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Yo Chip, it's over

The Eagles' coach plans to play his starters Sunday, even though the season finale is meaningless.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (David Maialett/Staff Photographer)
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. (David Maialett/Staff Photographer)Read more

IN THE WAKE of cutting DeSean Jackson, signing Mark Sanchez and leaving Bradley Fletcher in one-on-one coverage, Chip Kelly is keeping his streak of great decisions alive.

He will start all of his starters in a meaningless finale Sunday at the Giants.

Damn those torpedoes, Admiral.

Cap'n Kelly will play his entire paper-thin offensive line; his irreplaceable left-side linebackers; his All-Guts tight end; and his fearless new safety.

Kelly knew yesterday his philosophy would be criticized. He was primed for the inevitable questions; loaded for bear, really. He never bothered with his trademark New England sarcasm, didn't mess around with any "wise-ass" quips - his words.

"We're going to win the football game. There is no, 'Let's go see what we can do,' " Kelly said, his course set, full speed ahead. "The upside is, we're going to go [to] win a football game. That's what this whole organization is all about. It's not about trying to see what the future is about."

There is the possibility that, after 16 weeks of the regular season and a full training camp, Kelly and Co. know all they need to know about their backup personnel.

There is the possibility that Kelly, his staff and his boss, owner Jeffrey Lurie, are worried that losing four games to end the season will erase the winning culture Kelly created in just two seasons.

There also is the possibility that Kelly et al think winning is more important than rewarding veterans and protecting them with a day off.

On the face of it, that is the case:

"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,' " Kelly said.

He continued as if he was addressing his players, not the press: "If you want to do that, go somewhere else. That's not us. We get a chance to put the ball on the ground, we're going to go play football."

Lurie agrees, Kelly said:

"That's the message from the owner to me. If it wasn't like that, I wouldn't be here."

That, like minimizing the importance of time of possession, is flawed thinking. Nobody's perfect.

Perhaps the only benefit from having their playoff hopes being extinguished in exactly the 15th game of the season is that it gives the Eagles a clear fifth exhibition game.

Every preseason game affords the team the opportunity to evaluate second- and third-string players. So it should be Sunday, when the Eagles visit the Giants in a game now sunk beyond the level of "meaningless," since it affects no team in the playoff picture.

No veteran starter should be exposed to injury in the 16th game of a lost campaign.

The last three Eagles games were, effectively, playoff games. Every player who played gave everything he had. Any player who can be spared Sunday should be spared Sunday.

Not that the Eagles should seek to deep-Sixer themselves. They just owe it to themselves and to some of their hard-working reserves to see what there is to see.

Kelly contends that the backups haven't earned playing time. Well, some backups aren't as talented or as experienced as the starters, so therefore earning playing time is impossible; consider rookie outside linebacker Marcus Smith vs. team MVP Connor Barwin.

The only exception: quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The Eagles have no contractual future with Sanchez, who you would imagine played himself out of their plans in the team's three December losses. He was signed as a stopgap backup.

However, Sanchez has displayed a mastery of the offense, if not the skill to run it. It might be impossible to adequately evaluate the rest of the reserves with Matt Barkley starting his first NFL game in his second NFL season.

The rest of the team?

Damn the torpedoes.


First, of course, Smith must play the whole game at outside linebacker. Early in the season, Smith was blocked by incumbent Barwin and Trent Cole as well as pass-rush specialist Brandon Graham. As the season progressed, Smith did not. Injuries led the Birds to teach him the inside linebacker spots, too.

No player who was not primarily a special-teamer played fewer than Smith's 68 defensive snaps. He should take that many Sunday alone.

Barwin has been the team's best overall defensive player for his 31 games as an Eagle. He should get Game No. 32 off.

Graham should replace the injured Cole for the second straight game in hopes he convinces the Eagles and perhaps other teams that he has a slim future as something besides a specialty player.

Similarly, Vinny Curry should get the chance some believe he deserved long ago. Curry compiled nine sacks while playing just 33 percent of the snaps. Cole, by comparison, logged 6 1/2 sacks playing 78 percent of the time.

Curry's coaches have held him out because they believed he would be exposed in situations that didn't ask him to simply rush the passer. Sunday should provide evidence one way or another.

Mychal Kendricks, the team's only pedigreed inside linebacker, is too valuable to risk. Let him watch Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews.

Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins long ago justified his acquisition as a free agent; he is this year's Barwin. He made 101 tackles. That's enough.

As for the cornerbacks - really, who cares? Maybe a peek at fourth-round rookie Jaylen Watkins, who was so unimpressive he couldn't justify a special-teams spot and was declared inactive 12 times. Or, maybe not.


Franchise back LeSean McCoy, No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek carried the freight this season and in seasons past. They owe the team nothing. Each has understudies who need snaps.

No player on the team showed more promise with less exposure than Chris Polk, who found himself marginalized by injury and the addition of hybrid back Darren Sproles. Polk is 5-11 and 222 pounds, blessed with second-level speed and goal-line power. The Birds need to know if Polk is worth pursuing as a restricted free agent. (Then again, they might be smarter to hide him.)

Third-round receiver Josh Huff, a converted running back, showed glimpses of open-field skills rarely found in a wideout. A few touches Sunday would provide a better gauge.

On the other hand, faded second-round slot receiver Jordan Matthews needs to play Sunday and finish strong. He had 51 catches for 628 yards in the first 12 games. He caught five passes for 81 yards in the past three losses.

As for Celek, the next play he takes off will be his first. His 31 catches, 339 yards and no touchdowns would be his worst output since he became a full-time starter in 2009, but Celek acted as a sixth lineman for the first 11 games of the season as the offensive line suffered an epidemic of injuries.

Those injuries gave the Eagles a chance to check out all of their backups except Julian Vandervelde, who is in his fourth season with the team. There isn't much for the Eagles to learn here, but plenty to protect.

There is no reason to risk injury to left tackle Jason Peters, at 32, in his 11th season and with next season's contract essentially guaranteed.

Not unless 10 wins somehow makes your ego happier than nine.