Philadelphia Eagles fans haven't had the ability to move the required muscles in their faces to create smiles lately. But the majority of the handoffs Bryce Brown took in his first start since high school Monday night led to at least a few subtle nods of approval.
If not for two very costly (aren't they all?) fumbles, some fans might even have been downright satisfied with what Brown was able to do in place of concussed starting running back LeSean McCoy.
In another losing effort, the quick, explosive rookie ran for a team rookie-record 178 yards on 19 carries, highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The blocking was actually exceptional on that score (as you can see in the shot below), but Brown still had to hit the opening hard and had to have the speed to outrun the Carolina secondary.
In 56 career games, McCoy has hit that 178-yard mark only once. And he hasn't picked up 65 or more yards on a single run since 2009, his rookie season. Even before a concussion took him off the field, the All-Pro was ranked only 24th among qualifying running backs with a 4.2 average and had scored just two rushing touchdowns in 10 games.
A lot could change between now and the end of the season, for better or for worse, but was that one electric performance enough to earn Brown a shot at serious reps in 2013?
The reality is that it has probably guaranteed him a roster spot, and there's even a chance McCoy and Brown become somewhat of a one-two punch.
Of course, that depends on who's running the offense and who's coaching the team. Andy Reid isn't/wasn't a big fan of committee-type backfields, but McCoy risks becoming worn down. He was the NFL's most heavily worked running back in 2011 and he's not exactly a large man. Brown might be able to take more of a beating and clearly has the skill set to contribute on all three downs.
Indications are Brown isn't a great pass-blocker, though. And if fumbling becomes a habit, this won't be a discussion. But when a guy can do the kinds of things the Kansas State product was doing against Carolina, he deserves a chance at serious reps, regardless of who usually starts ahead of him.
The Eagles' offensive line didn't fare badly at all Monday night, and the Panthers aren't exactly superb in run defense, but Brown still displayed a special ability to make the right cuts at the right time, and he was doing so with incredible speed.
This, for example, turned into a 19-yard gain.
And sometimes it was sheer speed. This, for example, resulted in another 19-yard pickup around the edge.
There's a chance he fizzles out. We've seen flash-in-the-pan running backs disappear as quickly as they've emerged, and defenses tend to wise up as the length of tape on an opponent grows. In Brown's case, the element of surprise was rather significant considering he barely played in college due to off-field issues.
So we'll see if opposing defensive coordinators begin to find ways to control Brown in the weeks to come. At least I hope we'll see, because this is a perfect opportunity for the 21-year-old to audition against regular-season NFL opponents, and there's little reason to rush McCoy back to a 3-8 team.
If Brown does continue to emerge, the Eagles will have one of those "good problems to have," which might provide some relief with storms brewing literally everywhere else within the organization. There's no such thing as a running back controversy nowadays, because weapons are weapons and committee backfields are ubiquitous.
McCoy is only 24 years old and is one of the highest paid running backs in football. He isn't in jeopardy of losing his job, but the Eagles might soon be forced to adapt to get the most out of not one, but two talented running backs.
The goal, or hope, now, should be to find out over the next few weeks just how good Brown is, and to dig deep on both sides of the ball between now and Dec. 30 to discover any other weapons in the rough that could be used in the next era of Eagles football.