By Kevin McGuire
Less than a week after the franchise fired head coach Chip Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles closed out the season with a win against the New York Giants that must have made a few people in the Delaware Valley think “where was this all season?” Quarterback San Bradford turned in one of his finest games of the season and DeMarco Murray pulled off a monster touchdown run while everything just seemed to fall into place against the NFC East rivals up I-95. The Eagles made some good things happen, but of course, the New York Giants were not exactly the cream of the crop in the NFC this season.
It was only natural the offense would come out and generate some sparks in the first game since the offensive-minded head coach that is Chip Kelly was given the pink slip earlier in the week. Quarterback Sam Bradford shined with his best game since joining the franchise by completing 30 of 38 pass attempts for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Bradford took just one sack for a loss of five yards and he was picked off once, but Bradford made his case to be worthy of some sort of new contract in 2016, although it would still be wise for the Eagles to scout the quarterback pool in the NFL Draft for a potential franchise QB. DeMarco Murray scored a 54-yard touchdown to get the Eagles on the board on the opening drive of the game, but he finished with just 69 yards on 12 carries. Zach Ertz led the team with 152 receiving yards and caught all nine of the passes intended for him. Jordan Matthews had two touchdowns and Nelson Agholor caught two of the three passes in his direction.
The Eagles went into the game knowing the defensive secondary was going to be shallow, and the New York Giants tried to take advantage of that. Eli Manning passed for 302 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and the Eagles only sacked him twice in the game. Despite the weakened secondary, the Eagles did avoid letting Odell Beckham Jr. have a big game, limiting him to 54 yards on five receptions and keeping him out of the end zone. The Giants were able to spread the ball around through the air, and Rashad Jennings gashed the Eagles run defense for 170 yards and a touchdown on 27 rushing attempts. As fate would have it, Kiko Alonso led the team with nine tackles, helping to tie the game high with Malcolm Jenkins and Mychal Kendricks. Marcus Smith even checked in with a sack.
Special Teams: A-
The most dependable unit of the team this season has been the special teams. Punter Donnie Jones was called on for just three punts, and he averaged 41.3 yards per punt. Jones sent one punt into the end zone for a touchback and his shortest punt of the day went for just 38 yards from his own end zone. It was not his best showing, but it certainly did not hurt the team’s chances to win. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was only used for extra point attempts in the game, and he connected on all five, which of course proved to be the margin of victory. Never take kicking for granted. The Eagles had zero punt returns because Giants punter Brad Wing sent all three of his punts into the end zone. The punt coverage team held Beckham to just one five-yard return. The kickoff return team did not get much with two returns for a combined 24 yards. The Giants had no kickoff returns in the game, another credit to Sturgis.
Eagles interim head coach Pat Shurmur tended to get back to some basics in his one-game appearance as head coach of the team, and credit must be given for coaching the team to a victory in what was really a meaningless game. The Eagles could have just as easily packed it in for the final game of the season, but instead Shurmur led the team to victory as the Eagles looked like a much more relaxed team. Odds are good that Shurmur is not going to be the next head coach of the Eagles, and in fact, he probably should not be when it comes time to make the hire for Jeff Lurie.
So now the book can be closed on the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles. It was a season that failed to deliver on expectations and leaves the door open for a bit of a rebuilding project despite having some talented players locked in. The next head coaching hire for the Eagles will be an important one, because the NFC East is still within reach of being won. Even through all of the struggles of this past season, the Eagles had a chance to win the division and play in the postseason. A return to a more traditional NFL strategy is likely in the fold for the Eagles, regardless of the hire. The experiment with innovative offensive minds is not likely to continue now after parting ways with Chip Kelly, and the order in the front office needs to be ironed out as well. Whatever happens, we are preparing for one fascinating offseason with the Eagles.
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.