By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles closed out a second straight 10-win season under Chip Kelly with a road victory against the division rival New York Giants Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium, but the Birds head to the offseason a little earlier than expected. A three-game losing streak prior to the regular season finale took the Eagles from within a home win of securing the NFC East for a second straight season with time to spare to play for a bye week down to a winning season with little to show for it. Now the evaluations for the season will begin, but first it is time for one final evaluation on a single-game basis for the Eagles.
For the final time this season, Mark Sanchez took hold of the offense in place of the injured Nick Foles. Sanchez more than held his own with 292 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, one from 44 yards to rookie Jordan Matthews and the second a short toss to Brent Celek from just outside the end zone. He was intercepted once in the game, and he was sacked four times for a loss of 30 yards. All in all, it was a solid enough performance for the Eagles to get out of town with a win from a backup quarterback, but it was hardly the kind of performance that suggests Sanchez will compete for the starting job in Philadelphia in 2015. Grade: B
The Eagles rolled up 426 yards of offense on 72 plays and managed to move the chains fairly evenly between the passing and running games. The Eagles went just seven of 16 on third down attempts and just two-of-four inside the red zone, so Chip Kelly may not be pleased with the efficiency of the offense heading into the offseason. LeSean McCoy was a yard shy of a 100-yard afternoon on the ground, and he was kept out of the end zone, but Chris Polk contributed with 38 yards and a touchdown run. Jordan Matthews led the Eagles with 105 receiving yards to put a nice finishing touch on his fine rookie campaign. Grade: B-
The New York Giants took the air with ease for much of the afternoon against an Eagles secondary that had shown some clear holes and was playing without Bradley Fletcher available. It showed, as the Giants saw Eli Manning throw for 429 yards and a touchdown, but the franchise quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion completed just 28 of 53 pass attempts and was picked off once (and should have been a few more times as well). Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. led all players with 185 receiving yards as the Eagles had no answers for the front-running rookie of the year candidate. Rueben Randle also had a big game with 158 receiving yards. The Eagles secondary was a mess, but that much was already known. The Eagles did take away the running game, allowing 76 yards on 25 rushing attempts by New York, and the Eagles buckled down on Giants scoring opportunities after New York took the game’s opening possession right down field for a touchdown. The Giants were forced to settle for four field goals between the opening drive and a big touchdown play in the fourth quarter. The front line on the defense also failed to sack Eli Manning at any point in the game. There will be plenty of room to improve on the defense in the offseason. Grade: D
Rookie kicker Cody Parkey shrugged aside a rough outing last week against Washington and finished his first year in the league on a good note, successfully kicking both of his field goal attempts, including a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to essentially seal the victory for the Eagles. Parkey also connected on all four of his PAT attempts and punter Donnie Jones sailed four of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line without sending one into the end zone. Jones averaged 41.7 yards per punt and finished a solid season handling the punting responsibilities. Of course, the special teams also tacked on one more score to complete the season with 11 special teams touchdowns. The Eagles blocked a Giants punt and Trey Burton picked up the loose ball and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, padding the Eagles’ lead and allowing the team to never trial the rest of the way. Grade: A
The 2014 Eagles season is now in the books, but it is not a story that will be remembered fondly despite a 10-win season. This Eagles team may be remembered for a number of close calls and missed opportunities, and a defense that may have been run down and exposed over time. Despite missing out on the playoffs, the Eagles still appear to be in good hands with Chip Kelly as head coach. The 2015 season will leave no room for excuses though, and regaining a firm foot atop the NFC East will be Goal Numero Uno starting this offseason. The Eagles have a need to improve in the secondary. The team needs to think seriously about whether playing another season with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez as the best quarterback options is the way to go, or if they need to get creative to find a way to land a potential franchise quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft. Ironically, the win in the otherwise meaningless regular season finale actually puts the Eagles in a worse situation for the draft, as they will move down in the draft order as a result. But the planning for a 2015 season of success begins now in Philadelphia. To avoid seeing the season end before the big ball drops in New York City, the Eagles must address the concerns that were thrown in the spotlight down the stretch of December.
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Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.