Chip Kelly delivers in NFL debut


I was wrong.

Six wins are what I predicted for the Philadelphia Eagles in Chip Kelly's first season as their head coach. That would've been progress. That was realistic. For a team coming off a two-year stretch that had produced 12 wins and players who hadn't exactly given it up for their head coach, six wins would indicate progress after 14 years of Andy Reid football.

The Eagles won their 10th game Sunday night, beating the Dallas Cowboys in their building 24-22 to capture the NFC East crown and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Up next: a date with sixth-seeded New Orleans on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

That the Eagles went from worst to first in their division and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season is a credit to Kelly. He made mistakes along the way. He made questionable in-game coaching decisions. He had growing pains as he navigated the NFL for the first time in his career.

But Kelly's offense worked. His philosophy on running a football team, college or professional, worked. His approach to managing players -- grown men earning sizable paychecks -- also worked.

The Eagles are the healthiest team in the playoffs. Incredibly, they did not put a single player on injured reserve in the regular season. Kelly preached the value of hydration, nutrition and sleep. He instituted an unorthodox weekly schedule for his "training sessions" that included practice on Tuesday, normally the players' day off, and spirited Saturday walk-through sessions to ensure that the players peaked for Sundays.

Despite the fact that he was a college coach, Kelly got his players to buy in. It is a credit to him, and to them, that they continued to buy in even when the team started 1-3 and then 3-5.

Now Philadelphia is in the playoffs, and, although the Eagles have their deficiencies, they have two things on their side that will make them a tough out.

First, they have momentum. It is rare that the best team in the regular season wins the Super Bowl. Often, it is the team that gets hottest and is most healthy late. After that 3-5 start with multiple quarterbacks getting extended playing time, Philadelphia won seven of its last eight to finish the season 10-6. The only stumble came on the road against Minnesota in Week 15. After that, the Eagles throttled Chicago, then played well enough in all three phases to stave off Dallas.

Six of the past eight Super Bowl winners played on wild-card weekend, too. So, in recent history, having to play four games to win the title has not been a problem.

Second, the Eagles have a potent offense. They set franchise records with 442 points scored, 6,676 net yards, 4,406 gross passing yards and 53 touchdowns. They scored 30-plus points a franchise-record eight times and, for the first time since the AFL-NFL merger, finished the season with the league leader in rushing yards ( LeSean McCoy) and passer rating ( Nick Foles). And they became the second team in NFL history with 4,000-plus passing yards and 2,400-plus rushing yards in a season.

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