September 21, 2015
With two minutes left in the worst football game ever played, a Fox TV camera framed the flushed, grim face of Chip Kelly as analyst Troy Aikman declared that the Eagles coach was “embarrassed.”
Kelly was not alone. In fact, every fan with an Eagles jersey or an Eagles cap or an Eagles anything was looking for a place to hide after the debacle at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon.
I, for one, was embarrassed that I had placed so much faith in this unconventional coach. Embarrassed that I had endorsed a roster makeover that now looks more like a demolition project. Embarrassed that I had predicted an absurd 13 wins. Embarrassed that I had failed to see the painful truth.
Now, there is no way to avoid our current reality as Eagles fans, not after that atrocious 20-10 loss to Dallas. The Birds offense is shockingly bad. The offensive line is a sieve, with guards who cannot execute the most basic of blocks. And the genius who selected these players and who calls the plays has lost his way, if not his mind.
There was so much to shudder at during that game Sunday – the terrible decisions by new quarterback Sam Bradford, the total shutdown of new running back DeMarco Murray, the dropped passes by the new army of receivers, the hailstorm of penalty flags – but this crisis is the creation of only one man, Chip Kelly.
He was the one who thought it was a good idea to banish Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis in favor of inept Alan Barbre, to replace serviceable guard Todd Herremans with overmatched Andrew Gardner, to fix what wasn’t broken and to create a line so bad, it has decimated every other facet of the team.
Although the current situation is hard to understand, it is really not complicated. Chip Kelly has to find an immediate fix for his seemingly unfixable offensive front five, or face the dire consequences. As predicted here last month, two losses to begin the season are all it took for the coach to lose the city.
The deluge of angry calls to my WIP radio show on Monday morning was like nothing I have encountered in 25 years. They lined up for hours waiting to vent their frustration. In an Internet poll involving hundreds of fans, 75 percent said they had lost faith in Kelly – just three weeks after 57 percent had called him a genius.
What made the loss Sunday so maddening was how little effort it would have taken to win. The Cowboys were missing four starters on their defense, plus their biggest offensive weapon, Dez Bryant, and even quarterback Tony Romo for nearly half the contest. The Eagles responded with seven yards on 17 carries, were tackled for losses six times, and then added three hideous turnovers.
At the end of the game, no scoreboard was required to see the full impact of this loss. Owner Jeff Lurie’s ashen face as he walked into the locker room provided a snapshot of deep concern. Was he re-thinking his decision to make Kelly his GM? Was he wondering how an offensive mastermind could end up with such a dreadful line? How could he not be asking the same questions as the fans?
Meanwhile, Kelly himself has to be second-guessing his roster moves, and maybe even his scheme, after his fifth loss in the past six games. I asked him Monday if he still had the same confidence that he was on the right path to success in the NFL. He said yes, but he didn’t sound convincing this time. He sounded depressed. He sounded lost.
So I ran by him Aikman’s speculation that the coach was embarrassed about participating in the worst football game every played.
“Yes,” he said. “I am.”
In my three years of interviewing him after games, it was the first time Kelly ever acknowledged any emotion. If he doesn’t fix this mess quickly, it may also be the last time. Coaches with red faces usually don’t last long in Philadelphia.
In his 17th season as an NFL head coach, Chiefs coach Andy Reid still has no idea how to call plays with the game on the line. It has become comical, really – unless you happen to be a fan of the team he’s coaching.
Reid experienced his latest meltdown on prime-time TV last Thursday when – with under a minute left to play in a tie game – he couldn’t decide whether to pass the ball or kneel down. So he did neither. The ensuing fumble by Jamaal Charles handed Denver an improbable 31-24 win.
Even a forgiving city like Kansas City did not go quietly after this brain cramp. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports said he now understood why Eagles fans “were left bald” after pulling their hair out for 14 years. Nick Athan of Warpaint Illustrated added: “Congrats, Andy. You made this a baseball town again.”
What makes these meltdowns so amusing is that Reid has never really addressed the biggest flaw in his otherwise successful coaching career. He wins games – 59 percent of them, in fact. But not the close ones, not the games that require clear thinking on the sidelines in the final moments.
By conservative count, Reid screwed up at least 10 games this way when he coached the Eagles, and several more since his move to the Chiefs. He passes when he’s supposed to run, runs when he’s supposed to pass, and calls timeouts illogically – all while holding up a play card the size of a Denny’s menu.
The Kansas City scribes even rolled out the most famous Reid gaffe of all time, the final 10 minutes of Super Bowl XXXIX, when the slowest hurry-up offense in NFL history prompted New England coach Bill Belichick to turn to an assistant and say: “We’re up 10, right? We’re not missing something here?”
Andy Reid keeps saying he’s got to do a better job. Yes, he does. But it’s hard to fulfill that promise when you can’t master the simple art of counting down to zero.
If the first few days of training camp are any indication, Philadelphia sports fans might have a team worthy of their attention soon – the Flyers. New coach Dave Hakstol is making a terrific first impression.
At the first team meeting, he embraced his rookie season with honesty, brevity and intensity. His first remark was that the most of his players had one thing he lacks – NHL experience. This isn’t another Flyers retread following the organization playbook.
In fact, by the end of the first day of camp, captain Claude Giroux admitted he was “the one hunched over” from the grueling physical demands of the new coach. Maybe Giroux can finally resume the Hall of Fame career he was having before ex-coach Craig Berube’s arrival.
Although Hakstol said his approach was not all that different from his predecessor, in no way does he resemble the former Flyer enforcer. For example, one of his first moves was to move Vinny Lecavalier back to center, after a putrid season (nine goals) at right wing.
Hakstol established right from the beginning that he may be a career college coach – 11 seasons alone at South Dakota – but he is not intimidated by the new setting. His camp style is similar to the guy across the street, Eagles coach Chip Kelly, in its thought and execution. No time is wasted. Every drill, every minute, carries a specific purpose.
Sometimes you know a coach is good the first time you see him with his players, if not the first time he speaks in public. It was that way with Mike Keenan, and it is the same feeling with Dave Hakstol. He exudes competence.
Chairman Ed Snider said last weekend – as he does every season – that he expects big things from the Flyers this time around. And, for once, he should. He’s finally found the right coach for his team.
And finally …
• Byron Maxwell is quickly becoming a $63-million bust, and not just because he can’t seem to cover receivers. The cornerback whined after Sunday’s loss to Dallas that he was tired because of the quick-play offensive scheme of coach Chip Kelly. This didn’t seem to be a problem when Maxwell took the money. What he really needs to do – now – is shut his mouth and cover somebody.
• If the media is going to complain about Chip Kelly’s accessibility, they are going to have to do better than to ask the Eagles coach about the size of his play card or why Cody Parkey is wearing a ballcap. No one asked Kelly last week about our city’s hatred of Dallas. You want better answers? Ask better questions.
• After his latest public display of stupidity last week, Jonathan Papelbon deservedly blew two huge saves for Washington. Upon his return to Philadelphia, Papelbon announced that he was one of only a few Phillies who cared about winning this year. Oh, please. The only thing Papelbon has ever cared about is himself. Good riddance.
• Is it just me, or is this obsession with throwing penalty flags so far this season ruining football? Tony Corrente’s crew called 31 penalties in the Eagles-Cowboys game on Sunday, and 26 were accepted. Granted, most of the infractions had some validity, but many had no direct bearing on the game. Hey, refs. Stop the flag-throwing. We want to watch the players, not you.
• The only thing lacking from the Eagles-Cowboys game Sunday was Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who suddenly was too busy to root on his beloved Cowboys from owner Jerry Jones’ luxury box. Is there any chance Christie finally realizes his flaunting of Dallas love last season was a really bad idea? Naw.