Quite frankly, last night sucked.
The Eagles totally had a chance to win that game but they blew it. It came down to the smallest things, too. Alex Henery missing a field goal. Special teams coverage allowing a big return to Darren Sproles on that final kickoff. Short kickoff. Riley Cooper dropping a wide open third down pass. Nick Foles throwing to Jason Avant for a two yard gain instead of a wide open Brent Celek for a 20+ yard gain. Foles taking a sack after holding onto the ball forever and making the Henery FG harder than it had to be. LeSean McCoy not always following his blocks. Cary Williams having to come out for a play and leaving Roc Carmichael tasked to get a critical stop. Patrick Chung getting burned in coverage. And so on.
For a large part of Saturday night's game, I thought the defense did their part. Heck, they forced two turnovers. Look at this stat:
Eagles are 2nd team since 1997 to be +2 in turnover at home and lose a playoff game. Teams were 44-1 at home when +2 or more last 17 years.— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) January 5, 2014
That's brutal. But they didn't get the stops when it counted at the end of the game.
On offense, the team got off to way too slow of a start. The same issues that I've had with Foles all year persisted. He wasn't bad, and the numbers look good. But it's not about good or bad, it's about "best". He wasn't the best he could have been. He's leaving too many easy plays out on the field. It's not all Nick's fault. There's times when the receivers aren't getting open or the protection is poor. All I'm saying is Foles could be reasonably better.
Special teams struggles included the missed FG and the poor kickoff coverage when it counted. What to do about Alex Henery will be talked about here shortly, but for now just let me say this: it was absolutely a mistake not bringing in competition for him this year. It will also be a mistake if the Eagles don't (at least) do the same moving forward.
Again, this was a game that they could have won. Should have won. The game was at home. The Eagles had the advantage. They failed to capitalize, and that's extremely disappointing. At the same time, who thought the Eagles would even be playing a home game in the 2014 NFL playoffs let alone make the playoffs? The fact that the Eagles exceeded expectations this year was enjoyable and great, but ultimately it doesn't take the pain out of this loss. The idea that the Eagles were playing with house money and that they could lose to the Saints and it would be OK is kind of bullshit to me. It's a loser mentality.
Sure, this is a flawed team. They lack talent in key areas and aren't as polished as some other playoff teams. But they were one of the hottest teams in the NFL entering the game. They were playing like a legitimately good team. Who knows how far they would have gone if they beat the Saints. Maybe far, maybe not too far at all. The point is that Saturday night was a missed opportunity.
That's my take on the "dark day" side of things. It will definitely take some time for that wound to heal. Looking in a broader view, however, you can't help but be encouraged by some of the takeaways from the 2013 season.
First and foremost, the Eagles have a GREAT coach in Chip Kelly. This was a guy that some people thought wouldn't even cut it in the NFL. Well I'm glad to say those people were dead wrong. Chip Kelly absolutely belongs in the NFL. Look at what he did with this offense. Look at all these records that were broken under him in his first year. Kelly looks like a great hire by Jeffrey Lurie and that's certainly a positive sign moving forward.
Another key takeaway is the fact that the Eagles may have their franchise quarterback on the roster. This is something that no one thought for sure coming into the season. Some people may have been high on Foles coming into this year, but there was no real evidence to prove that he would perform at this kind of level. If the Eagles Kelly-Foles connection proves to be as strong as it was in 2013, the Eagles are going to win a lot of football games.
Things don't get any easier from here. The Eagles will face tougher opponents next year due to having a division winner's schedule. Regression will also be in play. The Eagles won't face as many teams missing key players. And despite the wonders of sports science, the Eagles may deal with more critical injuries next year. Turnovers could also go up while takeaways could go down. This all speculative but possible.
At the same time, the Eagles will have chances to upgrade their roster. Given the way Howie Roseman and the Eagles Front Office has operated in recent drafts and free agency periods, you have to feel at least a little confident in their ability to upgrade this roster. Imagine adding a new pass rusher, or a slot receiver who can actually get yards after the catch, or a reliable safety, or how about a better kicker? These are just a few examples.
Of course, there's no guarantee the Eagles will build positively on their 2013 success. Look at the 2012 Washington Redskins, a team that went 3-6 before winning out and taking the division. I'm reluctant to compare the teams because Kelly is a better coach than Mike Shanahan was in DC and Foles isn't entering the offseason with a major injury like Robert Griffin III was. My point is that things could easily go wrong if the right steps aren't taken.
For now, I'm maintaining the viewpoint that the future is bright until proven otherwise. It feels good to have experienced a winning season, a division crown, and a playoff berth again. This year was so unlike the expiring years of the Reid era, which felt like a giant waste of time at the end. This new Kelly era feels worthwhile and something worth being optimistic about.
2013 was the most fun, enjoyable, and successful season the Eagles have had in recent years. Most importantly, it leaves hope for the future of this organization. I don't know about you, but I can't wait until Year Two of the Kelly regime.