IN THE SPACE between meaning and nothingness, the Eagles won a football game last night. They were the team playing for nothing other than playoff seeding. The Chicago Bears were the team playing for a division championship. That the Eagles ended up stomping all over the Bears defied both logic and tradition.
But what does it mean?
On the contrary. Even though the game next Sunday night against the Cowboys will decide the NFC East champion, this game against the Bears, this roaring, 54-11 victory, meant something because Eagles coach Chip Kelly decided he wanted it to mean something.
Chip gambled and Chip won. Chip made a statement about how things will be done around here and Chip's team backed it up. And now the 9-6 Eagles have guaranteed themselves not only a winning record in Kelly's first season as their coach, but as much confidence as a young, resurgent team could possibly have as it prepares for a winner-take-all game in the final week of the season.
And Chip won.
The coach could have rested his starters, as Andy Reid almost certainly would have done if presented with the same situation. He could have turned the evening into a glorified exhibition game. It was all within Kelly's power - to render this one meaningless and start Dallas week a day early.
But all week, Kelly has insisted that he would play it straight and play it to win - even though, by choosing that strategy, he risked not only injuries to his key players but also the possibility of a second straight disappointment for his starters going into the division championship game.
Instead, what Kelly got from his team was a rollicking beatdown of the Bears - who, to repeat, were playing a game that would have won them the NFC North Division. Quarterback Nick Foles was surgical - 21-for-25 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Running back LeSean McCoy was dominant - 18 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns. As the lead built, the only question was when Kelly would get his starters out of the game.
The answer: not until it was 47-11, with 8 minutes to go in the fourth quarter for the defense and 6:24 to go for the offense.
They earned the rest.
In the NFL, there always has been two distinct approaches to these kinds of situations. Reid represented one side of it, the cautious side - and, to be fair, Reid never lost a playoff game immediately after resting his team. Coaches like Bill Parcells and Mike Ditka represented the other side of the argument, the one where you play every game the same way and insist upon that kind of a mindset - that you deal with the risk as you would in any game; that you deal with it but do not fear it, or allow it to paralyze you.
There are arguments both ways - and if Foles or McCoy had been hurt against the Bears, the resulting furor would have been ferocious. There is no denying that. But by playing it the way he did, by playing it straight, Kelly made a statement that will last a lot longer than the memory of this particular game.
The statement? As they sing in the old hymn, "Be not afraid . . . "
Kelly has talked forever about an NFL season really being 16, 1-week seasons. His team has been remarkably consistent, considering everything, as it has attempted to carry out that mandate. This game fits perfectly into that philosophy. It cannot but help them as they prepare for next Sunday night's one-and-done.
"We want Dallas," is what the stadium chanted, over and over, with 10 minutes left in the game. It was the nicest thing the citizenry chanted about Dallas in a night full of chants about Dallas. Three days before Christmas, Lincoln Financial Field was a festively venomous place - or is that venomously festive?
Whatever. Last week, the Minnesota Vikings hung nearly half-a-hundred points on the Eagles. Last night, the Eagles hung more than half-a-hundred points on the Bears. It is a week-to-week business, and the game at AT&T Stadium is still a week away.
But in the here and now, a young team will arrive at that pressure-filled destination with as good a foundation as anyone could have hoped for.
Because Chip gambled.
And Chip won.