When the Philadelphia Eagles hired Chip Kelly to be their head coach on Jan. 11, it was widely presumed to be the beginning of an arduous rebuilding process. How many people believed way back then that the franchise had just positioned itself to go from worst to first?
It turns out Kelly was the perfect man for the job, as he took the remnants of a 4-12 club and got every man in the locker room to buy into his philosophy. From conditioning programs to schemes, Chip reshaped the way the Eagles did everything.
They went from being a collection of individuals to a team—a playoff team, for that matter.
The postseason begins this Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, as the Eagles host the New Orleans Saints, and expectations are high. But before we begin looking forward, let’s take one last look back on a memorable 2013 campaign for a little refresher on how the Birds got here in the first place.
Nobody quite knew what to expect when the Eagles took the field for Monday Night Football in Week 1. Would Chip Kelly’s offense live up the hype and revolutionize the game forever?
I’m not sure to what degree Kelly has changed the NFL, if at all, but the speed and explosiveness of the offense came as advertised.
The Birds raced up to the line of scrimmage after every play, repeatedly snapping the ball while there was still 20-25 seconds on the play clock. Washington’s defense sure acted like they had never seen Chip’s brand of no-huddle or schemes, as Philadelphia jumped out to a 33-7 lead less than 32 minutes into the game.
Washington would chip away in the second half and position themselves for an onside kick attempt, but it was too little, too late. The Eagles won by a final score of 33-27.
Michael Vick completed 15-of-25 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, but the real star was LeSean McCoy. The eventual league rushing champion gave opponents a glimpse of what was in store this season with 184 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles would go on to lose their next three contests and five of the next seven, but looking back on opening night, it turned out to be a sign of things to come. Philadelphia finished second in the NFL in terms of total offense this season.
It would take another month until Nick Foles was ready to step into the national spotlight, but before solidifying himself as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, he first had to outshine Michael Vick.
Vick went the entire first quarter of the Eagles’ Week 5 matchup against the Giants without completing a pass and eventually exited the game after suffering a hamstring injury late in the second quarter. Foles entered the game with a 16-7 lead and quickly mounted a drive to tack on three more as the half was winding down.
New York would mount a comeback in the second half, though, and eventually take a 21-19 lead. As much as Vick struggled to throw the ball, he was keeping the offense moving with his legs. Was this the same offense without the threat of a mobile quarterback?
Foles would eventually find his rhythm, mounting three consecutive scoring drives, including two for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, to propel the Birds back into the lead. Philly went on to beat the Giants 36-21, as the then-backup quarterback completed 16-of-25 passes for 197 yards and two scores.
Foles would get the start in place of an injured Vick at Tampa Bay a week later, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns in a win. The stretch of play began to put doubts in many fans’ and experts’ minds as to just who was the best quarterback to lead this team.
Now, the answer seems so obvious.
Not one person could claim they saw this coming.
Two weeks earlier, Nick Foles had played his worst game as a pro, completing 38 percent of his passes before exiting with a concussion in a 17-3 loss against the Dallas Cowboys. It seemed as though his chance to claim the starting job had gone out the window.
Then Foles exploded.
In his first game back after being medically cleared, the second-year passer’s career was changed forever, as he became the seventh person to tie the NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes. Foles completed 22-of-28 passes for 406 yards and had no turnovers in a blowout 49-20 win at Oakland, instantly becoming a household name in the process.
For this one day, the 24-year-old could do no wrong. Foles had a couple chances to throw another touchdown and set his name apart in the record books, but with the outcome in hand, he was eventually pulled in the fourth quarter.
Riley Cooper hauled in three touchdowns, while DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy all got a piece of Foles’ record as well. Fans and experts alike were still afraid to anoint him the Eagles’ franchise quarterback after the game, but his performance went a long way toward changing perceptions about his ceiling.
Thirteen months had passed since the Eagles’ last win at Lincoln Financial Field, but change was afoot on this November day. Winners of two straight, the Eagles were set to host the vulnerable 3-6 Washington franchise.
The tilt started as expected, with the Eagles again jumping out to a big third-quarter lead over their division rival, this time 24-0. Washington would make a late run as they did in the first meeting as well, but on the final drive, Robert Griffin III’s desperation pass sailed into the hands of cornerback Brandon Boykin. Just like that, the threat was over.
Foles again played mistake-free football, completing 17-of-26 passes for 298 yards with no turnovers. LeSean McCoy posted 150 total yards and two touchdowns to pace the offense, and finally, Philadelphia could once again call the Linc home.
The Eagles have won their last four in their own building now.
The Eagles were riding a wave of momentum, victorious in three straight and with their record above .500 in the month of November or later for the first time since 2010. Doubts lingered about the strength of their team, though, as they had to defeat a quality opponent.
Enter the Arizona Cardinals, who presented a difficult matchup for the Birds in Week 13. Arizona featured the No. 1 run defense and one of the game’s premier cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson, which meant tough days were in store for the Philly offense’s two most productive players, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was red-hot going into their meeting, while big receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd presented problems for the Eagles' 32nd-ranked pass defense.
Philly’s game plan deftly made use of Arizona’s biggest weakness, though: tight ends. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz combined to score three touchdowns in the first half, as Nick Foles again played turnover-free football to survive a late rally and hold off the Cards 24-21.
The finish was mired in some controversy, as a defensive holding penalty erased a Foles interception, while a second pentalty extended the Birds' final possession, allowing them to run out the clock. All that matters is that it was another mark in the win column.
The victory bumped the Eagles’ record to 7-5, and finally, it was becoming popular to view them not just as threats to win the NFC East, but as legitimate contenders.
Forecasts in South Philly called for 1-3 inches of snow starting around 3 p.m. When the Eagles and Lions were set for their 1 p.m. kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field, though, they stepped out into the middle of a blizzard that had already dumped six inches of snow on the ground.
It will be a long time before anybody forgets the imagery of the Snow Bowl. Conditions were so poor in the first half that it was difficult to see the Detroit Lions in their white jerseys, even on TV. The score through 30 minutes was 8-0, as both teams struggled to move the football.
The precipitation eventually died down, but not before the field had been covered by eight inches of the white stuff. To give you an idea of how bad it was, kicking was a near impossibility. Only one field goal or extra point was attempted the entire game.
The conditions were hell on Lions defenders as well, who couldn’t find their footing as LeSean McCoy went dashing through the snow. Shady broke touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards on his way to over 130 in the fourth quarter alone, showing incredible balance and agility.
By the time the game was over, McCoy had racked up a franchise record 217 yards, knocking off Steve Van Buren's mark set in 1949. The dazzling performance carried the Eagles to a 34-20 victory, their fifth straight.
A shot of Nick Foles in the snow was immortalized forever on the cover of Sports Illustrated a week later.
No one game defines the Eagles’ 2013 campaign more than their Week 17 win at Dallas. With a 24-22 victory over the Cowboys, the Birds completed their climb from worst to first, clinching the NFC East championship and a spot in the playoffs.
All of the hard work that was put in during the offseason, training camp and over 16 games culminated in that one moment.
The contest itself was a tight affair, with Philly narrowly beating Dallas 24-22. The Cowboys were without quarterback Tony Romo, and their last-place defense seemed to be no match for the league’s second-ranked offense. The bad guys had home-field advantage, though, and they weren’t going down without a fight, not with everything that was on the line.
Backup signal-caller Kyle Orton gave a great effort, throwing for 358 yards in the loss, but his second interception did the Cowboys in. Once again, cornerback Brandon Boykin was there to save the day on a potential game-winning drive.
It was the perfect ending to storybook regular season. Fortunately, there are still a few pages left for more chapters. With the Eagles back in the postseason, who knows how far they can go now. It may not have felt like it back in September, but suddenly, the Super Bowl might be a reality for Philadelphia.