I was at a wedding last night. Reception only. It lasted from 7-10, or, in other words: the pre-game shows and first half of Philly’s first playoff game since Doug Collins was still, for some reason, beloved in this city. Not an ideal viewing experience for someone who runs a sports website for a living. But, sometimes, it’s those communal fan experiences that are the best.
I can’t remember the last time there was a truly meaningful game which captured the full attention of the city. I want to say it was, unfortunately, Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. But even then, people had grown almost bored with Postseason baseball and took it for granted. We may have to go back to the 2010 NLCS to find a time that the entire city was totally immersed in a team, game or series. Doesn’t matter. The point is that the 2013(-2014) Eagles had won us over. Not simply because they made the playoffs and were, gasp, good, but also because of the way in which they rallied from a 3-5 start, flipped conventional wisdom on its head, and proved to be a likable, confident and fun bunch.
On the 25th floor of a Center City hotel, more than a hundred wedding guests could see Lincoln Financial Field. We tracked the game on Twitter and with score apps (but didn’t stream it because the NFL’s draconian deal with Verizon is annoying and confusing), snuck away to the hotel bar for
some series the entire first quarter, and watched for fireworks and smoke shooting from the stadium’s roof to signal a new pope points. To signal points. There was something primitive about it, and I’d imagine that this is what some stadium ops folks had in mind when they made the decision to time flash-bangs with touchdowns. When Nick Foles tossed to his favorite target, Riley Cooper, our room erupted – fireworks! – before score apps could update. Five months ago, a little video posted on this website nearly got Cooper cut. Now, a room full of people celebrated his accomplishment which sent smoke into the night sky. The season had come full circle.
That unexpected success is why the loss to the Saints hurts so much. There was so much to like about this team, and so many signs that their trajectory could take them to [insert any level that wasn’t predicted at the start of the season], that losing at home in the Wild Card round seemed highly unlikely.
We spent the second half, particularly the agonizing fourth quarter, in the hotel bar, for a more traditional viewing experience— shouting at the TV and drowning sorrows into one beer too many. For all of Chip Kelly’s unconventional-ness, this Eagles season ended like so many other Philly sports seasons: with sheer disappointment and head visions of what might have been. I may be melodramatic right now, but I just can’t seem to shake the immediate sting of this one. The way I felt as Darren Sproles returned another weak Alex Henery kick (didn’t anyone on the Eagles think to check Sproles’ Madden speed rating?) and as the Saints methodically, ominously, set themselves up for the game-winning field goal is the way I feel now. It hasn’t changed. Of course, that feeling may also be the tuna appetizers mixed with overly concentrated rum drinks. Whatever.
It is with that very long framing that I bring you the following observations:
We all love Chip’s big balls. His decisions to go for it on fourth down, or to go for two, are the sorts of decisions a fan would make if they were in charge of their favorite team. Every time the situation presents itself, we’re all thinking the same thing: Do it, Chip. But for someone whose strategy is built on a fucking score points foundation, Chip leaves an awful lot on the board. Last night he was playing to the score when he should have just been playing to score. Going for it on fourth and one, in very makable field goal distance, in the first quarter of a tie game, was a bad decision. You take those points. Anything can happen by going for it: you fail, you fumble, you get the first down and then go backwards 20 yards setting up your weak-legged pussy kicker for a difficult kick in the cold and wind. You know, anything. It was shaping up to be a low-scoring game and, at the point, you just want to get the first lead. Apply some pressure to the Saints’ offense. But nope— Henery sucks, and three very needed points weren’t fucking scored.
He stinks and will be cut. He might be the only kicker in the NFL who can’t almost routinely put it out of the end zone. 29th in the league in average distance. His ineptitude cost the Eagles the game last night. Make your field goal, put one out of the end zone, and win the game, dick.
He is going to be very good. There are still some poor decisions (his recent obsession with intentional grounding), but the vast majority of his throws are extremely accurate and, more importantly, not in the hands of defenders. He almost never throws a ball that makes you cringe. I liked seeing him on the verge of tears last night as Shayne with a Y Graham’s kick sailed through the uprights. Donovan McNabb would’ve been laughing. Michael Vick would’ve been foolishly touting his own redemption and declaring that next year will be different. Foles was hurt. I like that in a quarterback. He should be hurt. He didn’t play his best game last night, and yet he still outplayed one of the best over the last 10 years. Ultimately, to me, that’s the sign of a star quarterback: his bad games really aren’t that bad.
People are going to blame him for dropping that third down pass, but he had a wildly successful season and, really, has been playing with house money all year. Literally any contribution you got from him this season was a bonus following the N-word incident. So blaming him for dropping one pass – albeit an important one – is foolish. He’s a big part of the reason the Eagles got here. He gets a mulligan.
There’s not much else you can single out about the loss. It was a good football game in tough-ish conditions. The Saints keyed on the run and shut down DeSean Jackson for a large portion of the game. 256 yards and three touchdowns is about as much as you can do under those circumstances.
Defensively, the Eagles kept a powerful Saints passing attack in check, but struggled to stop their running game. It was very much a chess match, and Sean Payton just ever-so-slightly out-maneuvered Chip Kelly.
Both teams stopped the other’s strengths and the game came down to ancillary factors. The Saints were able to run better than the Eagles were able to adjust with McCoy and Jackson being taken off the board. And a few key coaching decisions and special teams went in the Saints’ favor. The Eagles left three points on the board in the first quarter, and they set the Saints up for three easy points in the fourth quarter, to win the game. That’s it. That’s your season. And that’s why it’s so damn disappointing. The Eagles were good enough to win and, I think, still the better team. They yet again mounted a comeback that was strangely expected. But this time, their lead didn’t stick. There was too little margin for error.
So here we are again. Successful sports are back in our midst, which means typical disappointment. It means sitting at a hotel bar, mouth agape, as inevitably slowly washes over you and a 13-point comeback . The Saints… are going to… take the clock down… and win this. Fuck.
That was a helpless feeling last night, but not a new one. We loved this team and hated the ending. There’s nothing we can do about it (other than cut the kicker). So, we find a new team to love. Hey, the Flyers are 4-1 on their current road trip and are now four games over .500.