September 14, 2015
Chip Kelly decided to be conservative late in the fourth quarter, and it may have cost the Eagles a chance at a comeback win against the Falcons on Monday night.
Facing a fourth and one from the Atlanta 26 with 2:32 left in the game, his team trailing 26-24, Kelly had a decision to make.
He could have opted to sneak it with Sam Bradford. He didn’t. He could have ran right up the middle with Murray or Mathews. He didn't. He could have thrown for it, as Bradford had been on fire leading up to this crucial moment. Again, he didn’t.
Instead, he opted for an ill-fated 44-yard field goal attempt by Cody Parkey. It was wide right all the way.
After the game, Kelly stood by his decision to kick.
“It was a 44-yarder, down two,” Kelly said when asked what went into his thought process leading up to the kick. “I have great confidence in Cody that he was going to put it through.”
And that’s why it’s hard to blame Kelly too much for the decision. That’s a kick Parkey has made before and should be expected to make again, especially inside a dome. If you’re playing the odds, as Kelly typically does, you kick it.
“On third and one, we didn’t get a lot of movement,” Kelly said as he continued to defend his decision. “But again, it’s a 44-yarder.”
As for Bradford, he agreed with his coach's assessment.
“That’s totally coach's call," he told reporters after the game. "He felt comfortable kicking it there. And they just stuffed us on third and one. That’s the big thing — if we got it on third, we wouldn’t have been in that position on fourth.”
Kelly also insisted that Parkey, who missed time with a nagging injury during the preseason, is healthy.
“[Parkey] was fine," Kelly added. "And he was fine on every other kick. Maybe there was something with the timing. We’ll have to go back and look at that on the tape.”
Parkey, who made the Pro Bowl last season as a rookie, had this to say after the game, via Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Cody Parkey: "There’s no rhyme or reason to missing. I’m human, and I missed."— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) September 15, 2015
Parkey on his health: "“I’m great. I missed a kick, and I let the team down.”— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) September 15, 2015
After the missed kick, the Eagles defense did its part and forced the Falcons to go three and out. Matt Bosher's punt pinned the Birds inside their own 20, but they still had one timeout and with how easily the offense had moved the ball in the second half, getting back into field goal range was not out of the question.
But on their third play of the drive, Bradford’s pass hit off the hands of his intended target, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, and landed right in the lap of a Falcons defender, shutting the door on any comeback hopes. For Bradford, it was his second interception of the night. He finished 36-of-52 for 336 yards, a touchdown and the aforementioned pair of interceptions.
Kelly's questionable decision aside, the Eagles dug themselves into a 17-point hole at halftime, and that likely had more to do with them losing than Parkey's missed field goal.
After gaining just 125 yards in the game's first 30 minutes, the Eagles trailed 20-3 at the half. And it could've been much worse had it not been for Kiko Alonso's one-handed interception in the end zone.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half at all," Kelly admitted. "We played a lot better in the second half, but not at all in the first.”
After the break, both sides of the ball showed improvement. On defense, the Eagles kept the Falcons out of the end zone and helped jumpstart the Birds offense, thanks to a timely interception by Walter Thurmond on the Falcons’ third play of the half.
Bradford and Co. found a rhythm as well, outscoring Atlanta 14-0 in the third quarter and 21-6 in the third and fourth quarters combined. All three scores (two rushing and one receiving) belonged to their new running backs, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, who combined for just 13 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Murray's second touchdown of the game, a five-yard pass from Bradford, put the Eagles within striking distance, cutting the Falcons lead to 20-17 late in the third quarter.
The Falcons would respond with a field goal to open the fourth quarter, but the Eagles would answer right back with an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a one-yard score by Mathews, to take their first lead of the game, 24-23.
But their lead was short-lived.
Matt Ryan led a five-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a 47-yard field goal by veteran kicker Matt Bryant, his fourth of the game to put the Eagles down 26-24.
The Eagles had plenty of time left. Their offensive was rolling. For a moment, it looked as though they were going to complete the improbable comeback.
Instead, they'll return home with an 0-1 record and plenty of work to do before facing Tony Romo and the Cowboys on Sunday.
“What we did in the second half, we can build on that," Kelly said. "And what we did in the first half, we have to fix that.”
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin