One short month ago, Chip Kelly didn’t just look like an A student. The Eagles’ second-year coach looked like a master of the universe, a coach on a more or less straight path to the top of the NFL mountain.
A three-game losing streak changed all of that. By dropping games to Seattle, Dallas and Washington, the Eagles fell from the top of the NFC East standings to second place. They were eliminated from the playoffs with a week left in the regular season. The collapse cost Kelly more than a playoff berth. It cost him that aura of the coach with all of the answers.
There were mitigating factors. A broken collarbone cost starting quarterback Nick Foles half a season. If that were Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning giving way to a backup quarterback, the head coach would get a free pass for a fall from the postseason field.
But this was Mark Sanchez replacing Foles, hardly a hopeless situation. And the truth is, the problems that caught up to the Eagles at the end of the season -- turnovers, a slapstick pass defense, an inability to beat winning teams -- were present all along. Foles wasn’t able to beat Arizona or San Francisco, so how would he have beaten Green Bay or Seattle?
Until playing Washington two weeks ago, the Eagles overcame their flaws against bad or mediocre teams. In that game, all those flaws were on display. The Eagles dropped out of the playoff picture because, it turns out, they never really quite belonged in there.
Team MVP: For the years he played opposite DeSean Jackson in Andy Reid’s offense, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was never quite the player his teammate was. Asked suddenly to replace Jackson, who was unceremoniously released by Kelly in March, Maclin found a different gear. His 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns were impressive. His ability to produce whether Foles or Sanchez was at quarterback made him the most consistent, and valuable, Eagles player this season.
Best moment: As the Eagles ran off the field in Dallas in Week 13, they were 9-3 and had just claimed control of the NFC East race. Kelly appeared to have staked his claim as best coach in the division. Sanchez had earned the trust of his coaching staff for running Kelly’s uptempo offense as efficiently as it has been run in Philadelphia. It was impossible to predict the Eagles would lose their next three games and drop out of the playoff picture.
Worst moment: In the fourth quarter at FedEx Field in Week 16, the Eagles were driving toward what would have been a game-winning field goal attempt by Cody Parkey. Then Sanchez threw a ball low and behind Maclin. Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland made a diving interception. The Redskins were the team kicking the game-winning field goal, and the Eagles had lost three in a row. A day later, Dallas beat Indianapolis to clinch the NFC East title and eliminate the Eagles from the postseason.
2015 outlook: It changed as quickly and as certainly as the Eagles fell from 9-3 to 9-6. The defense that seemed to be improving weekly suddenly looked horrible and in need of a complete makeover in the secondary. Instead of looking as if they had two quarterbacks who could win games, it looked as if the Eagles really needed to find a franchise quarterback to run Kelly’s offense. Worst of all, the final collapse cost the Eagles their place in the NFC East pecking order. Dallas is at the top. The Eagles are alongside Washington and New York, trying to figure out how to get past the Cowboys.