The play that sealed the game – perhaps the season – came with 4-1/2 minutes to go Sunday. Down a point, the Eagles faced second-and-goal at the Miami 9. The situation called for caution, given that Mark Sanchez had replaced injured QB Sam Bradford, and that the hallmark of Sanchez’s career is that he throws crushingly ill-time interceptions.
Maybe Chip Kelly should have called two runs and ordered up a chip-shot field goal to put the Eagles ahead (although I’ll grant that Caleb Sturgis makes nothing a sure bet). Or maybe – again, knowing Sanchez’s flaws – the coach should have picked the lowest-risk pass listed on that S/8 chart he hides behind.
But, no. Kelly went gunslinger and called for a pass into the middle of the end zone. Of course, Sanchez threw it into a crowd. Of course, intended receiver Miles Austin didn’t even look for the ball.
And so, the game was lost. It’s easy to rip Sanchez and Austin for being what they are. But truly, the fault lies with a head coach who often seems not to realize the abilities of the players he is coaching.
Sometimes there’s a blind arrogance to Kelly that implies, “My play calls are genius, the players just need to execute them.” He has said as much in his newsers.
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It’s almost as if he believes he is still back in Eugene, coaching the mighty Ducks against weaklings like Missouri State. But this is the NFL, where even an awful defensive team like the Dolphins will beat you if you let them. And Kelly gave Miami that chance by handing the keys to Sanchez.
“Mark, up until that throw, played really well,” Kelly said Monday morning on WIP. “He had an opportunity on that play to check it down to two other receivers.”
But he didn’t, of course. Because he’s Mark Sanchez.
Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs once told me that one key to his success was knowing his players’ limitations as well as their strengths. Kelly – three years into the NFL – seems to ignore that. He doesn’t coach the talent he has. He coaches the talent he wishes he had.
So with just 16 seconds left in the first half, and the Eagles at their own 19, he had Bradford throw a dangerous pass that Miami intercepted at the Eagles 31. A dubious roughing-the-passer call negated the turnover. Had it not, Miami would have been handed a gift chance at an end-of-half field goal.
Hey, the missed blocks and bad snaps that contributed to Sunday’s 20-19 loss are not the coach’s fault. Austin, a 10-year pro, failed to drag his foot inbounds on another potential TD. Riley Cooper, for the second time this year, cost six points by lining up in the wrong spot.
But Kelly’s fingerprints are huge on this one. It’s his job to put them in a better position to win.
Oops, I’m starting to talk like a mustachioed former coach from these parts. Time to sign off.