GLENDALE, Ariz. - At the two-minute warning, with the score tied, fourth down coming, and the nose of the football just inside the 1-yard line of the Arizona Cardinals, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles met near the sideline to talk over what to do.
The book says you take the field goal there, and Kelly went with the book. He had an offense that was nearing 500 yards of production on the day, but the book says having a lead near the end of the game is an advisable way to play football.
Upon making the call and sending Cody Parkey onto the field to provide that late lead, Kelly immediately walked over to where the defensive players were gathering for the next drive.
"I'm kicking the field goal because I have confidence in you," Kelly said he told them.
It was a good motivational tale, although in retrospect, the story would sound a lot better if the defense hadn't then given up a 75-yard touchdown pass three plays into that ensuing drive.
Make the Eagles 5-2 on the season after the 24-20 loss in the desert. It wasn't a bad loss - going cross-country to play another top conference team and having it come down to a final play isn't a bad loss - but it would have been a great win.
Had the defense of coordinator Bill Davis justified Kelly's confidence, this would have been regarded as perhaps the culmination of a long journey for that unit. Locking down this win, on the heels of the pre-bye shutout over the Giants, would have calmed a lot of fears. Instead, it was a gut punch to a defense that had to question itself on the long ride home. (Not to mention the confidence of the offensive players who had to wonder why Kelly didn't trust them to win the game.)
"They made a play, man," said cornerback Cary Williams, who had coverage, along with safety Nate Allen, on the long touchdown pass to receiver John Brown, a rookie from Pittsburg (Kansas) State who has speed to burn and used it to burn the Eagles. "I thought I'd be able to catch him, but I wasn't able to make that play. He was fast enough to get away from us."
The Eagles weren't diming out responsibility on the play. Williams had Brown off the line as the receiver made a little cut move and then took off on the post route. Allen was intended to take over the deep coverage at some point, but where the handoff was supposed to be made is a matter of conjecture, and why the four-man rush gave quarterback Carson Palmer plenty of time to set up and heave the ball is another. Add to the equation the fact that Allen grasped at his left hamstring at the end of the play and there might have been a lot of factors involved.
"I'm not pointing fingers," Davis said. "It's a team defense. It's a coverage where we should have had more rush, and we were playing deep, but the guy got behind us. You're never deep enough if they get behind us. But it was the Philadelphia Eagles that got beat on that last play."
It wasn't the only big play allowed by a defense that otherwise had a very solid game. On the third play of the second half, the Cardinals caught the Eagles in a maximum blitz and were able to spring Larry Fitzgerald for an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
The Cardinals' outside wide receiver came in and picked off safety Malcolm Jenkins to spring Fitzgerald from the slot. With the full blitz and no safety net, Fitzgerald was gone.
That was really it, two big plays, but big enough - combined with the Eagles' fondness for giving away their own opportunities - to make the difference in the end. So, is the defense good, or just good enough to get you beaten with a play here and a play there?
"I don't think anybody's confidence is hurt," Jenkins said. "There are no moral victories except what's on film. The good thing was that we fought, but we also made mistakes that could have changed the game. It's one game. It didn't make or break us as a team. It didn't break our confidence."
The part that fans sometimes forget is that the other team is trying, too. The pass from Palmer to Brown was great, but it required Palmer to throw the ball 50 yards and have it land exactly in the stride of a man who runs a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. It required Brown to gather in the ball directly over his head, a la Willie Mays in the Polo Grounds. None of that had to happen as precisely as it did, and maybe the ball would have been completed once for every 10 times the Cardinals tried the play. Of course, it only had to happen once.
"This team is one of the top teams in the league, and it came down to the last second. We know where we stand. We know we're a pretty good football team," cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "We went toe-to-toe with a good team. That's why it's doubly frustrating being on the other end of it."
Frustrating, too, that the defense merely reinforced the questions about itself instead of answering them with a solid, tough road win. Those answers will have to arrive later, and maybe they even will.
Nothing is for certain, though - not even a three-point lead with 1 minute, 33 seconds to play and the other team 75 yards from the goal line. That was the lesson in University of Phoenix Stadium, and the Eagles need to study it some more.