The true measure of a team is how well it plays when it has nothing to play for. John Wooden said that, or maybe Snoopy, or maybe I just made it up. Doesn't matter. With nothing on the line, some teams wither. A few flourish.
Philadelphia came into Sunday night's game against Chicago with absolutely nothing on the line. A Dallas win earlier in the day meant that the Eagles' game was irrelevant; no matter whether Philadelphia won or lost, they'd be playing Dallas for the NFC East championship next Sunday night. Good time to rest the starters, then, right?
As it turned out, Philadelphia gave its starters a light workout — a few series against a helpless Chicago defense. The Bears, with everything to play for — a chance to clear their path to the postseason — belly-flopped in a spectacular way that resembled nothing so much as their baseball equivalent.
The final score was 54-11, and it was the rare 43-point blowout that didn't even seem that close. The Eagles totaled 519 yards of offense, 289 of that on the ground. Nick Foles continued his non-Peyton-MVP season, completing 21 of 25 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. LeSean McCoy rushed for 133 yards and another two touchdowns, and Bryce Brown came from out of nowhere to run for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears did little to help their own cause; Jay Cutler threw for 222 yards and a touchdown, but also slung a pick-six that got him benched in favor of backup Josh McCown. The Chicago defense was less tangible than a memory, surrendering run after heartbreaking long run, capped by Brown's 65-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. But by then, it was long over.
Chip Kelly's narrative path this season has run from genius to fraud to competence to near-genius again. Philadelphia has won six of its last seven, and stands as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. By rights, the team should have absolutely no trouble with Dallas next week in the NFC East championship game, and would roll into the playoffs on an exceptional hot streak. They'd get a team like San Francisco or New Orleans at home, a tough proposition but not an impossible one. And with Foles slinging passes like a casino dealer wrist-tossing cards, Philadelphia could end up putting some very big-name teams on their heels in a hurry.
"We're from Philadelphia," Kelly said, "and we fight." They're not perfect, but maybe they don't need to be.