By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Chip Kelly stood there in the middle of the Eagles’ locker room before Sunday night’s meaningless game against the Chicago Bears, with that round, chubby-cheeked cherub countenance and assassin’s glint, and challenged his team.
He knows the pulse of Philadelphia and his team. It’s why he stressed to them there is no such thing as an empty game. Not to him. Kelly didn’t expect his team to ease up. This would rinse away the sour taste of last week’s loss to Minnesota and get right again.
It was about proving. Not proving to the NFL or to the Dallas Cowboys that they have something coming at them. Proving to themselves that they can mend quickly.
To Kelly, there is no such thing as a game that doesn’t matter, though by the time the Eagles played the Bears at Lincoln Financial Field, it didn’t. They already knew Dallas beat Washington.
They knew NFC East will still be determined by their winner-take-all showdown in Dallas next Sunday night, which will be the flexed NFL game shown on national TV.
What carried grave importance was that the Eagles self-correct before they played the Cowboys. Before them stood a great obstacle posed by Chicago, which was a team actually playing for something, a clinching playoff berth as the NFC North champions.
The Eagles righted thmselves, Kelly made sure of that, in a thoroughly dominating 54-11 victory over the Bears. The 54-point outburst is the most points the Eagles have scored at the Linc since their 56-21 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sept. 23, 2007.
The Eagles improved to 9-6 with their sixth victory in their last seven games (more than doubling last year’s woeful 4-12 finish), while holding a one-game lead over Dallas atop the NFC East.
If the Eagles play anywhere close to the way they played against Chicago, they’ll stomp on the Cowboys, too, and probably a lot of teams.
It’s getting them to find that rhythm and consistency. They didn’t have to find it against the Bears. Kelly implored them to take a self inventory check where their character was. How deep could it go? He didn’t have to push very hard to find out.
The Eagles could have bagged the Bears game with nothing to lose. Kelly wasn’t about to give an inch, let alone a game.
“Very simply, we’re from Philadelphia and we fight, that’s it,” Kelly said. “If there’s a game on, we’re playing. End of story. All of this stuff about backing in and not worry about things, I have no idea. So many different scenarios, could have been a tie. What if there’s a tie when we go down and play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week, If we’re going to lineup and kickoff, you tell us what time to show up and we’ll be there.”
Against the Bears, LeSean McCoy was reintroduced to the offense. He finished with 18 carries for 133 yards and a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs. After disappearing in the 48-30 miasma to Minnesota last week with eight carries and 13 total touches, McCoy had nine touches and six carries in the first quarter alone against Chicago.
“We knew obviously before the game that it would come down to next week,” Eagles’ center Jason Kelce said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about momentum. We went out and improved on a lot of things we did wrong in the Vikings game. We have an extra playoff game and that’s what it is. We obviously have something to improve upon from the last time we played them. I think we’re playing much better football now than we did back then.”
Through one quarter, the Eagles had 10 first downs to Chicago’s one; they had 149 total yards to the Bears’ 26, averaging 7.1 yards a play to the Bears’ 2.9.
An early theme took hold. The high-octane version of the Eagles offense showed up Sunday night. They scored on their first three drives, taking advantage of a Chicago fumble, Nick Foles’ accurate passing and McCoy dipping and darting through the Bears’ porous run defense, which coming in was giving up an NFL-high 152.4 yards a game on the ground.
For the game, the Eagles were 5-for-5 in the red zone. They amassed 514 yard of total offense, including 289 yards on the ground. They averaged 8.2 yards per play, double than the 4.1 yards per play Chicago averaged.
By halftime, it was over.
The Eagles had a 24-3 lead—Chicago’s lone score of the half coming on a 50-yard Robbie Gould field goal on the final play of the second quarter.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had hands up in his face the whole night. The few times he was able to get something down field, the Eagles’ secondary had threatening Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffrey blanketed.
Eagles’ cornerback Bradley Fletcher had possibly his best game of the season. He caused the fumble in the first quarter that resulted in McCoy’s first TD run. Fletcher was all over Marshall, who had one reception for 14 yards when the game was competitive. Marshall entered the game fourth in the NFL with 90 catches this season.
“We got back on the practice field this past week and fixed some things we didn’t do right against Minnesota,” Fletcher said. “There was a certain mindset tonight and you saw that on the field. We got good defensive pressure and we were able to hold someone pretty good like Devin Hester on special teams.”
The Eagles’ defensive front was also stellar. Cutler was rattled, not knowing where the point of attack would come from. Cutler was sacked five times for minus-46 yards. Trent Cole had three sacks and Mychal Kendricks two.
Cedric Thornton knifed through the Bears’ front to take down Matt Forte a yard deep into the end zone for a safety with 9:52 left in the third quarter. On the Eagles’ ensuing possession, Foles engineered a six-play, 67-yard scoring drive that culminated in McCoy’s second TD and a commanding 33-3 lead with 7:11 left in the third quarter.
Foles, meanwhile, was steady and consistent. He finished completing 21-for-25 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. In getting the Eagles out to the big halftime lead, Foles was 14 for 17 for 145 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 141.4. He knew when to step up in the pocket and create more time. He shredded the Bears with underneath routes to Brent Celek, and well disguised inside screens to McCoy.
The Eagles did what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it. Now if that rendering of the Eagles appears next Sunday night against Dallas, the Eagles will be celebrating their first NFC East title since 2010.
“The mindset was easy, we’re going to execute, play our coverages tighter, execute our scheme and make plays,” Fletcher said. “We knew we’re better than what showed up on the field against Minnesota. We just had to fix things and show that.”
Like a hammer.