change is inevitable. All of them know that. And while there is every reason to expect good things from Kelly and Foles in the future, nothing is certain.

"It hurts whenever you lose a game that you know you should have won," center Jason Kelce said. "We all expected to do a lot better in the playoffs. As a player, the careers don't last very long. The opportunities you get in the postseason, you have to try to seize them. We didn't seize the day here."

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
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PHILADELPHIA -- Taking a look at several issues arising from the Philadelphia Eagles' 54-11 blowout victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.

McCoy sets the tone. When the Eagles played the Dallas Cowboys in Philadelphia in October, Nick Foles had his worst game of the season, and LeSean McCoy ran for just 55 yards on 18 carries in a 17-3 loss.

“I can't even remember that far back,” McCoy said after rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. “I did not play well, so I can't even remember how that game went.”

The Eagles and Cowboys meet again Sunday. Winner goes to the playoffs.

“I can tell you that they didn't see the best of the Eagles,” McCoy said. “They didn't see the best of Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy -- they didn't see the best of us, but they will this Sunday, so it will be a different story.”

McCoy retained his lead in the race for the NFL rushing title. That wouldn't have happened if coach Chip Kelly had decided to hold him out or limit his touches in an effort to avoid injury.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesTrent Cole had his first three-sack game in three years against the Bears.
“There are times when you're clinched in and you want to keep your guys healthy,” McCoy said. “I understand that. But for the most part ... this is our job. They pay us to come out here and play ball. The fans pay hard-earned money to watch us.”

Accurate Foles. Nick Foles' 84 percent completion rate (21-for-25) was the highest ever for an Eagles quarterback. But that's not even the full story.

Foles' incompletions all came on balls he threw away deliberately. He didn't miss a single pass he intended for a receiver. One of the dumped passes kept the Eagles in position for Alex Henery's 49-yard field goal.

“I thought he made really good decisions,” Kelly said. “That's one thing that he's been great with is his decision making has been outstanding. He hasn't put the ball in harm's way. He could have taken a sack and gotten us out of field goal range.”

Foles said he has “learned the hard way” how and when to throw the ball away. “I have forced balls before. You watch film and understand the game and the strategy. It is not bad to throw the ball away. It actually is really good.”

Foles has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions this season.

“He was throwing the ball well in that pregame routine that we've been doing every week,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “He was throwing the ball with a lot of zip, and you kind of knew he was going to be on fire from the get-go.”

Cole minding. Outside linebacker Trent Cole's first three-sack game in three years was a testament to the veteran's perseverance in making the transition from defensive end in the Eagles' old 4-3 defense.

“Trent was lights-out tonight,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “That's what Trent is capable of doing -- taking over games, dominating offensive tackles and getting to the quarterback. It's a tough transition when you ask a guy who has been rushing for 10 years to drop back and cover zones. He's an unselfish player.”

Cole, 31, didn't have a single sack through the first half of the season. He has eight in the last seven games.

“Anybody that plays as hard as Trent Cole, you love seeing success,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “That man's never seen a down where he hasn't given everything he's had.”

Wolff nicked. Rookie safety Earl Wolff returned after missing four games with a knee injury. He left the game after one series.

“He did nick the knee,” Davis said.

The plan was for veteran Patrick Chung to start and to ease Wolff back into action after the layoff. Chung played the first two series. Wolff came out for the Bears' third possession.

On the first play of the second quarter, a third-and-2, Jay Cutler threw for Brandon Marshall. Wolff made a nice play, breaking up the pass. But he looked a little shaky going to the sideline and didn't return to the game.

“It's not anything that bad,” Davis said. “I just made the decision, 'Unless, I need you, I'm not going to roll you in because you're still fighting that.'"

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A review of four issues raised by the Philadelphia Eagles' 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: Minnesota kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson is dangerous, so the Eagles decided to use short kickoffs that would be fielded by other members of the Vikings’ return team.

“It was a game plan, just like an offensive or defensive game plan,” cornerback and special teamer Roc Carmichael said. “We worked on it all week. We wanted to keep the ball out of (Patterson’s) hands. He’s a dynamic guy. We felt we could do better kicking it to the tight ends or fullbacks or those up guys.”

The strategy gave the Vikings consistently good field position. After kickoffs, they started drives at their 25, 38, 25, 34 and 46, respectively. If Alex Henery had simply kicked the ball out of the end zone, as Minnesota’s Blair Walsh did seven times, the Vikings would have started on their 20 each time.

“Even if you do kick it deep,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, “he takes it out. He’s got a 109-yard kickoff return. We knew how dangerous he was, and we were just trying to keep the ball away from him.”

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Andy KingIt was a long day in Minnesota on Sunday for running back LeSean McCoy and the Eagles.
Fourth-and-a-half-yard: Kelly made one good point about his decision to go for it on fourth down at his own 24-yard line in the third quarter.

“You have to think on fourth-and-a-half-a-yard, we can get a half a yard,” Kelly said.

But LeSean McCoy's dive over left guard fell short. Kelly challenged the spot -- in for a penny, in for a pound -- and wound up losing a timeout.

“It started as a combination block with me and Evan (Mathis),” center Jason Kelce said. “The 'backers are flowing hard to their gaps, so you can’t stay on the double-team that long. When he left, I started pushing my guy to the left. Shady tried to hit that hole. It looked like he just dove forward. I’m not sure why we didn’t get it.”

It was McCoy’s second try to pick up that single yard. On third-and-1, he was stopped on a run around right end.

“We shouldn’t have been in that situation,” Kelce said, “if we did a better job on third down. We had a good play called, I thought. I was pulling. I got picked by one of the blocks inside. That made LeSean bounce it outside.”

Trying too hard: Eagles quarterback Nick Foles prides himself on being a team-first guy. So when he had to block a linebacker on a reverse, he didn’t settle for the usual quarterback patty-cake block. He dove in an attempt to take the player out.

“In the heat of battle, I made a mistake,” Foles said. “I made a block that I thought would help the team. You cannot turn back on someone and do that. I am at fault and the referee made the correct call.”

The penalty for an illegal peel-back block negated DeSean Jackson's touchdown. The Eagles instead kicked a field goal. The irony is that the pattycake block -- just getting in front of the defender -- would have been effective in springing Jackson.

“He has to seal that guy,” Kelly said. “I don’t think he had to cut him.”

Unraveling: Things got messy for the Eagles toward the end of the game.

Jackson made a great run after a short pass from Foles, making five defenders miss for a 51-yard gain to the Minnesota 4-yard line. The normally up-tempo Eagles couldn’t get a play off before the clock ran down and were flagged for delay of game.

After Foles’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Jason Avant made it 41-28, the kicking team started on the field. Kelly had to waste a timeout to set up for the two-point conversion.

“It was just a miscommunication upstairs,” Kelly said. “We should have gone for two, and that’s on me.”

Then there was the wave of penalties: Carmichael for taunting, Patrick Chung and Cary Williams for unnecessary roughness, Carmichael for 30 yards for pass interference.

Carmichael said he and Vikings wide receiver Rodney Smith had been going back and forth all game on special teams.

“I told him it was going to be a long day,” Carmichael said. “I turned around and there was a flag. It’s part of the game.”

Williams didn’t talk to reporters after the game.

Midseason Report: Philadelphia Eagles

November, 6, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The curiosity factor about Chip Kelly and the Eagles was off the charts. Would the innovative Oregon coach take the NFL by storm? Would he be another Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino, crashing hard at the next level? Somewhere in the middle?

We can safely rule out the first possibility. Kelly has plenty of time to be a successful NFL coach, but you only get one chance to storm the beaches, and Kelly’s moment has passed. After one heart-pounding half on "Monday Night Football" at Washington, the Eagles have been good, bad and mediocre. But a 4-5 record (0-4 at home) is, by definition, not taking the league by storm.

Forgetting the expectations and the hype, and remembering that this was a 4-12 team last year with a muddied quarterback situation, here are the midterm grades for Kelly and his Eagles.

PHILADELPHIA -- There’s no debating Chip Kelly on this point. His Philadelphia Eagles are indeed “unstable at the quarterback position” due to Michael Vick’s hamstring, Nick Foles’ concussion and Matt Barkley’s inexperience.

So it is all the more important for the Eagles to be stable at another position: head coach. We’re not talking about security -- Kelly has the full confidence of Eagles owner Jeff Lurie -- but rather stability in the sense of a reliable relationship with reality.

Kelly’s offense did not produce a touchdown in two home losses to NFC East rivals Dallas and the New York Giants.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
John Geliebter/USA TODAY SportsEagles rookie quarterback Matt Barkley saw extensive playing time against the Giants in Week 8.
“It’s the same group, for six games, we were on track to set records,” Kelly said. “So I don’t think we’re going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and say we have to do something new here.”

The early success and the recent lack of it suggest NFL defensive coordinators have figured out Kelly’s offense to some degree. And perhaps the trend suggests Kelly’s uptempo approach to everything from practice routines to offensive play is not sustainable with 53-man rosters after all.

Again: These are possibilities worth considering.

“I don’t think that people have it figured out,” Kelly said Monday. “I can tell you what Peyton Manning’s going to do, but you still have to stop that. ...It’s still about executing. You’re not going to surprise people eight games into a (season).

“We have to run the right depth on our routes, we have to catch the ball when it’s thrown to us, we have to put the ball on people when people are open, we have to hit the hole when the hole is there, we have to create a hole when the hole’s not there. That’s just executing football.”

Translation: Kelly’s offense is as good as ever. The players are messing it up.

By that reasoning, Kelly’s play call on first-and-goal at the 2-yard line was flawless. It was the players that botched it. Specifically, it was Barkley that botched it.

“He made a bad decision at the end of the first half,” Kelly said. “He knows he made a mistake and we’re going to chalk it up from there.”

No doubt Barkley made a poor decision. He should have thrown the ball out of the end zone instead of trying to outrun an NFL cornerback while also seeking an open receiver and setting up to throw.

But is it surprising that a rookie who had barely practiced would have a poor sense of just how fast things happen in the red zone against NFL players? It shouldn’t be. Kelly put Barkley in a terrible situation there. That’s the relationship with reality that Kelly has to establish, and quickly.

He also pointed out that kicker Alex Henery had executed onside kicks very well in practice and then kicked it too far in the game.

That’s what happens in games -- the things you draw up on the whiteboard don’t go exactly as you imagined. Kickers mis-hit the ball. Defenders go unblocked. Running backs cut inside when there’s more space outside.

“We were successful for six games,” Kelly said. “If I look at the last two, just analyzing what the situation is, in both games we got to our third quarterback. That’s a difficult proposition.”

It is. But the reality is that Foles played three brutal, scoreless quarters before being injured in the 17-3 loss to Dallas. And Vick was ineffective in the passing game in both games against the Giants, before he was injured and before he was reinjured.

And the reality is the run game has stagnated. It could be that LeSean McCoy simply forgot how to run through a hole, as Kelly implied. Or it could be that defenses have figured out how to slow McCoy down. Or it could be that the early workload and fast pace have taken a toll on McCoy, as well as the offensive line.

The Eagles' offense has problems beyond a bad decision by a rookie quarterback or a poorly run route by a receiver. If Kelly is going to fix them, the best way to start is by acknowledging them.

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