Week 1 – Jacksonville @ Philadelphia: Right Result, Wrong Method

NFL season 2013 was the coming out party for Chip Kelly, Nick Foles and the new era Philadelphia Eagles. Season 2014 is the year NFL pundits challenged them to prove it was no fluke. And in eight months between a playoff loss to New Orleans and the NFL’s Opening Weekend, it appeared all in the City of Brotherly Love were keen on stepping up to the plate. They acquired new weapons, locked away some stars to new deals, and had a respectable draft.

So when the league schedule came out, and the world knew the Eagles would start the season at home against the plucky yet overmatched Jacksonville Jaguars, all signs pointed towards a chance to make a statement straight out of the gate. If this were Chip Kelly at Oregon, his national title run would be starting with an opener against Jacksonville University of the FBS’s Pioneer League. The question was not whether the Eagles would win. It was how close could Jacksonville get? By no means was this a foregone conclusion, but barring complete disaster, this was as sure as you could get on a Week 1 match-up. NFL survivor pools across the nation agreed.

It’s 3am EST in my living room in Melbourne. My fantasy teams are set. I have the Red Zone channel on my TV and the Eagles game on my Mac, ready to see just how the Eagles 2014 season will start. No need for coffee, the raw enthusiasm of the season proper being back was more than enough to keep me up.

The game begins, the Jaguars start with the ball, they go 3 and out. The Eagles get the ball. The fun can begin, and as Nick Foles finds TE Zach Ertz deep down the right side for 26 yards – it indeed has. We’re already at midfield and looking sharp. The crowd at Lincoln Financial Field is up and about and for good reason. We’ve waited a long time to see this again. Everything is going to script. But you might want to treasure that feeling folks.

A sack fumble gives the ball back to the Jags. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns introduces himself to the world with his first career TD, 34 yards long for those scoring at home. 7-0 Jags. Ok, so that maybe wasn’t in the script. Back to work then boys.

This time Shady McCoy gets the engine revving again with a 16 yard run. This is what we like to see! But as fast as you could erase the memory of the first turnover, sack fumble #2 comes to the party. Allen Hurns figured his last appearance was fun. So he does it again, care of a 21 yard throw. Didn’t we just see this? More importantly, did we really have to see it again!? The scoreboard now reads 14-0. That definitely isn’t in the script.

Fast forward to a few uninspired series from both squads, a Jacksonville field goal score, and another field goal attempt blocked by the Eagles, and we have a 17-0 scoreline. The crowd is restless. I’m not exactly enthused at being awake at an early hour to watch this either. Turns out I do need that coffee to keep me awake now. A chorus of boos rains down on Nick Foles and his teammates as they head to the locker room. The start of the Mark Sanchez era in Philly is being thrown around on social media. Wise heads are quick to declare maybe Chip Kelly should have stayed at the college level. Can you say knee-jerk panic folks?

No NFL fan enjoys seeing their team in a 17-point hole at half time, especially at 4am. And yet something seemed different. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Perhaps it was just logic. But as I caught up with the rest of the scores around the league, I couldn’t help but analyse the first half I just saw. And aside from the 17-0 scoreline, all the numbers said one thing: we’re not actually playing that bad. In fact, we’re smashing them right now.

Offensively,  we were moving the ball. More often than not, we had men wide open. We were spacing the field with ease. If not for some key O-Line injuries, Nick Foles might just have time to hit some targets for big plays. He’d already done it a few times, including rookie WR Jordan Matthews’ first career reception of 30 yards. LeSean McCoy at one stage was averaging 5 yards per carry. Over on defense, you couldn’t help but notice the team was taking pride in shutting down the Jags on 3rd down. Jacksonville couldn’t move the ball. Philly got the memo about Allen Hurns.

We were in a hole because of two plays. Two costly fumbles inside enemy territory. That’s the NFL in a nutshell. I don’t need to feed you Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday. But it truly is a game of inches. A game of moments. Won and lost by the little plays. The little moments. If we could be in a hole because of that, we damn sure could get back in it the same way. And for a team that set the NFL record for “explosive” plays (plays of 25+ yards) last season, I was optimistic we could. In fact we had already made one game altering play with the blocked field goal attempt. All we needed was everyone to stick to the script. Believe it or not, it was working. You just need to stop thinking you know how it goes, and trust that the final scene will be delivered as expected.

17-0 just needed to become 17-7 and newly acquired running back Darren Sproles saluted. It may have annoyed McCoy owners in fantasy, but a 49-yard run (on 4th-and-1 no less) to open the 2nd half was exactly what we needed. Explosive play #1 was in the books. After forcing the Jags into another 3-and-out situation (take pride in your 3rd down D) it was opportunity number two to do what we do best. 17-7 needed to just needed to become 17-14. A good punt return by Sproles gave the offense a short field, and a 25-yard bullet to Zach Ertz after six plays had the Eagles well and truly back in the game. Explosive play #2, check.

The rest of the game was much of the same. Philadelphia found the end zone twice more care of big plays. A 51-yard field goal from Cody Parkey added 3 more points and inspired confidence in his ability. 34 unanswered points brought the game to the conclusion most expected it to be. It just didn’t happen the way we all expected. Because where is the fun in that?

Good teams win by any means necessary. They win big, they win close. The win playing to their strengths. They win having to rely on their weaknesses. They win at home, they win away. They win because they earn it. Sometimes they win because luck fell their way. They just win in any crazy way they can. This is one of those crazy wins for the Eagles. It could have been prettier. It should have been prettier. But there are no style points in football. No medals for valour. Just wins and losses.

The wash-up leaves the Eagles with mostly positive signs. Jeremy Maclin was strong, the D used the opportunity to develop its mojo against a weaker opponent, and maybe most importantly, the team got a swift reminder that wins need to be earned in this league, no matter the foe. Next week sees a trip to Indianapolis. Andrew Luck might not be as forgiving or simple to overcome as Chad Henne. I think we might want to try a different method.

Sept 7
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia PA (69,596)

Jacksonville 14 3 0 0 – 17
Philadelphia 0 0 14 20 – 34

Passing: Nick Foles (PHI): 322 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT
Rushing: LeSean McCoy (PHI): 21 car, 74 yds
Receiving: Allen Hurns (JAX): 4 rec, 110 yds, 2 TD’s
Pigskin Almanac “Philly Cheesesteak Champion” award: Darren Sproles (PHI)

About Scott Langford

Australia's Most Famous SUNY Cortland/Syracuse Alum Melbourne boy who belongs back in New York. Eagles fan who for some reason once wore a Giants Super Bowl ring. Current US collegiate athletic recruiter and advisor.

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