FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The scoreboard decides genius and makes its final judgment over years and decades, not days and weeks. It always looks a lot smarter to win than to lose.
Time has already made a call on New England coach Bill Belichick, who has built a football edifice that, even if it fell right now, would still be ranked among the most enduring in NFL history. Chip Kelly? Well, the jury is sequestered and has asked for reams of additional evidence. Get back to us on that one.
But if a football analyst from any era took a hard look at the Sunday game between the Patriots and the Eagles, it would be really difficult to determine which guy is the genius and which is considered several answers short of a good SAT score.
The scoreboard had it Eagles 35, Patriots 28, and didn't grade on the curve for past performance, which is a good thing, because the most recent games from the Eagles were not real confidence-builders. They lost by a combined 59 points to the Bucs and Lions, and Kelly's genius was well-disguised. The Patriots, meanwhile, won their first 10 games before losing last week in overtime to Denver. A mismatch, right?
"Football is like that sometimes," former Eagles safety Patrick Chung said after that was proved wrong. "They've got a good football team."
For one night it was true enough, even though the offense accumulated only 248 yards and didn't score a single point as the Eagles went from a 14-7 deficit to a 28-14 lead. The Eagles aren't going to throw back any wins this season, however. They'll even take one that a supposed genius tosses their way, and Belichick had a howler of an evening.
The first blip came with the Patriots holding a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter and the Eagles looking incapable of mounting a sustained drive. A smart team plods on quietly, carrying momentum as if it were fragile, and takes care not to rouse a sleeping opponent. What Belichick did was call for a loopy kickoff in which Stephen Gostkowski, rather than teeing up the ball, pitched it to a special-teams player named Nate Ebner, who attempted to drop-kick it over the first wall of the Eagles return team. I'm not kidding.
"We're trying to do what we think best," Belichick said.
It was a pretty good drop-kick and you don't see those every day (Ebner played rugby in college), but it didn't go quite far enough, and Sam Bradford was able to begin a drive at the Eagles 41. The offense, which had punted on its first four possessions, suddenly looked energized by having something go right for the team. Eight plays later, the Eagles scored on a pass to Zach Ertz.
Late in the half, Belichick struck again, seemingly unable to decide between running out the clock and getting into scoring position. In the end, he didn't do either. After flailing in both directions, the Pats attempted a short pass on third and 5 from their own 38 with 19 seconds remaining. The pass failed, the clock stopped, and the Patriots had to punt. Getting in the way of that was Chris Maragos, who blocked the punt for Najee Goode to scoop up and tie the score at halftime.
Belichick played into the Eagles' hands one more time, and that was with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter. Brady had taken the Pats down to a first and goal at the 1-yard line on a 24-yard gain. Instead of settling in, however, the Patriots sprinted down the field to execute their first-down play before the Eagles were set. The genius tried to do this to a defense that practices against tempo every day. Malcolm Jenkins shot across the line, tackled the ballcarrier for a 4-yard loss, and the score wasn't quite as easy anymore. Two plays later, Walter Thurmond and Jenkins teamed up for coverage on a pass to the goal line, and Jenkins came away with the ball and a 99-yard return for a touchdown that put the Eagles in front instead of the Pats.
"[We wanted to] trap their dime defense on the field," Belichick said of the hurry-up. "We let Jenkins run . . . in the backfield unblocked. That's not what we're trying to do, obviously."
There was still a lot of football and a lot of oddities after that. The Eagles eventually went up by 21 before needing a final New England drive to flame out and assure the win. But a lot of what happened might never have happened if the guy everyone says is a genius hadn't tried to outsmart the game at several critical times.
The scoreboard just recorded the points, not the academic rankings for the game. As for those, finding the smart guy wasn't easy. In the long run, Belichick is safe no matter what. Chip Kelly might not have gotten smarter on Sunday, but a few more of these wouldn't hurt.