Sometimes, the entire lost war can be narrowed to a single battle. A disastrous campaign clarified by one episode.
In the Eagles 27-16 loss to the Panthers Sunday night, you can boil it down to one play.
You saw it. Three minutes into the fourth quarter (or 11:06 p.m. on your watch), the Eagles were driving. Chip Kelly’s offense had scored on its last two possessions, narrowing the deficit to 21-16. In a frustrating night of dropped passes and dumb-headed penalties, there was hope.
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Now they had moved 59 yards from their own 10. It was 3rd-and-9 at the Carolina 31.
Time for this offensive-minded coach to call an intermediate pass – maybe to Zack Ertz, who had just caught a 24-yarder. Or maybe a wheel route to Darren Sproles or Ryan Mathews, his most dependable offensive players.
An NBC camera cut to Kelly on the sideline, flicking his tongue and scheming behind that S/8 play chart. And then Sam Bradford dropped back. And then he lamely dumped the ball to Josh Huff, standing still at the line of scrimmage, with just one blocker near him.
It fooled no one. Huff swiveled, but Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly tossed him like a sack of laundry. One-yard loss. Fourth down.
You know what happened next. Caleb Sturgis hooked a 50-yard field goal attempt. The Panthers got the short field and came back for three. The Eagles were cooked.
The dump-off to Huff seemed more a surrender than a statement from Big-Balls Chip. Why would Kelly crib a losing idea from the Andy Reid playbook at the game’s most critical moment?
Clearly, Kelly doesn’t trust Bradford to make a clutch throw. Like you at home, he probably holds his breath every time Quarterback Sam has to execute a tough one. I’ll give Bradford a gentleman’s C-plus for Sunday night. Just one interception (yay!), but still too many off-the-mark throws.
Nor, right now, can Kelly trust his receivers. There were seven drops – pretty well shared, although Jordan Matthews again claimed the Pitchfork Hands Award. Huff couldn’t hold one in the end zone earlier in the game. Consider that Kurt Coleman played starting safety for Carolina and it’s doubly infuriating Kelly didn’t have the confidence to call a long pass.
The NFL is a throwing league. You don’t win without the deep ball. Hell, the way the refs call it, half the patterns end in pass interference. You can make an argument the Eagles had reasons for shedding Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. But you can’t make the argument they aren’t missed.
Finally, on Sunday, Kelly could not trust his offensive line. When Jason Peters was carted off early, the game plan was shredded. Nothing is more critical over the bye week layover than Peters recovering from back spasms. Of course it didn’t help that the line’s remaining vets, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, racked up three more penalties.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” Kelly called the mistakes. To fans, they felt like death by 1,000 paper cuts.