Even though the Eagles' season finale against the New York Giants has no postseason implications, Chip Kelly is resolute about approaching the game as if it does.
Kelly will not change the lineup or play younger players for the purpose of evaluation. He's trying to break the Eagles' three-game losing streak on Sunday and reach 10 wins.
So quarterback Mark Sanchez will start his eighth game this season, with Matt Barkley remaining on the bench. Nick Foles has been ruled out for Sunday, effectively ending the season of the team's opening-day starter.
Rookies and end-of-the-roster players will not be treated differently this week than they would if the Eagles were playing for a division title - except, of course, they are not playing for a division title.
"It's not about trying to see what the future is," Kelly said. ". . . I would not be fair in any of my beliefs and I would not be fair to any football player right now if I said to some guy, 'Hey, I know you're a better player, but I'm going to play a younger guy now.' That's not what we're all about. If you want to go do that, go somewhere else. That's not us. We get a chance to go put the ball on the ground, we're going to go play football."
Kelly was more chippy than chipper on Monday, his first time speaking since the loss to the Redskins. He was not in the mood to evaluate a season that went awry, deflecting any big-picture discussion until the offseason.
He wanted all the focus to be on Sunday's game against the Giants, when they could match last season's win total. Win or lose, the Eagles would have a better record than the NFC South champion, which will be rewarded with a home playoff game. That does not rankle Kelly, who put the responsibility on the team.
"We didn't do enough," Kelly said. "We didn't win enough games against the right opponents to put ourselves in the playoffs. We knew the rules of engagement before the season started. . . . That's on us. That's not on anybody else, or what the structure of setup is."
Playing to win and giving bottom-of-the-roster players a chance are not mutually exclusive, but from Kelly's perspective, it's the wrong message.
First-round pick Marcus Smith and fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins both have potential, but they barely play. Barkley has not started a game in two seasons, so seeing him would at least give the Eagles a chance for a fuller evaluation. There are 12 players who have played fewer than 10 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps, and their path to playing time is unchanged this week.
"Anybody that is on this football team earns their playing time," Kelly said. "So it's been the bottom line since I got here and it will always be that way. . . . That's not fair to the rest of the players. You can't tell them to go out there and compete every day, even though they are competing and they are playing better than the guy next to them, but the guy next to them is going to play just for what? Just not the way we're going to operate."
Kelly used the example of Smith and Brandon Graham. Smith has been "inconsistent," Kelly said, and has not been able to earn playing time over other linebackers. Kelly said he cannot tell Graham, who has "done an unbelievable job," that he would play less because they want to see a younger player. Kelly emphasized that no player will get playing time because of "how you came" to Philadelphia.
The Eagles did not take either of their outside linebackers off the field Saturday. They usually play a rotation when Trent Cole is healthy, but they used Graham and Connor Barwin exclusively without calling on Smith.
When the players report on Tuesday morning, Kelly will hold a meeting in which he preaches the importance of Sunday's game. He will tell them it is the only game remaining in the season, and they should relish the opportunity to play in the NFL. He likes the attitude of his players, with a "core group" that wants to keep winning.
Kelly will give them that chance. Whether it's a long-term benefit is up for debate. But Kelly said it's the organization's emphasis, and he would not be with the team if they did not think that way.
"That's the message from the owner to me," Kelly said. "That's what we're going to do. If it wasn't like that, I wouldn't be here."