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Losing streak didn't lose Kelly the locker room

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Two years ago almost to the day, the Eagles arrived here to play a "meaningless" game, or one without playoff implications, if you will.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly hugs Nate Allen after he intercepted a pass. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly hugs Nate Allen after he intercepted a pass. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Two years ago almost to the day, the Eagles arrived here to play a "meaningless" game, or one without playoff implications, if you will.

They had collapsed long before this year's team had its three-game meltdown, but the Eagles had something to play for in Andy Reid's last game as coach. They could have sent him out with a win. Instead they delivered a dud and lost, 42-7.

The circumstances on Sunday were far different, but the meaningless game part was not. Chip Kelly never entertained the idea of resting certain starters to see how some younger players would fare under the lights. He had more to lose, particularly if the Eagles ended the season with four straight defeats.

But his players responded with a 34-26 victory at MetLife Stadium and the minor consolation of finishing the year with 10 wins. There were some of the usual issues - secondary play, quarterback mistakes - but closing out Kelly's second season on a high note reflected that the Eagles' trust in their coach has yet to waver.

"This locker room has never wavered in their confidence in the coaches, especially Chip," center Jason Kelce said. "And I really don't think whether we lost or won today that it would have made that big of a difference in our confidence. I think the win helps reassure that we have good players and we're a good team that went 10-6 and we're very close."

It remains to be seen how close the Eagles are to winning a postseason game, let alone a Super Bowl. They have specific needs in terms of personnel - a cornerback or two, a safety, perhaps a quarterback if they should be so lucky as to find one, and young depth at other spots.

But the Eagles don't appear to need a culture change. You would hope not after just two seasons with Kelly in charge. But look around the rest of the league: The Bears are expected to fire Marc Trestman after just two seasons. Jay Gruden's job isn't secure with the Redskins after just one season.

Two years ago, the Eagles needed to hit the reset button after 14 years. This is not an indictment of Reid, who had accomplished more than Kelly - winning a playoff game - in his first two seasons. But there were players who gave less than 100 percent in his last game because it had been that way for almost two seasons.

You could never say Kelly's Eagles have given less than their full effort.

"The biggest thing is we're going to compete every week," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Nobody checked it in. Nobody has got one foot out of the door. We know we had a game that we had to finish the season with. We wanted 10 wins."

The win does little to dilute how the Eagles squandered a playoff spot, however. The three-game losing streak seemed to knock the shine off Kelly for some fans. His day-after news conference, when many were perhaps looking for more accountability, didn't help placate the vocal segment.

But Kelly has never suffered fools, particularly those in the media. He has the unquestioned support of owner Jeffrey Lurie, who gave a strong endorsement after the game, and, of course, the locker room.

"That should never be questioned," receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "You go 10-6 - yeah, we missed the playoffs, we lost three straight and now all of a sudden it's, 'Is he this? Is he that?' It's not like that, man. As players, we were on the field playing those games.

"We turned the football over. We didn't make enough plays. We couldn't sustain drives. It was us. He wasn't out there in a helmet and shoulder pads. We let the city of Philadelphia down. We've got to get it corrected."

That isn't to say all was rosy in the locker room. Two players had recently questioned to The Inquirer Kelly's offseason decision to release DeSean Jackson. Two players had agreed with cornerback Cary Williams in October that Kelly's practices were too strenuous.

"There's obviously natural frustration, but not the team, just personal play," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I didn't think there was ever a crack in the belief in what we were doing as an organization."

But there never seemed to be a hint of dissent, and if there was, leaders like Kelce, Jenkins, Maclin and Barwin stamped it out. The loquacious Williams had become as quiet as a mouse after his criticism of the practice pace.

"I think the formula is in place," said Williams, who still has a year left on his contract. "There are some things that we could tweak, but that's just like any organization. . . . I think we have a good nucleus of players here. I think we have a great culture here. I think we have a great opportunity to develop into something special."

Kelly will obviously self-evaluate, but he has to pinpoint what exactly went wrong, in particular the loss to an all-but-dead Redskins team. It wasn't just injuries and the lack of talent in certain spots that led to an unprecedented collapse in team history.

But whether you agree with Kelly's assessment that "culture beats scheme," Sunday's effort and result suggested that culture certainly played a part in his 20-12 start as Eagles coach.

"I love this group," Kelly said. "They came to work every single day. Everything we asked them to do they did."

He has the culture part. He just needs more.