The Philadelphia Eagles surprising season came to a screeching halt Saturday night against the New Orleans Saints. As such, it's as fitting a time as any for fans to pick their collective heads off the bar, wipe the drool from their faces and take stock of the future for their suddenly glass-half-full franchise.
So deal with the drool as best you can and consider these five questions regarding your Philadelphia Eagles.
Firstly, was the season a success?
More so than even the wildest optimist could have dreamed, a reality all heartbroken Philadelphians should cling to this week.
Best case scenario, Year One of The Chip Kelly Experiment is the first chapter in a series of dynasty tales. Kelly could be our Landry, our Noll, our Belichick, a savior, a legend, a hero that grandchildren get named after, the subject of bedtime stories for a generation and the inspiration for statues raised in South Philly.
Worst case scenario, Kelly is merely a kerosene-induced flame; bright, menacing, but inevitably shortlived. Like a McDaniels, a Singeltary, a Ray Rhodes. This one season may go down in history as the sole defense for ignoring clock possession and making professional athletes drink smoothies. And even that bummer-in-hindsight footnote would be wonderful and applause-worthy in the Delaware Valley.
Whichever way the Kelly Path takes us, this much is clear: The 2013 Iggles Season was the big greasy cheeseburger and fistful of Aleve that got residents of the 2-1-5 past the hangover that was Andy Reid. There will be universal optimism covering Lincoln Financial Field on September 7th, a direct result of this seasons resounding and fantastic success.
Okay so, can the loss against the New Orleans Saints be spun as a moral victory?
Absolutely not, and any Green-Bleeder who suggest otherwise should be forced to clip Alex Henery's toe nails with their teeth. Saturday night the Eagles struggled in the most basic of departments: they lost the battle of the trenches on both sides of the ball, they failed to capitalize off turnovers, they crumbled on special teams... and they still only lost by one possession. This game was winnable, and it wasn't won.
The Saints are the better team, but not on the road, and not in the cold, and most certainly not on Saturday night. The Eagles should be on a plane to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers. Instead the Saints are on their way to Seattle to get demolished. That's a defeat on top of a defeat. A double defeat. There is no victory here, moral or otherwise.
That third-down play where Riley Cooper dropped a potential sixty-yard gain stands as the perfect metaphor for this match. The Eagles lost a home playoff game to a dome team. That should never happen. Ever. In no circumstance will any season-ending defeat at Lincoln Financial Field be considered a moral victory. Shut up.
Moving on, is Nick Foles the Eagles franchise quarterback?
Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. He has proven he can deliver with the game on the line, he has proven himself a winner, and he has proven himself worthy of the "quarterback-of-the-future" lapel pin. Drink the Collinsworth Kool-Aid if your thirsty for pessimism, but the basic truth is Foles is beyond adequate, and there's every reason to believe he will only improve.
Drafting another quarterback who may or may not prove more adequate is a waste of time, energy and resources.
Consider this when evaluating Foles: if he were drafted in the first round, would we even be having this debate?
After all, if you compare Foles stats this year to Donovan McNabb's from his second season, the Napoleon Dynamite lookalike presents a clear-cut better option. Foles had a higher completion percentage, more yards per attempt, more yards per game, more touchdowns, and fewer turnovers. Perhaps most notably (for all those drinking out of Chris Collinsworth's glass) he took less sacks.
And remember: In McNabb's second year he was coming off a full offseason as the starter, a luxury Foles didn't receive.
Foles statistics were freakishly good this year; so freakish they seem too rare for duplication. However there's every reason to believe #9 will come back in 2014 an even better quarterback. No matter who the Eagles could draft come April, it would most certainly be a downgrade. Let's get the hashtag started: #StickWithNick
So whats next for the Eagles?
New safeties, more pass rushers, special teams depth, and for the love-of-lard a kicker who looks like an actual football player. Most of the other weaknesses on this roster are manageable. Mychael Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans struggle against the pass, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher won't make someone disappear, and Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis can't crush through a D-Line when you need six inches. All of these roadblocks, however, can be driven around.
Most important seems the safety position. Finally replacing Brian Dawkins would help cover up weaknesses in the linebacker core as well as the secondary. The Philly faithful seem set for Earl Wolff, but a fifth-round pick who couldn't stay on the field is hardly a sure-thing. Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips (remember him?) proved offseason busts, but at least the Birds front office knows it's a need.
Henery, meanwhile, needs to go yesterday. Football is a game of inches, and too many times during his Philadelphia tenure the scrawny kicker has forced us to bring out the ruler. If the Iggles are smart they'll freeze the 90-pound fourth-round mistake in carbonite, Han Solo style, and leave him in the Special Teams meeting room so all future kickers know this town can live-and-die as a result of their success... in Henerey's case, die.
Upgrade those four departments: the pass-rush, the safety-play, special teams depth, and the kicker, and the Eagles come back an even better crew than the one that choked the season away Saturday night.
Is the NFC East the Eagles to lose in 2014?
No! Lord no! Well, technically yes, but NO! If this season taught us anything we should have already known, it's that the NFL is a funny league, and the NFC East a funky division. That's exactly why the Birds came off a 4-12 campaign with division championship hats in the gift shop and "blackhorse Super Bowl contender" amongst their Google Adwords.
How's the NFC East looking in 2014? Optimism in all corners.
The Cowboys, all jokes aside, are a team teetering on the edge. The thing about dancing the tightrope of mediocrity is you're always just a step away from falling off, one way or the other. No betting man would wager on Jerry Jones or Jason Garrett making the right moves, mind you, but this is football; stranger things have happened.
The Redskins offer a roster with presumably more talent than the Birds had this time a calendar ago. Logic states the RGIII of 2012 is the one NFC East defenses will have to deal with for the next half-decade, and not the shell-of-a-player the Shanahan Duo created this past season.
And the Giants, meanwhile, seem about due for a 9-7 march to a Lomardi trophy. All signs point to Coughlin and Eli being on the downside, which is precisely why it's time to head to the bookies and take out a second mortgage on Big Blue.
The Eagles, meanwhile, benefited from more than a few X-factors this season. The most notable would be health; Kelly's squad didn't put a single player on injured reserve during the course of the regular season, a fact many will chalk up to sports science but more likely is a credit to dumb luck. When you win a division in the final week of the season, the importance of such factors shouldn't go unappreciated. So, too, should the acknowledgment that such balls of fate may not bounce your way the next time.
An NFC East conquered by any of the Birds rivals in 2014 is a plethora more likely than what Kelly's squad did in 2013. Going into next year figuring the first sixteen games will be a cakewalk will result in a reality-check smack so hard your grandmother will get a concussion.
At halftime on Saturday night, Kelly and the Eagles led 7-6 and were set to receive the ball. As we all know, they failed to capitalize on this slim advantage.
Eagles fans hope Kelly's squad proves better in the second season than they did in the second half Saturday night. They have the advantage, albeit a slim one. Hopefully Kelly and the Iggles can capitalize.