2013 Eagles failed to seize fleeting opportunity

2013 Eagles failed to seize fleeting opportunity

McCoy: 'Just getting here is not enough'

January 6, 2014, 7:00 am
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Chip Kelly's Eagles were the hottest team in the NFL, and they were less than five minutes from moving onto the divisional round. And then they gave it all away. (AP)

It’s easy to shrug off the Eagles’ latest playoff loss as just a bump in the road for a young, ascending team with a bright future.

Too easy.

Because when you take the lead with less than five minutes left in a playoff game in your own stadium with your crowd roaring and all the momentum on your side, you just can’t lose that game. No matter how many young players you have, no matter how bright your future is.

Because you just never know when you’re going to get that opportunity again.

When the Eagles kicked off with 4:58 to go Saturday night, leading the Saints 24-23, they were no longer a precocious young team playing with house money. They were the hottest team in the NFL, five minutes from being two steps from the Super Bowl.

And they blew it.

The Eagles went from 4-12 to 10-6, won the division, reached the playoffs, seemingly righted the franchise after two dismal seasons.

All of which guarantees them nothing in 2014 and beyond.

Success in 2013 doesn’t automatically mean success in 2014, and while it might be reassuring to shrug off that loss to the Saints with the notion that the Eagles do have a promising young quarterback and an impressive coach and an array of offensive weapons and several terrific, young defensive players, the reality is that next year stands alone. Players change, circumstances change, team chemistry changes. You don’t pick up where you left off. You start over like 31 other teams, and that’s why so many NFL teams routinely go from worst to first and back again year by year.

Absolutely, it genuinely does look like the Eagles are going to be competitive for the next several years, there’s no question about it. But when the opportunity is sitting right there in front of you, so agonizingly close, you can’t squander that chance.

If you said back in August that the Eagles would go 10-6 and lose in the wild-card round, everybody around here would have been thrilled.

But when that moment arrives and you have the lead and you just need to cover a kickoff and get a defensive stop to reach the second round of the playoffs, expectations change.

Dramatically.

And even though the Eagles certainly do appear to be building the right way and headed in the right direction, the reality is that none of us really has any idea what’s going to happen next.

This year guarantees nothing next year, and I’m not trying to be negative or spoil the mood or throw rain on anybody’s parade -- pick your cliche. I’m not saying the Eagles won’t have tremendous success in the next few years under Chip Kelly.

It’s just you can’t squander these opportunities. They come along too infrequently, and sometimes they don’t come along at all.

A lot of things went right for the Eagles this year. They stayed healthy. They were the only NFL team that didn’t place anybody on injured reserve during the regular season. They got Scott Tolzien instead of Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Orton instead of Tony Romo, Jay Cutler instead of Josh McCown.

They got Mike Glennon before he started playing well, and the Lions as they started their epic slide.

And they took advantage of those opportunities, so bravo for them. But you look at next year’s schedule and see the Colts, Packers, Panthers, 49ers, Cards and Seahawks, and that looks pretty rough. Now, maybe those teams won’t be any good next year. But on paper, the schedule is certainly imposing.

This year, Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson, DeMeco Ryans, LeSean McCoy, Brandon Boykin, Brent Celek and Mychal Kendricks all stayed healthy. So did the entire offensive line, with three guys in their 30s.

Does that happen again? Does sports science guarantee an entire season with no significant injuries other than Jeremy Maclin in training camp? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s all about seizing the moment.

The moment was there for the Eagles. Right there. You battle back from down 20-7, take a late fourth-quarter lead, you’re five minutes from the conference semifinals, an opportunity to travel to Charlotte and play for a berth in the NFC Championship Game.

The Eagles were as hot as anybody coming into the Saints game, winners of seven of their last eight. They were favored. They had the home crowd, the home stadium. Everything was in place.

No matter how good next year looks, next year is just a mirage right now. That 24-23 lead was real. And then it was gone.

Jason Kelce spoke typically eloquently about the blown opportunity Saturday night in the Eagles’ locker room after the game.

“I think we have great potential,” he said. “I think we grew a lot as a team as the season wore on.

“But, you know, you can’t help but be disappointed. I don’t think there’s anybody leaving this locker room all excited because we had a good turnaround.

“There were things we could have done to win today, and the opportunities you get in the postseason, the opportunities you get in the NFL, especially as a player, are so short, the careers don’t last too long, and you try to seize every one you get and we didn’t seize the day here.

“No matter how bright the next year looks, next year is always a different year.”

You never do know when you’re going to get back. In 2000, the Eagles felt like they were at the start of something big, and they were. They went to the playoffs five straight years.

But they felt the same way during the Super Bowl run in 2004, and they won just one playoff game the next three years. Same way in 2008 with a run to the NFC Championship Game. They haven’t won a playoff game since.

No doubt the Eagles are headed in the right direction with young talent on both sides of the ball, a coach who clearly gets it, a front office that’s produced two very good drafts in a row and a gifted young quarterback.

But some things are just out of a team’s control. Other teams get better. Unexpected stars emerge within the division. Guys get hurt. Games get postponed because of snow and Joe Webb shows up. The ball bounces funny.

Things happen.

And you really never do know what’s going to happen next.

That’s why this one hurts so much.