Who would have thought that Chip Kelly's greatest gift as an NFL rookie coach would be losing Michael Vick to injury? Surely not the Dallas Cowboys, who lost to Vick's backup Nick Foles and the Eagles 24-22 in a crucial game for the NFC East title and a playoff berth on Sunday night.
If you told Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones before the season that the NFC East would be mush and his Cowboys still wouldn't make the playoffs, he'd have you buried under an oil tank somewhere in Laredo. Or personally paid your way through treatment at the crazy house.
When Philly lost Vick, media pundits were chirping, writing Philly off as a team that is preparing for the future. Cowboy fans felt they were Texas twerking towards a possible Super Bowl run. After all, Vick was supposed to be the perfect dual threat QB to help Kelly take the NFL by storm with his offensive acumen and innovative play-calling. He was going to be the veteran presence that helped Kelly through an inevitably rocky transition into the coach-crushing NFL. But it quickly became clear that Vick had taken one too many hits and would never stay healthy enough to give Kelly's offense the youthful boost it needed to succeed.
Enter Foles, who didn't give fans time to lament about Vick. In his 10 starts, Foles helped the Eagles pull away from the NFC rubbish, threw 27 TDs and just two interceptions, bringing balance to the Eagles' zone read-heavy offense. He doesn't have wheels like Vick, but is a more accurate passer, and Philly has plenty of speedsters to get the rock too.
Kyle Orton, filling in two days after Dallas QB Tony Romo underwent back surgery, had the Cowboys about 40 yards from field goal range with juts under a two minutes left. But in eerily similar Romo-fashion, he threw behind Miles Austin on the first play, and into the arms of Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykins
This game was a stark difference from Foles' first start against Dallas on Oct. 20, when the second-year player was thrust into action without the preparation, confidence and poise he possess now. That day, making just his second start in place of injured Vick, Foles repeatedly missed open receivers, finished 11-of-29 passing for 80 yards and was sent to the showers after three quarters of a 17-3 defeat with a concussion that kept him out of the following week's loss to the New York Giants.
Then, in a Nov. 3 game against the Oakland Raiders it all clicked for the 6-6, third-round pick out of Arizona. He matched an NFL record with seven touchdown passes, launching a turnaround in which he has been one of the league's all-time most efficient passers. During that time the Eagles have gone 7-1 and distinguished themselves as the class of the division.
"I think when we did stumble, there was a lot of instability at the quarterback position," Kelly said. "When you have a guy and you can get settled at it, I think it helps because people kind of know where he's going to be and when the ball is going to be released, kind of what his makeup is and where we are going to be as an offense."
Foles is most def that guy.
Chip Kelly is one of the few coaches to actually live up to the hype. There were opponents of Kelly's hiring, such as ESPN analyst and legendary Philly QB Ron Jaworski that doubted whether or not his college offense could catch wreck in the pros. Many a "genius" at the lower levels have hit brick walls of dejection in the NFL. Not only did Kelly's offense devastate (No.2 in Total Offense to Denver and No. 1 in Rushing) but it lost a dynamic starting QB and actually got better and younger with Foles. In the process, Shady McCoy had an MVP-type season, blowing the league away with 1,607 rushing yards. Some feel he could become as great as Marshall Faulk in Kelly's scheme. The Chicago Bears' Matt Forte was a distant second with 1,339 yards.
More importantly, the most integral piece of Kelly's dope offense is set for the next decade. Kelly won’t have to waste valuable time, draft picks and stress trying to find a QB to run his offense after Vick bounces. It's obvious it doesn't matter what kind of hand or talent Kelly's working with. Vick was a small, speedy, super-athletic QB. Foles is a prototypical, big and strong pocket passer. Kelly more than made it work.
The Eagles (10-6) will host New Orleans in a wild-card game Saturday night, while the Cowboys (8-8) have now dropped a finale to each division rival the past three seasons and have missed the playoffs four straight years.
"It's unthinkable, really, to me to be sitting here three years in a row and this game ends up putting us at .500 and this game eliminates us from going to the playoffs," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
Dallas and the NFC East better start recognizing that the Chip Kelly Era is here. In one-season Kelly proved that his system is a go and NFL playoff defenses will have a problem on their hands when the Philly Funksters roll through.