LANDOVER, Md. - Chip Kelly introduced himself to the NFL last night, sort of like Cortez introduced himself to the Aztecs.
You might recall, Kelly referenced Cortez back when he was hired, after being asked if he would scurry back to college, should his attempt to transplant his flashy offensive scheme end in failure. Kelly said he had burned his boats, like the Spanish explorer who didn't want his fellow conquistadors thinking they could go back home.
This morning, a return to college anytime soon seems unlikely for the man who burned down FedEx Field last night, shocking the "Monday Night Football'' audience and the host Washington Redskins in a 33-27 Eagles victory that shouldn't have been that close.
Kelly's warp-drive offense, going constant no-huddle early on from a shotgun set, ran 19 plays before Robert Griffin III and the Redskins ran their second. The Eagles became the first team since the 2009 Colts to squeeze 30 plays into a quarter. They built a 196-30 total yards advantage before the maroon-clad crowd fully grasped what was going on.
Kelly and the Eagles hijacked a night that, in the national narrative, was supposed to be more about the return of RGIII to the helm of the defending NFC East champions.
"I saw his picture on a billboard on the way in," reported the Eagles' Trent Cole, who forced a crucial fumble.
In the tiny, jampacked FedEx visiting team interview room last night, someone asked if this was how Kelly thought his first NFL game would feel.
"This is how I hoped it would feel," he replied. "That's what makes it so special . . . I had a lot of fun tonight."
A reporter asked Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie if this was what he had in mind 9 months ago, when he persuaded Kelly to leave Oregon.
"Yeah," Lurie said. "I see Chip as a dynamic offensive mind, but more than that, a program builder. [The razzle-dazzle offense] isn't the sole reason he was hired, he was hired because of his leadership, his ability to communicate, his ability to prepare a football team in ways that are very path-breaking and dynamic. He's somebody who's just a good leader of men. That's the No. 1 thing. They're hard to find."
Still, Jeff. First half. You expected that?
"No I did not," Lurie acknowledged.
"He's a great coach," said LeSean McCoy, who left the Redskins gasping and grasping at air, 184 yards on a career-high 31 carries, 5.9 yards per carry. McCoy finished 1 yard short of his career rushing high. "I've gotta say, today is the first time a lot of guys in the locker room had fun."
"It was a bizarre first half," Kelly said. "We're excited. I thought our guys played with great energy."
If the Eagles' first drive of the season hadn't ended in a Redskins touchdown, after the really questionable ruling, upheld by replay, that Michael Vick threw the ball backwards when it was batted down by Ryan Kerrigan, the early carnage would have been more complete.
But even after spotting Washington a 7-0 lead on DeAngelo Hall's 75-yard return of the "fumble," the Eagles weren't deterred. Their nine plays before that one had taken them from their 20 to the Redskins' 4. Their next eight took them 51 yards for an Alex Henery field goal. Then, when Alfred Morris fumbled on the Redskins' first offensive snap and Mychal Kendricks recovered, Vick stood in the pocket, surveyed the field from a clean and tidy perch, and feathered the ball 25 yards to DeSean Jackson in the center of the back of the end zone. The Eagles had the lead, and they didn't look back.
"It was a crazy game," Vick said. "I've never been in anything like it. When the first quarter was over, I thought we were going into halftime."
It helped a lot that RGIII, playing for the first time since his ACL surgery last January, looked really rusty, and the offense around him looked out of sync. Washington's second drive ended in a Brandon Boykin interception. Its third, Griffin pitched high to Morris in the end zone and Morris had to fall on the ball for a safety. Vick missed a few throws, keeping the Eagles from running away and hiding.
For nearly three quarters, new coordinator Billy Davis' defense looked almost as awe-inspiring as the offense. Cary Williams sacked RGIII and picked off a pass, after Kelly told him at halftime he thought he could get one. The Redskins had three first downs at halftime.
"Any time you have three first downs in a half, you're putting your defense out there quite a bit," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan noted.
"I wanted one of them layups like Boykin had," Williams said, with a smile toward his teammate. Williams had to lay out on the sideline for his pick, whereas Boykin caught a stray balloon lofted down the middle under pressure.
Davis warned coming in that his unit was in Stage 1 of a rebuilding process, said he wanted the Redskins to give him a sense of where the starting point would be, what he had to do.
"I don't want to say it was a surprise, but it was nice to see those guys do everything we've worked on the whole offseason," Davis said afterward. "And against a great offensive team . . . It was a fun night. The guys did a great job."
Morris, who rushed for 1,613 yards last season and seemed primed for a big night against an Eagles group that allowed 5.3 yards per carry in the preseason, finished with 45 yards on a dozen carries.
The one thing most of us actually got right going into this was that in Kelly's offense, McCoy has the biggest, widest, shiniest stage he has ever scampered across. McCoy finished the first quarter with 10 carries for 61 yards. It was 20 for 115 at halftime, 24 for 171 at the end of the third quarter. McCoy's lethal cutback on his 34-yard touchdown run, which gave the Birds a 33-7 lead a minute and 34 seconds into the third quarter, was the sort of thing only the very best backs can manage.
"I was expecting it," said left tackle Jason Peters (left tackle when the Birds aren't running one of those unbalanced line schemes they trotted out last night, to further confound their hosts). "Like I said in the preseason, I know is going to get to 1,000 quick because of the way our offense is set up. He's got the cutback, he's got the frontside. I'd say by Week 10, he'll be at 1,000, easy."
Vick completed 15 of 25 passes for 203 yards, two TDs, no picks. His passer rating was 112.6, right about his career average against Washington.
Davis' defense came back to earth eventually, as Griffin III got his rhythm back and Jason Avant fumbled stretching for an extra yard, the turnover setting up a quick Redskins TD. The Eagles' pass rush, dominant in the first half, seemed to settle more back on its heels after the lead ballooned.
It was 33-20 and the Redskins were driving when Williams spiked away a pass intended for Aldrick Robinson, on fourth-and-15 from the Eagles' 42 with 6:53 left. A good bit of the crowd of 82,743 had left when the score got lopsided, but on this drive, the holdouts got pretty loud until that play. Ultimately, though, the Redskins did score a late TD and Avant had to recover an onside kick with 1:10 left to preserve the win.
Every game won't be like this, of course. Before last night, there was no film of the Eagles' offense, the real offense, to help opponents prepare. Vick will have to be sharper early than he was on this night. The defense will have to avoid the kind of lulls that got the Redskins back in a game the Eagles had dominated.
But this was way more fun than the double-digit opening loss many of us predicted. In a shaky-looking NFC East, this Eagles "rebuilding" season suddenly brims with promise.
The Eagles ran 53 plays in the first half.
"That's definitely the most plays I've ever run in a half," center Jason Kelce said. "That's a lot of plays."
Could the Birds hit 100 plays in a game?
"That's definitely within our grasp," Kelce said. "Especially a close game."