Philadelphia Eagles: Alex Henery

5 to watch: Alex Henery

July, 4, 2014
PHILADELPHIA -- With training camp looming in a few weeks, let’s finish up our weeklong look at the Philadelphia Eagles players with the most to prove, and the most to lose, this summer.

Kicker Alex Henery will probably be back with the Eagles this season, but there was reason to wonder if the team would look hard for an alternative during the offseason.

Henery missed one of two field goal attempts in a two-point playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. But that 48-yard miss, on the second play of the second quarter, didn’t have as much impact as a kickoff in the fourth quarter that fell two yards into the Saints’ end zone.

Darren Sproles, now an Eagle, returned that kickoff 39 yards and drew a penalty for a horse-collar tackle that gave the Saints the ball at midfield. Having just scored a go-ahead touchdown, the Eagles really could have used a blast through the end zone for a touchback there.

But that is not Henery. And the Eagles have been willing to trade the shorter kickoffs for the accuracy on field goals.

After making 15 of 16 attempts between 40 and 49 yards in his first two seasons, Henery made 7 of 10 such attempts in 2013. For his career, he is just 2-of-5 from 50 yards and out.

“The biggest challenge with Alex is he’s very accurate, over his career, on field goals 48 yards or less,” special teams coach Dave Fipp said. “A year ago, there were only two guys that were better than him in the National Football League. So when you’re looking into improving the position, it’s an interesting dynamic. You’ve got a guy who’s a really accurate field goal kicker, but his kickoffs are not up to par.”

The Eagles signed an undrafted rookie, Vanderbilt’s Carey Spear, to compete with Henery during camp this summer. Judging from Spear’s inconsistency during June practices, that doesn’t look like much of a competition.

But that doesn’t make Henery completely safe. And that is why this summer is important for him. He has to maintain that accuracy on field goals -- ideally, he would even improve on his longer kicks -- while adding a few yards to his kickoff distance. Otherwise, the Eagles could be watching to see which kickers are released by other teams late in the summer.

“If you get a guy who’s a better kicker than him kicking field goals and a better touchback guy, let me know where he is,” Fipp said. “Every team in the league wants him. There’s not a lot of those guys floating around out there. It’s going to be hard to beat him out, but he’s got to get better at a bunch of things, too.”

Henery has room to improve

June, 26, 2014
Alex Henery has performed admirably since being selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

But Eagles special teams coach Dave Fipp believes the kicker can be much better.

The Eagles signed undrafted free-agent kicker Carey "Murderleg" Spear from Vanderbilt to challenge Henery in OTAs and training camp.

Fipp believes it will be difficult for Spear to outduel Henery for the starting job.

“At the end of the day he [Henery] is still a really good kicker,” Fipp told “There are a lot of teams that would like to have a kicker as accurate as him on their team. Would you like him to be better on kickoffs? Sure you would. But if you take both of those stats, where does he rank in the league in [field goals and kickoffs], and add 'em up and divide by two … he’s roughly the 14th-best kicker in this league. So there’s 17 teams that want a guy as good as him.”

Henery has missed just 12 field goals in his three seasons with the Eagles, going 74-for-86. When you’re a kicker, people tend to remember the ones that missed. Henery missed a crucial 48-yarder in the 26-24 playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. noted that Henery has made only two kicks of 50 or more yards in his career.

So there’s clearly work to be done.

“Where his struggles are is long-range field goals,” Fipp told “And I’m not arguing with that, but you’ve got to put everything into perspective. What’s happening? You can’t just look at the end results and say, ‘His numbers are terrible.’ Really, his numbers in a lot of the ranges are really good and most teams in this league would take those numbers. Now, the dilemma is that he hasn’t kicked the ball off well enough, but short to mid to mid-long he’s a very accurate field goal kicker. … Now, touchbacks are a different story.

“But replacing a guy like that is not easy because who’s out there as a field goal kicker? If he’s out there, somebody’s taken him. So you’re trying to find a guy who’s hard to find. But the bottom line is Alex has got to get better. I’ve got to do a better job, he’s got to do a better job, but there are some things he’s really good at.”
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles completed their final practice Thursday before a 35-day break leading up to training camp. Here are three things we can take away from the work just concluded.

There is a commitment to improving the special teams play. Last year, of course, was Chip Kelly’s first in the NFL. That meant enormous changes for the Eagles, from the way they train and practice to the styles of offense and defense they play.

It is understandable that Kelly would focus on special teams more after spending a season in the league. The Eagles added Bryan Braman, a linebacker who excelled on special teams in Houston, and cornerbacker Nolan Carroll, an excellent gunner on coverage teams. Safety Chris Maragos was a special teams regular for Seattle last year. Darren Sproles, who will see plenty of time on offense, is a first-rate return man.

Of course, the Eagles also brought in kicker Carey Spear to compete with Alex Henery. But it has already become clear that Henery is way ahead of Spear when it comes to field goals. Ideally, the Eagles would like to see Henery improve his kickoffs, getting closer to the league average for touchbacks.

“The top [kickers] in the league are in the 70s [percentage-wise],” special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “We’re looking at the 60s as a pretty good number, I think. Alex has been very accurate over his career on field goals, 48 yards or less. There were only two guys who were ahead of him in the National Football League.”

Ultimately, the Eagles are willing to trade some short kickoffs for that acumen on field goals. If Henery can improve a bit on kickoffs, that will help. But so will covering those kickoffs better. That’s where Braman, Carroll, Maragos and Jason Phillips come in. Phillips was added last year as a core special teamer, but tore his ACL in training camp.

Nick Foles has the strongest arm, by far, of the four quarterbacks here. You have to go back to Donovan McNabb’s rookie year, when Koy Detmer and Doug Pederson were in camp, to find as wide a margin between one quarterback and the rest.

In fairness, Mark Sanchez is still on a “pitch count” after surgery to repair his right shoulder last year. Matt Barkley, who was coming back from shoulder surgery last year, does not exactly have a cannon for an arm.

For 15 years of McNabb and Michael Vick, the Eagles always had a quarterback with a high-caliber arm. It may be that arm strength is not as important as other attributes in Kelly’s offense, but the coach says otherwise.

“We focus on everything,” Kelly said. “There's not one thing that we look for and say, ‘You know, he has a quick release but it's OK, he doesn't have a very strong arm.’ I think you want the whole package in terms of what you're looking for. I think it's a combination of how accurate a thrower he is; and I'm not going to say, ‘Hey, I want to take this guy, he can get it out of his hands really quick but he's inaccurate when he throws the football.’ So there's a lot more that goes into it than one thing.”

There looks to be enough speed on offense even with DeSean Jackson gone.

When they were teammates, Jeremy Maclin was the possession receiver while Jackson was the big-play guy. Coming off his second ACL tear, it isn’t reasonable to expect Maclin to become the game-breaking burner that Jackson was. But Maclin has decent speed and still hasn’t played in Kelly’s offense. So it remains to be seen how the coach utilizes Maclin’s skill set.

Sproles and rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff all have very good speed. While Sproles is a running back and not a wide receiver -- something Kelly made a point of emphasizing several times -- he is a guy with a history of making big plays in the passing game. Matthews and Huff will likely contribute more as the season goes on, they become more comfortable and Kelly becomes more familiar with their potential.

Riley Cooper, the other starting wide receiver, got plenty of deep balls thrown to him last year. He benefited from defenses focusing on Jackson, but it looks as if there are enough weapons for Kelly to put strain on defensive coordinators even without Jackson.
PHILADELPHIA -- We didn't really get many answers from the Philadelphia Eagles' recently concluded organized team activities. Going into next week's mandatory minicamp, though, we know enough to ask somewhat better questions.

Matt Barkley or Mark Sanchez? We know Nick Foles will be the No. 1 quarterback, a major development compared to last year's training camp. But the signing of Sanchez to a one-year deal raised as many questions as it answered.

Sanchez has started 62 NFL games and gone to two AFC title games. He is the most accomplished quarterback in camp, and he's only 27. That makes him unlikely to be content to be the long-term backup for Foles. If Foles fails his acid-test season, Sanchez could be the next man up.

And then there's Barkley, who got into a few games as a rookie. His shoulder is healthy now, and he should get an opportunity to outplay Sanchez for the No. 2 spot. Barkley has the confidence to endure another season as the No. 3 QB, but is that really the ideal situation?

How will the wide receivers line up? At present, Riley Cooper is the only one of last year's top three receivers to be in the mix. If Cooper and Jeremy Maclin wind up on the outside, either rookie Jordan Matthews or veteran Brad Smith could become the slot receiver. Or if Matthews has a great summer, Cooper could move to the slot. He has the size for it.

It will be interesting, too, to see how Chip Kelly uses rookie Josh Huff, the third-round pick from Oregon. The Eagles may not have a receiver with the speed or the Pro Bowl appearances of DeSean Jackson, but they certainly have some talent at the position.

How will Kelly use his other offensive weapons? Zach Ertz is going to be on the field. Does that mean Brent Celek, who helped LeSean McCoy lead the NFL in rushing, won't be? Will Kelly use Ertz, rather than a wide receiver, in the slot more often? And what about running back Darren Sproles? What will his role look like?

Earl Wolff or Nate Allen? Malcolm Jenkins will start at one safety spot. Will the Eagles stick with Allen or give Wolff a chance to take a step forward? Allen probably has reached his ceiling. Wolff still has some potential to become a better player. The answer will determine whether the secondary has a chance to be markedly better this season.

What can Marcus Smith do? The first-round pick from Louisville was backing up Connor Barwin in OTAs, but that has more to do with logistics than logic. It is expected Smith will contend for Trent Cole's right outside linebacker job.

The Eagles will be fine with Cole playing a lot this season, as long as Smith develops into a replacement by 2015. But getting some production from Smith in 2014, whether it's from the right or the left side, would be good for everyone.

Alex Henery or Murderleg? Yes, the Eagles signed a rookie free-agent kicker, Carey Spear, with the awesome nickname "Murderleg." No, he's not likely to replace the incumbent.

So let's finish with an answer: Henery. All he needs is a nickname.

Carey Spear adding competition at kicker

May, 23, 2014
Of all the undrafted rookie free agents signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear has to be considered one of the most intriguing players.

Known as "Murderleg" for his ability and penchant to hit players on special teams, Spear will be battling Alex Henery as organized team activities continue.

"No, [I don't hold back], and that's just part of being a team player, trying to embrace the mission," Spear told editor Dave Spadaro. "At Vanderbilt, we had four values -- positive attitude, great work ethic, compete in everything you do and being willing to sacrifice. So that was part of it, just being willing to sacrifice. So whether that's some social time on campus, your body on the field, just being a team player, being all-in, which Coach [Chip] Kelly speaks about being all-in as an Eagle, embracing the mission, being able to sacrifice."

Spear is excited to be with the Eagles and he just wants to get better every day.

"I'm not looking at just making it, right now I'm just focused on being the best teammate I can be," Spear said. "I have great leadership in Jon [Dorenbos], Donnie [Jones] and Al. Those guys have been awesome thus far. In particular, Al's taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes ... I want to make Al better, I want Al to make me better … . Like I said, I couldn't have found a better organization where guys are building each other up and not trying to bring each other down."

The team site noted that Spear hit on 78 percent of his field goals (39-for-50), including four tries of over 50 yards. On kickoffs, just 34 percent of Spear's kicks were not returned, though that number improved to 64 percent during his senior season.

"This is a guy that [special teams coach Dave Fipp] worked out," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told the team site, "and [Fipp] said, 'You have to see this guy. He's a little guy and he throws his body around. He's fun.' So we have some competition there and that's what it's all about. Let's get competition at every spot and let the best man win."

Free-agency primer: Eagles

March, 7, 2014
» 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,’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 -- No play gives a football season its shape quite as profoundly as the play that ends it.

So there could be only one choice for No. 10, the last in our series of plays that shaped the Eagles' 2013 season:

Jan. 4 vs. New Orleans: Shayne Graham kicks a 32-yard field goal.

The Eagles lost their playoff game to the Saints before Graham ever lined up to attempt that kick, of course. But that was a more gradual slipping away, which started right after Nick Foles' 3-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz gave the Eagles a 24-23 lead with just under five minutes left.

You could argue that the decisive play was another kick, Alex Henery's kickoff that landed in the arms of Darren Sproles just inside the end zone. Sproles got loose on the outside. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams had an angle, but was able to drag Sproles down only by grabbing him by his shoulder pads.

The 39-yard return and 15-yard penalty gave New Orleans the ball on the Philadelphia 48.

Yes, it was a big play. But Williams explained that he just wanted to give the Eagles defense a chance to make a stop, and he did. The Saints needed about 20 yards for a reasonable field goal attempt. They moved the ball 34 yards, and they did it while milking every agonizing second possible off the clock.

“They killed us slowly,” Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said.

The Saints ran the ball eight times in nine plays, converting three first downs before bringing Graham out on second-and-10 at the Eagles' 14-yard line. Because of all that had come before, the season-ending play was a chip shot even on a frigid night.

Chip Kelly and his players were cheered as they ran off the field. A first-round playoff loss, for this coach and this team, was progress. The season was over, but there was a sense something bigger was just beginning.

Philadelphia Eagles season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014

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.


PHILADELPHIA -- There is roster change every year for NFL teams. The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in pretty good shape going into the 2014 offseason. They have control over most of their roster and can, for the most part, make only the changes they want.

Here's how the roster shapes up:

Unrestricted free agents: Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin; safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson; quarterback Michael Vick; defensive end Clifton Geathers, punter Donnie Jones.

The Eagles could lose all of those players without taking a major hit. That doesn't mean those players aren't valuable, merely that they're not irreplaceable. It's not as if LeSean McCoy or Mychal Kendricks or Jason Kelce were free to leave.

My guess is general manager Howie Roseman will make solid market offers to Cooper, Maclin, Allen, Geathers and Jones. He will not overpay for any of them. If some other team does, the Eagles will move on without the player in question.

Players due for contract extensions: Defensive end Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights free agent) and center Jason Kelce.

Let's project to the year 2022. The 35-year-old Kelce announces he is playing his final season after 13 years with the Eagles. That's how things should go with this guy. He's smart, physical, athletic and exactly the kind of player teams should commit to. So yes, extend Kelce.

Thornton was one of the delightful surprises of 2013. An undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas, he hung around for a couple years without anyone paying much mind. But he's living proof of Chip Kelly's no-expectations approach. Kelly judges based on what a player does, and Thornton was very good this year.

Players who could be gone: Vick, Anderson, Coleman, wide receiver Damaris Johnson, kicker Alex Henery, linebacker Brandon Graham, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Phillip Hunt (restricted free agent on IR), wide receiver Arrelious Benn, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.

Mostly self-explanatory. Vick wants to find a place where he can start. Even if he doesn't, the Eagles really like Matt Barkley and may well prefer a younger (read: cheaper) No. 2 behind Nick Foles.

Henery will have competition for the kicking job next summer. Not sure he'll answer that bell. Graham belongs at end in a 4-3 defense and may get a chance to return to one. The Eagles tried to replace Chung over and over but injuries kept him in the lineup.

Johnson lost his return job and never played on offense. Anderson has been a solid special teams guy, but Kelly likes versatility and may prefer a replacement who can fill in on defense, too.

Veterans on the salary-cap bubble: Tight end Brent Celek, linebacker Trent Cole, guard Todd Herremans, wide receiver Jason Avant. They are all good enough players to stay. That, not their cap numbers, should be the deciding factor.

Youth movement: The Eagles signed their practice squad and one other player to futures contracts. They are linebackers Emmanuel Acho, Josh Kaddu and Travis Long; offensive tackle Michael Bamiro; defensive end Brandon Bair; wide receivers Will Murphy, B.J. Cunningham and Ifeanyi Momah, and tight end Emil Igwenagu.

The takeaway here: The Eagles staff spent a lot of time coaching these guys and one or three of them just might become contributors.
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
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.'"

Kelly defends Eagles' kickoff strategy

December, 16, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Chip Kelly has a pretty consistent view of strategies and play calls. If it works, it's smart. If it fails, it was stupid.

By that measure, Sunday's plan to kick off to the middle of the field to take Minnesota Vikings return man Cordarrelle Patterson out of the game wasn't exactly ingenius. For the previous 13 games, the Eagles' opponents started their possessions on the 24-yard line after kickoffs.

The Vikings' average start was their own 34. In essence, the Eagles' plan gave Minnesota a free first down's worth of extra yardage to begin every season.

But Kelly looked at it differently. The Vikings' average start with Patterson returning the ball is their own 29. Viewed that way, the Eagles sacrificed just four yards per possession in order to eliminate the possibility of Patterson breaking a long return.

"When you play the Vikings, you have to kick the ball out of the end zone," Kelly said. "Because Patterson's going to return it. He's got a 109-yard kickoff return to his credit this year. He's the most dynamic returner in the National Football League statistically. So that is the type of guy he is. You have to get the ball out of the end zone if he's not going to return it."

In pregame warmups, Kelly said, kicker Alex Henery was not able to get it through the end zone consistently.

"He's five or six yards deep in the end zone, so those are coming out just based upon that," Kelly said.

The issue is relevant because Chicago's Devin Hester is a very dangerous return man, too. And Henery won't be kicking in a climate-controlled, wind-free dome on Sunday night. He'll be kicking in Lincoln Financial Field.

Kelly said the Eagles hadn't decided on their approach to Hester yet.

"It's more than just a returner," Kelly said. "How do they block it? What are the other 10 guys doing? There is more involved than who the guy is."

Kelly can add one more question: Did the strategy work in Minnesota? If he answers yes, then it makes sense to repeat it. The guess here is that the answer will be no. Kelly knows the difference between smart and stupid.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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

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.