Next up, finale in Dallas for NFC East title
MAYBE YOU CAN debate whether it meant that much, in the long run, but you can't debate that this was Chip Kelly's win.
The Eagles coach said his team could not let Dallas affect its preparation for Chicago, that it needed to bounce back hard from last week's embarrassing loss in Minnesota, whether the 8:30 p.m. kickoff carried with it a chance to wrap up the NFC East or not. The Eagles went an impressive 2-for-2 in their most dominating victory of the season, 54-11 over the visiting Bears. Kelly assured himself of a winning record in his first NFL season, something not many people predicted 4 months ago. His message clearly was received loud and clear.
"We're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said, in explaining how his team, with so little to play for, unleashed so much havoc on Chicago. "If there's a game on, we'll play it. End of story."
The Bears, who could have locked up a playoff berth with a win, were down two touchdowns midway through the first quarter. The team that was playing for nothing tangible beyond seeding eventually expanded its edge to 24f-0 on a 49-yard Alex Henery field goal with 1:10 left in the first half, 33-3 after LeSean McCoy's second touchdown of the evening, on the possession following a Bears safety.
Where was this Eagles team last week in Minnesota? What film did the Bears watch all week, that every Eagles screen pass made them look like the bad guys in a "Home Alone" movie? Who knew Kelly would end up resting his key starters, after all, but only after cruising to a 36-point lead midway through the fourth quarter?
"We weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice," Kelly said, after a dizzying defensive turnaround, in which the Eagles' corners had no trouble corralling the Bears' stable of big-talented receivers.
The finale in Dallas that will decide the NFC East title was flexed to Sunday night even though the Bears also will be playing for a divisional title next week. But the network folk, after getting their first prime-time taste of Kelly's fireworks show since Week 3, were sure they wanted more of that, against America's Team in the Jerrydome.
"The playoffs start a week earlier for both teams," Kelly said, when asked his thoughts on the division coming down to this Week 17 game.
"See you in Dallas!" McCoy told reporters as he walked away from the podium after his postgame news conference.
Nick Foles threw across his body on the run for the first touchdown, to Riley Cooper, then after Bradley Fletcher ripped the ball away from Devin Hester on the ensuing kickoff and Cary Williams fell on it, Foles quickly moved the Birds 39 yards in five plays for another TD, LeSean McCoy busting in from the 1. The play of the drive was another Foles throw across his body on the run, 27 yards during a scramble, to Zach Ertz.
Next Eagles drive, fourth-and-a-foot from the Bears' 37, Kelly went for it. Unlike last week — and this became a common refrain throughout the evening — McCoy bounced to his left and rambled 11 yards. Four plays later, on third-and-goal from the Bears' 10, Foles found Brent Celek in the end zone and it was 21-0.
McCoy, shunted aside after the Eagles fell behind in Minnesota, had 64 yards on nine carries at halftime, after finishing his day against the Vikings with eight carries for 38. After the Eagles took a 40-11 lead on a 10-yard Chris Polk touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, McCoy sat down with 133 yards on 18 carries, 36 yards shy of Wilbert Montgomery's franchise single-season record of 1,512, set in 1979.
The afternoon and early-evening dominoes all fell the Bears' way; they returned to the locker room from warmups to find that both Green Bay and Detroit had lost, meaning the Bears suddenly were playing for the NFC North title. (Now, Green Bay, kept alive by the Eagles, has a chance to win the division by beating the host Bears in the finale. The Lions were eliminated yesterday.)
The Eagles should have been in the same looking-to-clinch situation, but losing in Minnesota left their clinching fate in the hands of the Washington Redskins and Mike Shanahan. You know how that went: Fourth-and-goal from the Redskins' 10, Dallas QB Tony Romo throws the winning touchdown pass, as Washington defenders gape in wonder. Then the Redskins can't pull themselves together well enough to even run coherent plays when they get the ball back with a chance to move down and kick a game-winning field goal.
So, Bears playing for everything, Eagles playing for seeding, knowing their most hated rival gets to try to take the division from them on its home field next week, coming off an inspiring victory that, at least for a week, rewrote the Romo-December disaster scenario.
And the Eagles blew the September-like evening wide-open. It was the first half of the opener against the Redskins, twice.
"I think our whole team came out with tremendous heart, tremendous focus, tremendous effort," left guard Evan Mathis said. "I think we all moved on from [the ending of the Dallas-Washington game] fast. We were at the hotel still [when the Redskins blew it]. We all knew the outcome of that game. We can't control that. So, whatever — we focused on what we were supposed to focus on, which was coming out here and playing Chicago."
Mathis did not know the Bears could have wrapped up their division, until a reporter told him.
"Your preparation, your approach is not really focused on things like that," Mathis said. "You can't think about what this game means for the playoffs, you have to think about your job."
Foles completed 21 of 25 passes (84 percent, and three of the four misses were throwaways) for 230 yards, a pair of TDs, no interceptions and a 131.7 passer rating. He has 25 touchdown passes (and two interceptions) in nine starts this season. Yes, offensive numbers are ridiculous everywhere right now, but in Eagles history, only five times has a quarterback thrown for more than 25 TDs. All of the QBs who have done that have started at least 14 games.
"Nick did a really, really nice job of kind of managing what we were trying to accomplish," Kelly said. "Really good decisions, and that's one thing he's really been great with, his decision-making's been outstanding."
McCoy said the most important thing next week is winning, obviously, but he also wants Montgomery's record.
"It means a lot," said McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher. "This is the stuff you dream about. You dream about going to the Super Bowl, winning those games, breaking records. You dream about setting records, rushing titles."
Foles, of course, had his worst game in the first meeting with Dallas, a 17-3 Eagles loss. He has played pretty darned well since.
"You can't let one game defeat you," Foles said last night. "If I know anything about myself, I'm gonna keep fightin'. If I know anything about this team, they're going to keep fightin'...You learn from games like that, and you move forward. The team kept together, we stayed together."
Foles' completion percentage (84.0) was an Eagles' single-game record, breaking Rodney Peete's mark of 83.3 (25-for-30) set in 1996.
The first of Trent Cole's two first-half sacks moved him past Clyde Simmons into second-place all time for the franchise, behind only Reggie White (124). Cole finished with three sacks of Jay Cutler, and now has 79 in his career . . .
Early in the second half, Donnie Jones set the franchise record for punts downed inside the 20 with 32. That punt, to the 2, led to Cedric Thornton's safety on the next play . . . Brandon Boykin took a Cutler pass 54 yards for the TD that made it 47-11 with 8 minutes left. It was Boykin's team-high fifth interception of the season . . .
Earl Wolff left the game after seeming to tweak the right knee that had kept him out of action since Nov. 10 at Green Bay . . . Michael Vick played for the first time since Oct. 27, in mopup duty.