As expected, Chip Kelly suffers growing pains

As expected, Chip Kelly suffers growing pains

September 16, 2013, 1:45 pm
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Chip Kelly's clock management on the Eagles' game-tying drive gave Philip Rivers 1:51 to drive down for the game-winning field goal. (USA Today Images)

For a guy who likes music, Chip Kelly should have started Monday’s press conference with some Frank Sinatra playing low in the background. It would have been fitting. Regrets -– Kelly admitted he has a few. And there were times when –- as the chairman once put it -– Kelly bit off more than he could chew.

“I’ve made mistakes,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve all made mistakes. That’s what this game is all about. No one coaches a perfect game. No one plays a perfect game. But you’ve got to learn from those mistakes and hope they don’t happen again.”

He does it his way, which worked out well enough in Week 1. Kelly wasn’t as fortunate in Sunday’s 33-30 loss to the San Diego Chargers in the home opener at Lincoln Financial Field. Those mistakes Kelly mentioned? He spent a good portion of Monday explaining himself.

We’ll begin with the Eagles’ curious final drive, because that’s where things ultimately ended for them. Trailing by three, the Birds had the ball at their 29-yard line with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. It took them all of five plays and 56 seconds to reach the San Diego 14-yard line. That was fine. What happened next wasn’t.

While you and your friends and your neighbors and everyone else you know were screaming for the Eagles to A.) run the ball and waste some clock and/or B.) let the two-minute warning hit, here’s what Kelly decided to do instead:

• 1-10-SD 14 (2:09): Michael Vick pass incomplete short left to Brent Celek.

• 2-10-SD 14 (2:03): Nick Foles pass incomplete short right to DeSean Jackson.

• 3-10-SD 14 (1:58): Michael Vick pass incomplete short middle to Jason Avant.

• 4-10-SD 14 (1:55): Alex Henery 32-yard field goal.

Kelly, not surprisingly, was pressed on why he decided to pass on first and second down rather than running the ball or letting the two-minute warning hit in order to take time off the clock.

“We were throwing the ball and it was working,” Kelly said. “We moved the ball in a positive manner. We just couldn’t get it in.”

True on all fronts. But the clock management was important. The Chargers moved the ball easily all day. Didn’t the Eagles leave San Diego and Philip Rivers far too much time to win the game? (Obvious answer: yes.)

“When you look at it in hindsight, we didn’t score,” Kelly allowed. “We kicked a field goal, so it was tied. We wanted to try to score a touchdown so we were up four and then make them have to drive the entire field at that point in time. So, obviously, when you look back at it, we probably should have ran the clock down.”

That would have been a good idea. The Chargers started at their 21-yard line with 1:51 remaining. They ended up kicking a game-winning 46-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.

You’ll also notice that, on the final sequence, Foles was pressed into duty for one play. That’s because Vick was momentarily shaken up on first down and forced by the officials to come out of the game. Kelly could have called a timeout, thereby letting Vick come back in on second down. On Sunday, Kelly said that kind of maneuver wasn’t allowed. On Monday, he admitted to not knowing the rule.

Kelly also said he didn’t ask the officials for clarification at the time. Didn’t know the rule. Didn’t ask about the rule. Not his best moment.

“That was on me,” said Kelly, who added that he would have called the timeout to reinsert Vick if he had known it was permissible. “I should have asked.”

Is it difficult for a first-year coach, coming from college, to know all the intricacies of the NFL game right away?

“It’s difficult for anybody to be snap familiar with any rule because the rule book is so thick,” Kelly replied.

There were some other decisions that prompted second guessing: Kelly called three timeouts on San Diego’s final drive rather than let the clock tick down as the Chargers set up for a field goal. Kelly said he was trying to get the ball back. The Chargers picked up an extra three yards as a result, making the field goal a 46-yarder instead of a 49-yarder. Agree or disagree on the strategy, it happened.

The Eagles also decided not to challenge two plays. The first was a two-yard pass to James Casey in the end zone that was ruled incomplete. The second occurred on the pass where Chargers’ receiver Malcolm Floyd was injured. That play was also ruled incomplete, though there was some question about whether Floyd caught the ball and then fumbled.

Kelly said he asked his coaches in the booth about the Floyd play and they told him it wasn’t a catch.

“It was close. Blown dead. Would have had to be an immediate recovery,” Kelly said. “I actually talked to the referee while it was going on. Even if we were to challenge in that situation, I don’t think we were going to get it because it was blown dead so quickly.”

Again, whether you agree with his assessment, that’s how it went.

Kelly said it’s important to learn from the mistakes that were made on Sunday and correct them. They won’t have much time to do so. The Eagles play again on Thursday. How interesting that they’ll face a coach who has a long history of being second-guessed in Philadelphia.

It is how things go here. Meet the new boss. Same (questions, for now) as the old boss.