Kelly overhauled the roster. His mad-scientist routine ensured that all the credit or all the blame for what happens this season would be his.
Thus far, it’s all blame.
The NFC East is there for the taking with the Dallas Cowboys missing quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant, with the Washington Redskins and New York Giants showing improvement but still far from imposing. The Eagles, however, have failed to take advantage. That was the case again Sunday when they lost to the Redskins, 23-20, at FedEx Field.
“I think at this point when you’re 1-3, I think those expectations are gone,” quarterback Sam Bradford said at his postgame news conference. “Obviously I think there were a lot of expectations early. I think that as a group, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to score every time we touch the football. But I think we’ve just got to take a big breath, relax and just go have fun.”
There actually was plenty of blame to go around Sunday. The Eagles’ would-be fast break offense, in what has become a too-familiar refrain this season, spent the first half running in place. New kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a first-half field goal attempt and a second-half extra point. When the offense finally did get going in the second half and the Eagles took the lead, the defense permitted the Redskins to drive 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
“We’re not executing,” Kelly said at his postgame news conference. “I think they play with great effort. But we’re not executing. … That’s what I told them after the game. I don’t fault any of them from an effort standpoint. I think they all played hard. They all give you everything they’ve got. But certain things we’ve got to do. We’ve got to execute. We had a couple drops in the fourth quarter. [If] we catch those balls, those drives stay alive.”
But it was Kelly who assembled the team and it is Kelly who directs it on a weekly basis. It was Kelly who traded fellow quarterback Nick Foles for Bradford in the offseason, who traded away tailback LeSean McCoy and allowed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to exit in free agency, who brought in DeMarco Murray to anchor the running game.
Kelly the GM could have chosen to stay the course after Kelly the coach won 20 games over his first two NFL seasons, winning one NFC East title and just missing the playoffs last season with a record of 10-6. Instead, Kelly the GM chose to make bold moves.
Right now, they’re not working.
“I think everyone’s a little frustrated right now,” Bradford said. “This is obviously not where we wanted or expected to be after Week 4. But just knowing this group of guys for the short period of time I do, I don’t think anyone’s gonna quit. I don’t think anyone’s head’s down right now. … We know we’re close. We know we can get on a roll. It’s just a matter of kind of cleaning up some of those small details so they don’t come back to bite us.”
Lurie spoke in the offseason about how hard it is to go from good to great in the NFL, about how trying to take that step entails the risk of going backward instead. So far, that is precisely what has happened to the Eagles.
Bradford began the day as the league’s 29th-rated passer. He will move up after 15-for-28, 270-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Redskins in which he did not throw an interception and had a passer rating of 122.6. But it was an uneven outing as he and the offense didn’t get going until the second half.
“I wish I knew how to explain it because then we’d get it fixed,” Bradford said. “It seems to kind of be the story of these first couple games. It’s almost like we’re two completely different offenses. Once we get it going, we’re pretty good. But for some reason, it seems like there’s times where we just struggle to get it going.”
Murray had another quiet day with 36 rushing yards on eight carries. The Eagles lack a true No. 1 receiver and had no one with more than three catches Sunday.
Yet they were one defensive stand in crunch time from winning.
“I think the good news is it’s close,” Bradford said. “A couple of these games, we’ve had opportunities to win and just haven’t finished. But it’s not like we’re light years away from getting things to where they need to be. I think it’s just small details here and there. Everyone’s just got to get on the same page.”
The better news for the Eagles is that they play in the NFC East and no one looks ready to run away with the division.
Least of all the Eagles.
“We’ve got to go win a football game,” Kelly said. “I don’t think we’re concerned with where we are, holes or anything like that. We’ve got to win a game.”