You wouldn’t know it from looking at the final score, but the Philadelphia Eagles supposedly had nothing to play for on Sunday night. The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, theoretically could have clinched a postseason berth with a win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Theoretically, because in reality, the Bears never had a chance.
The Eagles jumped all over Chicago the moment both teams walked through the tunnel, and they never let off the gas pedal until the offense went into the victory formation, kneeling away an obscene 54-11 win.
There was actually some debate as to whether the Birds should have even played their starters to begin with. Regardless of the outcome, Philadelphia would have to defeat the Cowboys at Dallas in Week 17 in order to make the playoffs. All that was gained by beating the Bears is the Eagles are guaranteed the third seed—if they get into the tournament.
Was that really worth the possibility of losing key players to injury?
As always, Chip Kelly has his own ideas. Rest? Try tune-up. When pressed about his starters’ playing time leading up to the tilt, the first-year head coach was adamant his squad would compete no matter what the stakes were.
Why? As Kelly explained at his postgame news conference, because that’s what football teams are supposed to do. Via CSNPhilly.com’s John Gonzalez:
'Very simply,' Kelly said, 'we’re from Philadelphia, and we fight.'
He continued: 'If there’s a game on, we’re playing. End of story. All this stuff about backing in, not worrying about things, all these other things, I have no idea. So many different scenarios. Could have been a tie. What if there’s a tie and we go play Dallas next week and then we gave a game away last week? If we’re going to line up and kick off, you tell us what time to show up and we’ll be there.'
In other words, just go play the games that are on the schedule and let things like postseason berths and seeding work themselves out. The Eagles escaped the game unscathed and helped themselves however marginally in the process.
Most of all, though, Chip got his team ready for the playoffs by treating this as a chance to compete, learn and improve—and since do-or-die contests start a week early for the Eagles this year, that can’t be a bad thing. That and more in this week’s Takeaways.
After holding opponents to 21 points or less in nine consecutive games, the Eagles surrendered a 48-spot last week…to the Minnesota Vikings. Now the Vikings are much better than advertised, but that was with reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson sidelined, and journeyman Matt Cassel under center.
Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns without the aid of a legitimate running game, prompting concern the Birds’ secondary was finally showing its true colors. So what kind of numbers were the new “Monsters of the Midway” going to post?
Surprisingly quiet ones. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery—both viable Pro Bowl candidates—entered the game averaging 12.1 receptions, 175.0 yards and 1.2 touchdowns. On Sunday night, they were limited to 10 catches for 112 yards and a score.
The difference in yards per catch was especially significant, though. Normally, Marshall and Jeffery average 14.4 yards, but against the Eagles that figure fell to 11.2—a sure sign the big plays went missing.
Give Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher a ton of credit for covering those guys. The physical style of Philadelphia’s corners seemed to match up very well against the bigger receivers from Chicago, who hauled in very few if any balls that were uncontested.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler wound up completing 20 of 35 passes for just 222 yards (6.3 AVG), one touchdown and one interception. The pick was the punctuation mark in the loss, as nickel corner Brandon Boykin jumped a route in the fourth quarter and returned the pick 54 yards for a touchdown. Boykin leads the Eagles with five interceptions.
The turnaround in the secondary likely couldn’t have happened without the relentless pressure wrought by the Eagles’ front seven. Only two players registered sacks for Philadelphia, but they came away with five total.
Trent Cole absolutely terrorized Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod, getting to quarterback Jay Cutler three times. That gives the 31-year-old Cole eight sacks on the season, all of them coming in the past seven games.
Of course, Cole had to learn a new position with the Birds’ switch to a 3-4. As we remarked earlier in the season, the two-time Pro Bowler was still a force against the run and was even acquitting himself nicely in coverage, but he wasn’t having the same impact as a pass-rusher. Obviously it’s clicked in the second half of the season, and Cole is having himself a tremendous all-around season.
Eagles interior linebacker Mychal Kendricks came up with the other two QB takedowns, continuing to flash potential as a playmaker up the middle.
The work of Philadelphia’s defensive front in the trenches helped stop a formidable running game as well. Cedric Thornton continued having one of the most overlooked seasons in the NFL, blowing up several plays in the backfield, including catching Matt Forte in the end zone for a safety. Forte was limited to 29 yards on nine attempts.
Believe it or not, Thornton deserves serious consideration for a trip to Honolulu this winter.
Nick Foles didn’t throw for over 400 yards, nor did he toss seven touchdown passes. He didn’t have to. Still, while this was nowhere near the most prolific game in the young signal-caller’s brief career, it was right up there with some of the best.
Foles’ line probably won’t blow anybody away. 230 yards on 9.2 yards per attempt and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 131.7 seems almost pedestrian by this kid’s standards.
It’s the fact that he didn’t make a single mistake the entire game that is so impressive. Foles completed 21 of 25 attempts for a remarkable 84-percent completion rate. What’s more, at least three of those incompletions were throwaways.
According to Eagles Insider, 84.0 is the highest-recorded percentage in franchise history. The 24-year-old also committed zero turnovers, and even the two sacks he took only cost the offense five yards.
You truly cannot ask for more than that. Foles stayed within the offense and managed the game, yet still made big-time throws when the situation called—like his first TD, a five-yard strike to the back of the end zone, across his body while on the move and with a defender in his face.
A+ performance for Foles. There wasn’t a single play where it felt he’d really like to have that one back.
Chicago entered Week 16 with the worst run defense in the NFL this season. They exited Week 16 with the worse-est.
The Bears conceded 289 yards on the ground to the Eagles after kneeldowns for an average of 8.0 yards per rush. To put that in perspective, Philly averaged 9.0 per passing play. Yikes.
Naturally, LeSean McCoy was the ringleader. His 133 yards on 18 carries (7.4) and two touchdowns are a downright ordinary day when he gets those kinds of touches. He also had six receptions for 29 yards, so it’s safe to say Shady’s wish to put the offense on his back this week was granted.
That line brings McCoy’s season total to 1,476 yards, which is nearly 200 yards more than the next closest back on the leaderboard, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles at 1,287. McCoy is also ahead of Charles in yards from scrimmage, although the margin is much tighter, as they’re separated by just 32.
Tim McManus for the blog Birds 24/7 also notes McCoy is just 37 yards away from breaking Wilbert Montgomery’s franchise record for rushing yards in a season.
The Bears crummy run D will certainly assist teams to those kinds of numbers. After all, backup Bryce Brown managed to go over the century mark this week as well, thanks in part to a 65-yard scamper to the end zone. All three of the Birds’ active backs reached paydirt actually, as Chris Polk also punched one in from 10 yards out.
The Eagles had to do without injured safeties Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson, both of whom serve as contributors on the kick-coverage units. How did the special teams get by without two of its key members?
Thankfully, the starters aren’t too proud to serve as specialists as well. In fact, cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams combined to make one of the plays of the game.
Unlike last week, the Birds tried their luck kicking off deep, and it nearly came back to haunt them on Devin Hester’s second return of the game. The NFL’s all-time leader in combined kick and punt return touchdowns was breaking off a long return, when Fletcher reached his paw in and ripped the ball loose from Hester’s arm.
Williams dove on the loose rock, giving Philadelphia possession in Chicago territory. A short time later, the Eagles scored and were up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
If the Bears don’t fall behind by a large margin early, this could’ve been a different game. The turnover swung the momentum further in the home team’s advantage, however, and before anyone knew it, the game was spiraling out of control.
Overall, the special teams unit did a great job handling the Hester problem. Chicago averaged a meager 21.1 yards per kick return on Sunday night.
The Eagles didn’t need to call on the punter very often against the Bears, but when they did, he was his usual reliable self. Donnie Jones punted twice, both kicks downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. One of those attempts, downed at the 2-yard line by Brandon Boykin, resulted in a safety.
Jones has been a huge contributor to the defense’s success this season with kicks like those, but this little nugget still might sneak up on people. With those two kicks inside the 20, Jones broke Jeff Feagles’ single-season franchise record with his 32nd according to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
The value of a punter often gets overlooked or lost entirely in jokes, but Jones, a free agent from the Houston Texans, has been a great addition for the Eagles this year. Nothing funny about that.
“We want Dallas” was the refrain that could be heard echoing throughout Lincoln Financial Field and through TV sets for much of the second half, as the Eagles completed their rout of Chicago. That’s where the Birds are headed next to decide who will be crowned NFC East champions.
Just like you thought back in September, right? Maybe not that long for some of you, but this meeting has been months in the making to be sure.
The Cowboys of course took the first tilt, taking advantage of probably the worst outing in Nick Foles’ career. Foles struggled to complete 38 percent of his passes, and as a result, the offense struggled to move the ball, failing to reach the end zone. Dallas would go on to win 17-3 in Philly.
Since then, the Eagles’ record is 6-2.
It’s no wonder Philly fans were chanting for Dallas, though, because there’s no reason to be scared anymore. The Cowboys are ranked dead last in overall defense, 30th versus the pass, 27th against the run and 25th in points allowed.
If the Eagles play half as good as they did against Chicago, next week’s opponent isn’t a whole heck of a lot more likely to contain them.
Certainly not if Foles is accurate and keeps his mistakes to a minimum. And several of the best run defenses in the NFL have demonstrated little ability to hold LeSean McCoy at bay. As long as those two continue to post numbers, the Eagles should roll into the postseason.
So, bring on Dallas and the playoffs. Just like everybody expected all along.