Sam Bradford watched the Eagles' preseason opener in shorts and a T-shirt, postponing the most anticipated August attraction. So the 2015 preseason commenced the way the 2014 season concluded - with Mark Sanchez as the team's starting quarterback.
Sanchez struggled Sunday in the only two series he played in the Eagles' 36-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts at Lincoln Financial Field. The quarterback who might have been most impressive was third-stringer Matt Barkley, although fourth-stringer Tim Tebow led in fan interest.
The headliners in the first preseason game are seldom the starters. Even with high-profile additions such as Bradford, DeMarco Murray, and Kiko Alonso absent, the first football game in Philadelphia since last December should at least leave fans encouraged about Chip Kelly's third season in Philadelphia.
"We've got a lot of depth here and there's a lot of guys fighting for spots, and I think everybody's aware of that," Kelly said. "It wasn't like we gave a big 'rah, rah' speech. But we put a lot of emphasis . . . on what goes on when we go into a game and it's live."
The Eagles' starters played only two drives, but first-round pick Nelson Agholor impressed with a touchdown, the special teams again scored on a return, and the first-team defense held the Colts' starters out of the end zone. The blemishes were the errant kicking of Cody Parkey and Sanchez's lackluster debut.
Sanchez finished 2 of 7 for 52 yards with one touchdown. The two completions both sailed too high, but Jordan Matthews and Agholor made leaping catches.
"He had a couple high throws," Kelly said. "He needs to get his feet set a little bit. But I thought he played with good tempo. . . . I'm sure he'd like a couple of those throws back."
Agholor's catch was the highlight of the afternoon. The rookie jumped to pull in the pass, showed his body control by staying on his feet, then sprinted past the Colts defense for a 34-yard touchdown.
"It felt like a pass that I was targeted on in practice," said Agholor, who finished with three catches for 57 yards. "Good habits on the practice field carried over to the game."
Barkley, who is competing with Tebow to be the No. 3 quarterback, entered the game on the last drive of the first quarter and led the team 76 yards for a touchdown. Barkley completed passes of 26 and 39 yards, with Kenjon Barner finding the end zone on a 9-yard run. Barkley finished 12 of 20 for 192 yards with one interception.
"I am confident in my arm and my timing with the receivers," Barkley said. "My knowledge of the offense has grown tremendously from last year. The combination of all those things helped me play fast."
Parkey, a Pro Bowl player as a rookie, missed the ensuing extra point. The kicks are 33-yard attempts this year. Parkey missed a 34-yard field goal later in the game. He connected on three field goals and three extra points.
Kelly did not sound concerned about Parkey after the game and said that the Eagles would not bring in kicking competition. Parkey said his confidence remains "sky high."
The lone second-quarter touchdown came on a 92-yard punt return by Barner, a former Oregon standout who is trying to force his former college coach to keep him on the roster as the fourth running back.
"If he continues to perform like that, we have to fit him in," Kelly said. "We're going to find a way to keep the best 53 players."
The afternoon's loudest ovation came at the 7-minute, 8-second mark of the third quarter, when Tebow entered the game. Tebow needed to wave his arms down to try to silence the crowd so he could make his calls.
He completed his first four passes and brought the Eagles to the 16-yard line before Parkey's missed field-goal attempt. The passing efficiency plummeted thereafter, and he finished the afternoon 6 for 12 for 69 yards.
Tebow also ran for a 7-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, drawing chants of his name from loyalists. He admitted he was nervous - "When you care about something, you want to go perform," he said - in his first game since the summer of 2013.
"It's a blessing to put in work for something and be able to see that work, to be able to get to a point where you're back playing and having fun," Tebow said. "I'm grateful for this opportunity."
Other notable reserves included safety Ed Reynolds, who had two interceptions; tight end Eric Tomlinson, who led the offense with five catches for 61 yards; and running back Raheem Mostert, who caught a 40-yard pass out of the backfield.
The Eagles are off Monday. The Baltimore Ravens visit for joint practices this week before Saturday's second preseason game, which brings the Eagles one step closer to the Sept. 14 season opener in Atlanta.
"It was great just to be back in the stadium, to hear the fans and to go through the whole drill again," Sanchez said. "It's nice it's almost September and it can't come fast enough."