Philadelphia Eagles Win Division and Shut Up Chip Kelly Critics

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterDecember 30, 2013

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) celebrates with head coach Chip Kelly late in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. The Eagle beat the Cowboys 24-22. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This game for Philadelphia, more than anything, was about redemption.

It was a stick in the eye to the doubters. Like me. Like you. Like almost all of the NFL that sneered and snickered when Chip Kelly was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. "Another college lightweight," they said. "Another guy who will get chased back to the land of coeds and computer rankings. His offense won't work. He's arrogant. He's a putz."

Oregon…pfffft. This is the NFL. You're running with the big dogs now, Chipster.   

And there he was, his round, emotionless face on the grounds of a Dallas Cowboys team that as much as any other stands for NFL tradition and power. It was that same tradition and power that was supposed to kick Kelly in the teeth. Instead, he won the NFC East in his first year, sealing the division title with Sunday's 24-22 win over the Cowboys.

Andy Reid didn't win the NFC East in his first season as Eagles coach. Buddy Ryan didn't. Dick Vermeil didn't. Hell, since we're also talking about the Cowboys, neither did Jimmy Johnson. It took Tom Landry six years to win his first division crown.

Kelly is just the second head coach to win a division in his first year on an NFL staff since division play began in 1967, according to ESPN's Kevin Negandhi. The other was Barry Switzer, who won the NFC East with the Cowboys in 1994.

But Switzer did it with Johnson's players. Kelly did it with Nick Foles, who he elevated to starting quarterback after Mike Vick was injured and then benched.

Redemption…in the face of people who said Foles would crumble in the post-Vick era. Like me. Like you. Foles is in the playoffs while Super Bowl champions like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning watch from the comfort of their living rooms. Redemption…like when many thought the Eagles would fracture after the videotaped rantings of Riley Cooper became public.

So much was supposed to sink these Eagles. The arrogance of the rookie coach. The goofy looking quarterback. The racial fractures that were never supposed to heal.

Instead, it all went right. What we have now is not simply the best story in the NFL not named Kansas City, but a lesson learned. What Kelly did with his fast talk and fast play was back his words. It's rare for a rookie head coach to enter the meat grinder that is the NFL and shut everyone the hell up who said the bodies of his players would break and Kelly's will would bend (see: No. 8 here).

We were all wrong. All of us. And to the Eagle fan Twitter warriors and Philly sports talk radio fake tough guys, wagging your fingers at everyone—you didn't see this coming, either. No one did. Except maybe Kelly.

And you know what? This ride could easily continue late in the playoffs. The Eagles and Packers are the most dangerous teams in the playoffs, and the Eagles get the outdoors-challeged New Orleans Saints at home on Saturday. The temperatures are supposed to be in the 20s at gametme. So the man many thought would fail—like me, like you—could reach the second round in his first year.

No, the Eagles are not perfect. They can be had on defense and Foles has yet to have that absolutely terrible game that all young quarterbacks eventually do. He also faded in the second half against the Cowboys after starting brilliantly. Foles had nearly 200 yards, two touchdowns and a 155.5 passer rating in the first half but only 41 yards and a passer rating of 54 in the third. 

Kelly also can't resist running nonsensical trick plays at the worst time. He ran one with Brad Smith on 1st-and-goal at the 6. You have LeSean McCoy. Just run the ball. 

Yet for now, for right now, the Eagles are officially the team no one wants to play.

It's because they can run the ball better than anyone, and against anyone. Against Dallas, McCoy had 131 rushing yards behind the most athletic offensive line in football, a line that creates numerous mismatches, particularly on second-level blocks. The Saints are better against the run than the terrible Cowboys, but the Saints won't stop McCoy, either.

The shots at Kelly came from every corner of the sport—and from me, and from you—on the record and anonymous. Earlier this season, Arizona coach Bruce Arians called the read-option a "great college offense," which incensed Philadelphia players. Tight end Brent Celek said the criticism of Kelly was because the NFL is afraid of change.

That is definitely true, and that is the root of the Kelly opposition. In a world where innovation is constant and unending, the NFL changes its stripes with deliberate slowness. Kelly threatened to speed up the process, and that generated the pushback and fear.

Now, the critics have something else to fear.

This Eagles team itself.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.