In a season of spectacular plays and improbable turns, there is only one star on the Eagles this season — and he doesn’t even wear a uniform. He is Chip Kelly, the college coach who is bringing winning football back to Philadelphia.
The Eagles won the most important game of Kelly’s rookie season Sunday, 24-16, over Washington and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Read that again, slowly: First place. The Birds are over .500 now at 6-5, have won three straight and have finally broken their 10-game losing streak at Lincoln Financial Field.
Statistics show these Eagles are by far the most explosive team in the NFL, with 56 plays of 20 yards or more, 10 more than any other team. LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s top rusher with 1,009 yards, and Nick Foles has the best quarterback rating in the league, 128.0. Those numbers are all a product of Kelly’s offensive acumen.
Even more fascinating is the unique way the Eagles are achieving them. They almost never win the battle for time of possession, they give up 400 or more yards pretty much every game, they have not yet mastered the clock or officiating challenges and yet they are winning. How?
It should be obvious by now. Kelly is having an extraordinary season, both in the way he strategizes games and in his mastery of personalities. Unlike the highly overrated Andy Reid era, the Eagles usually win the battle of the brains now. Just ask the Redskins players.
Robert Griffin III said after the loss Sunday that the Eagles “seemed to know our plays beforehand,” especially in the first three quarters, when the Redskins failed to score. Meanwhile, on offense, Kelly is maturing quickly as a play-caller, balancing a strong running game with a big-play aerial attack.
Everything is working well right now because Kelly is so quickly growing into his job as the Eagles coach. For example, listen to Foles talk about his coach. The young quarterback’s blind faith in Kelly is extraordinary, especially since the coach refuses to hand Foles the starting job.
“I believe in Chip Kelly,” Foles said on my WIP radio show last week. “Whatever he decides is fine with me. I trust him.”
The secret of the new coach’s success is not hard to define. Kelly keeps it simple. He never looks beyond the next game, and he never gets swept up in the hype surrounding his team. He also is secure enough to tell the truth, even when it makes him look more like Rich Kotite than Vince Lombardi.
After Brandon Boykin had secured the interception that won the game for the Eagles Sunday — thwarting a furious fourth-quarter Washington comeback — Kelly hugged the young defensive back on the sideline and whispered something in his ear. I asked the coach Monday what he had said.
“Thanks for saving my ass,” Kelly replied.
Eagles right to not expect boos
The Eagles’ just-ended 10-game home losing streak inspired a week of spirited debate about fans and their teams. Is it smart to boo your own players? Does a team deserve positive reinforcement in bad times? What exactly is the obligation of someone who pays to attend a sports event?
Before a boisterous crowd backed the Birds on Sunday, DeSean Jackson and Boykin had led the chorus of Eagle players requesting more support at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Chip Kelly and defensive leader DeMeco Ryans lined up on the other side, expressing appreciation for the loyalty of 68,000 fans at every game. They believe it’s the team’s job to inspire the fans, not the other way around.
So who’s right here? I have actually revised my long-held beliefs on this issue after getting booed myself — harshly — during an appearance last summer as the emcee of a comedy show. Charlie Manuel had just been fired as Phillies manager, and my opening remark was that he deserved it. Big mistake.
As the hoots and jeers engulfed me, I laughed onstage, but not inside. The rest of my mercifully brief performance was an unmitigated disaster. Despite three decades of public appearances, I melted in front of an openly hostile audience. Their reaction affected my work. I was worse because of them.
That’s why I suggested before Sunday’s game that fans restrain from any early verbal assault against the Eagles — which, purely by accident, they did. Hey, the paying customers have fulfilled their obligation to a team simply by buying a ticket; there’s no question about that. But if the team plays better with less booing, isn’t that a good argument for some restraint?
Phillies make mistake signing Marlon Byrd
When Marlon Byrd received a two-year, $16 million offer from Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. last week, the veteran outfielder called it “amazing.” Here are a few more adjectives he could have used: idiotic, irresponsible and insane. Amaro has done it again.
One of the reasons Byrd was amazed by Amaro’s offer is this stunning fact: The outfielder, at 36, received a deal that nearly matched the combined salary of the previous 12 years of his mediocre big-league career. Byrd made $700,000 last year, has played for five different teams in the past five years and was suspended in 2012 for steroids.
Need more? Byrd is the only major leaguer still consulting former BALCO chief Victor Conte, a convicted felon who did time for his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. If Amaro didn’t harbor grave concerns about Byrd — coming off a career year with 24 homers and 88 RBIs — then what exactly was he thinking?
The GM said he was relying on the Phillies’ scouts, who detected a new approach at the plate and a new commitment to the game. Really? And these scouts have no worry that Byrd will revert to his previous lackluster form now that he’s received the biggest payday of his career?
Amaro continues to prove to a dubious fan base that he has no idea what he’s doing. Over the past six years, he has taken a championship team and turned it into a 73-89 failure. And now he begins a crucial off-season by overpaying for Marlon Bryd. How much worse can it get than this?
Idle thoughts ...
»Sam Hinkie has made some impressive moves since taking over as Sixers GM, but his social skills are pathetic. Last week, in a rare public appearance, he snarled at a reporter who wanted to know why Kwame Brown was still on the team. “That’s the most inappropriate question I’ve ever heard,” Hinkie replied. OK, here’s a better one, Sam: Why are you so arrogant?
»A foot injury has sidelined spectacular new Sixer Michael Carter-Williams indefinitely. Hmmmm. Since the Sixers will benefit most from losing as many games as possible this season — and insure a high draft pick — is it logical to assume the team will be in no hurry to bring the stud rookie back? You can bet on it.
»Despite their recent surge, the Flyers are going nowhere this season, but it is ironic that, just as their offense has faded, they finally seem to have a solution to their chronic goaltending problem. Steve Mason has been extraordinary so far. Ray Emery is better than expected, too.
»One of the best signs that the Flyers live in the distant past is their record in shootouts. After yet another loss in Winnipeg last weekend, they now own the worst record in the NHL since shootouts began in 2005. Apparently, chairman Ed Snider hasn’t gotten word yet that NHL games no longer end in ties.
»The two most annoying people in football, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, joined forces for a vomitous interview last Thursday on Fox Sports Live, with the awkward quarterback asking the fawning questions. If television can survive that fiasco, it can survive anything.