McMullen’s Quick Hits: Just the Way Chip Drew It Up
( 973espn.com) - This isn't the way it's supposed to work but the embattled Philadelphia Eagles stunned New England with a pair of special teams touchdowns and another score on defense en route to a 35-28 win over the Patriots.
The win, coupled with the New York Giants overtime loss to the Jets earlier in the day, means the Eagles are tied for second place in the dismal NFC East at 5-7, just one-half game behind Washington, pending the Redskins Monday night affair against Dallas.
Things were breaking as expected in the game with the Pats leading 14-0 when the highly regarded Bill Belichick flashed his vast knowledge of the rule book, along with his lack of respect for Philadelphia, by calling for the rarely seen drop kick following New England's second score.
Eagles special teams stalwart Seyi Ajirotutu was not fooled by the strange onside-kick attempt by Nate Ebner and Philadelphia was given great field position which shifted the momentum of the game.
"I mean there wasn’t a tremendous downside to the play," Belichick claimed.
Sam Bradford, back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion and an AC joint sprain against Miami on Nov. 15, eventually found Zach Ertz for a 5-yard TD to cut the Pats' lead in half.
“I’ve had a couple (of TDs) taken away, so it felt really good to finally get in there," Ertz said. "I got a little banged up on the play, but I was happy that Sam I were finally able to get in the end zone together. Ultimately, it was a huge play for us.”
By intermission it was a tie game when Chris Maragos got loose and was untouched before blocking Ryan Allen's punt in the waning seconds of the second quarter. Najee Goode scooped up the loose football and returned it 24-yards for a TD.
“I got through the hole pretty clean and I dipped my shoulder," Maragos said. "Once I figured I could get through the guard I knew that I would just have to make sure I finished the play.
"A lot of mental visualizations of myself taking the ball off of his foot all week went into this play. It’s something I mentally prepare for all week and not just for this game. When it comes to me, I’m putting my hands and my eyes in the right spot and just trusting it, which helped me come through with the block.”
The third quarter was all Eagles, albeit in a strange fashion as Philadelphia put up 14 more points in a most unlikely fashion. First with New England set to retake the lead, Walter Thurmond broke up a pass intended for Danny Amendola at the goal line. Malcolm Jenkins picked off the football and raced 99 yards for the score and a 21-14 edge.
The Pats then managed one first down on their next possession but were eventually forced to punt and it was Darren Sproles' turn as the dynamic return man took it back 83 yards for a TD.
"When they kicked that first one to us our special teams coach came to me and said ‘they are going to give us one today.’ And they gave us one," Sproles said. "They gave us a line drive and they gave us space. It gave me time to see where my blockers were.”
The Eagles offense had managed one yard on three plays over the first 11 minutes of the third quarter yet had outscored New England 14-0 and seized control of the game.
By early in the fourth quarter even Philadelphia's much-maligned offense got in on the party as Bradford found Jordan Matthews for a 10-yard scoring pass.
A furious Pats comeback was then stymied when Brady's fourth-down pass to Keshawn Martin was ripped from the receiver's hands by rookie cornerback Eric Rowe in his first NFL start.
"We obviously didn’t do anything well enough today," Belichick said. "Didn’t do enough on offense, turned the ball over, gave up two third-down touchdowns on defense, didn’t play well in the kicking game, just really didn’t do anything well enough to really win.
"We competed and sort of had a chance there at the end to come back, but when you give up 21 points when your defense isn’t on the field, you lose about 98 percent of those games."
Chip Kelly was brought to Philadelphia with the reputation as an offensive genius but we are nearly three years into his tenure as the head coach of the Eagles and the stark reality of this team is that it only excels when the defense and/or special teams is fueling things.
At the end of 60 minutes of football Sunday, the scoreboard read Eagles 35, Patriots 28 but it also could have said Philadelphia defense/special teams 21, Kelly's offense 14.
Philadelphia finished with only 248 yards of total offense, 128 rushing and just 120 passing.
STUBBORN RIGHT UP UNTIL A THREE-TD LEAD
Even after being handled a two-TD lead by his defense and special teams units, Kelly refused to play situational football and Bradford was often snapping the football with over 20 seconds on the play clock early in the fourth quarter.
After Matthews' TD catch Kelly finally took his foot off a gas pedal that really hasn't existed for most of the year with the Eagles turning into a college team playing on Sunday with Bradford looking to the sidelines for direction before snapping the football with less time on the play clock.
Despite being without Ryan Mathews, the Eagles went with a three-back rotation and DeMarco Murray touched the football less than both Sproles and Kenjon Barner.
He was also less effective that his supposed backups. Sproles led the running game with 15 carries for 66 yards and Barner had nine totes for 39 yards while Murray, who supposedly improves the more he touches it, was only given eight carries and managed just 24 yards.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of just how far last year's rushing king has fallen was the fact that Barner was given the football with just over a minute left to try to close it out and the former Oregon player coughed it up after being stripped by Jaime Collins, which gave Brady and Co. one last chance they shouldn't have had.
“I have to understand and know exactly what the defenses are trying to do," Barner said. "They are trying to get the ball out and I have to have both hands on the ball when I go through the line because I can’t have that type of play.”
NO GRONK, NO EDELMAN, BIG PROBLEM
The Patriots are in big trouble without star tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman. The nondescript skill-position group led by players like Scott Chandler, Brandon LeFell and Brandon Bolden just isn't good enough for Belichick to act as haughty as he did on Sunday.
The Eagles defense may have been embarrassed by James Winston and Matthew Stafford in back-to-back weeks but they were also throwing the football to players like Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. The margin of error for this Patriots group is small and Belichick needs to realize that.
It's not often you can criticize one of the greatest coaches if all-time but when you feel like pointing out Belichick's faults, this film should be one of the first you show.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen