Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Kelly's debut: Exhilarating and exhausting
By Phil Sheridan
Chip Kelly's fast pace took its toll on both teams as fatigue gave way to sloppy play in the second half.
LANDOVER, Md. -- For the first half of Chip Kelly's NFL debut, Philadelphia Eagles fans were pinching themselves, giddily thinking (and texting and tweeting) that this was too good to be true.
Those fans spent the second half being proven correct. Kelly's team may be good. It may even be very good. But that manic first half -- 26 points, 53 plays, 21 first downs, 100-plus yards each for DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy -- was not sustainable for an entire NFL season. Heck, it wasn't even sustainable for an entire NFL game.
"It was a crazy game," Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. "I have never been in anything like it. When the first quarter was over, I thought we were going into halftime. It was unreal."
The Eagles took a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter because their quarterback, Vick, was sharp and playing his best football while the opposing quarterback, Robert Griffin III, looked very much like a young player who missed the entire preseason while rehabbing a knee injury.
But Philadelphia city officials were wise not to schedule that February parade just yet. Griffin brought his team back to within a touchdown. The game came down to an onside kick with little more than a minute left. That was a little close for comfort after the Eagles' dazzling display in the first half.
"A lot of fun for the first half and a lot of nerve-racking bad play in the second half," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "We have to be able to close out the game."
"We never should have let them come back," said McCoy, who finished with a league-leading 184 yards on a career-high 31 carries in the 33-27 win.
"We made some mistakes, including the coach," Kelly said.
This is more than nitpicking about the quality of the victory cigar. Everything that could make Kelly a stunning NFL success was on display in his debut. But so was everything that could undermine his attempt to bring his innovative Oregon offense to the pro level.
The Eagles' uptempo offense worked brilliantly in the first half. They ran a play every 22.4 seconds -- 53 in all. The offense was so efficient, it produced Washington's only touchdown of the half: a 75-yard fumble return on a batted pass that was ruled a lateral.
McCoy ran through enormous holes or cut back to find huge swaths of open field. Jackson was wide open all over the field. So were Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Vick ran the read-option as if he'd been doing it his whole career.
But the Eagles wore down just as much as their opponents did. Kelce said he thought both teams were tired, and that led to the increasingly sloppy play. Players on both teams needed oxygen or took a few downs off to deal with cramping.
On one drive, McCoy jogged off the field, took a knee and gulped breaths of air while Vick continued to run the offense without him. Jackson caught zero passes after halftime. Vick took some hard hits in the pocket, took some more when he ran (and continued to refuse to slide) and even took a few when he blocked for McCoy.
"I didn't put myself in a position to protect myself at times," Vick said, "but that's what I train for."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last time Vick accounted for three touchdowns without throwing an interception was right here at FedEx Field. That was in 2010, in prime time, and Vick looked like he was unstoppable. If the past two seasons proved anything, it's that he is stoppable, especially if he gets hurt.
But it would also be a mistake to dismiss what the Eagles did accomplish here. They won a division game. Their offense showed flashes of what might make it really special, and their defense came out and played with intensity, forcing turnovers and pressuring Griffin.
It was all fun to watch. More important, in a profound way, it was fun to play. Kelly has asked these players to embrace a whole new way of doing things. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has guys such as Trent Cole changing positions and learning new schemes.
Come out and win like this, and everyone buys in just that much more.
"It's just one game, and we've got to build on it or it's not worth anything," Davis said. "They embraced the assignments and the techniques. The fact that we had success with the things that we've been preaching, that is a huge step in our confidence. That's where we are as a team."
All summer, the Eagles have carried themselves as if they had a little secret they were just dying to share. They listened to Kelly and liked what they heard. They believed it would work.
But until Monday night, when Jackson was dancing in the corner of the end zone with a football in his hands, they couldn't be sure it would work.
Now they are.
"The tempo really worked," McCoy said. "I don't think anyone has seen it that fast. We've got to learn. We're learning as the thing goes. Coach Kelly is a great coach. Today is the first time a lot of the guys in the locker room had fun. We couldn't wait to get back out there and have fun."
It wasn't perfect. How could it have been in Week 1? But it was awfully impressive. Was it too good to be true? There are 15 more games to find that out.