PHILADELPHIA -- Two weeks into the Chip Kelly era, we’ve already seen how his offense can wear out defenses -- the Eagles’ defense as well as the opponent’s.
Kelly’s heroes amassed 511 total yards of offense and scored 30 points against the San Diego Chargers here Sunday. Kelly’s zeroes allowed 539 total yards and gave up 33 points. The last three, a 46-yard field goal by Nick Novak, gave the Chargers a 33-30 win and spoiled Kelly’s debut at Lincoln Financial Field.
If this past Monday was the NFL version of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Showtime, a breathtaking display of the potential of Kelly’s up-tempo offense, then this was an unnerving exhibition of the risks that come with it. When the offensive precision isn’t quite there, it can misfire and place enormous pressure on the Eagles' defense.
Mistakes -- from poor time management to an overthrown deep ball to a touchdown-erasing rookie penalty by tackle Lane Johnson -- become magnified.
A couple of weeks ago, Kelly gave an impromptu lecture on the meaningless (to him) time-of-possession stat. On Sunday, the Chargers held the ball for 40:17, the Eagles for just 19:43.
“It’s our responsibility to get them off the field,” Kelly said. “We can’t just sit there and say we were on the field too long. We have to get them off the field.”
That was a problem, as the defense allowed Philip Rivers to convert 10 of 15 third downs while passing for 419 yards. But the bigger problem, frankly, was the offense’s inability to score points in the first half. In the opener at Washington, the Eagles steamrolled their way up and down the field. This time, they ceded control of the game to Rivers.
The Eagles had the ball first. They gained 27 yards on eight plays, then punted. They punted on three of their seven first-half possessions and missed a long field on a fourth drive. They scored 10 first-half points.
The Chargers scored 13 points on their first three possessions. Their next two ended on lost fumbles deep in Eagles territory.
“They kept us off the field and out of rhythm in the first half,” Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. “In the second half, we were able to get into a rhythm and score 20 points, but it wasn’t enough.”
The game came down to a strange sequence late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles gave up an all-too-easy touchdown drive to spot the Chargers a 30-27 lead. Vick connected with DeSean Jackson twice for 35 yards to get down to the San Diego 14 with just more than two minutes left.
The Eagles needed a touchdown. They also needed to take as much time off the clock as they could. If they’d accomplished one of those things, they likely would have won or, at least, gotten into overtime. Instead, they accomplished neither.
Vick threw a pass to tight end Brent Celek. Safety Eric Weddle broke the pass up, and Celek was slow to get up. Vick was hit on the throw, and he, too, was slow to get up. Referee Terry McAulay ruled that both were injured and had to miss at least one play.
“I won’t say I wasn’t hurt,” Vick said. “I wasn’t hurt hurt. If I am standing up, I’m not hurt, I’m ready to go. But he said I had to come out for a play. I think that was unfortunate for my team, but they are doing their jobs.”
Nick Foles came in. He threw a fade that sailed over Jackson’s head, out of bounds.
Those two plays took just nine seconds off the clock. After running the ball every which way at Washington, and averaging 4.5 yards per carry despite San Diego stacking up against the run, Kelly turned into former Eagles coach Andy Reid on this decisive red zone possession. So when Vick came in and threw another incomplete pass, there was still 1:51 on the clock after Alex Henery’s chip-shot field goal tied the game.
“We’re just trying to score a touchdown,” Kelly said when asked whether the Eagles left too much time. “We wanted to make it a four-point game.”
They didn’t, and it took Rivers three plays and less than a minute to move the ball 42 yards and into field goal range. From there, it was the Chargers who ran the ball to kill time and set up the winning field goal.
The Eagles spent the short week between the Washington win and this game answering questions about just how fast and efficient and downright unstoppable their offense was. Now they have an even shorter week to ponder how they could score 30 points and never have control of a game. Reid, who drafted and signed most of these Eagles, will be here Thursday night with his 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs.
“I feel like last week, the energy was amazing, and then you get a loss,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “You can’t wait to play and get this bad taste out of your mouth. The goal was to get to the playoffs and win a championship. The goal was never to go undefeated."