PHILADELPHIA – They were supposed to bury the Old Way here on Thursday night. Andy Reid was going to walk through the tunnel in the red and gold of the Kansas City Chiefs, with his laminated play card filled with all those same predictable slants, screens and draws, and it would look tedious in the shadow of the Big New Thing.
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Across the field so many of Reid's former players had been raving about the Big New Thing they're playing. They were talking about their offense as the future, more a fast break than the plodding Old Way that delivered five NFC title games in 14 years but also mountains of frustration. The Big New Thing was going to destroy the Old Way. And it was going to happen in a blaze of lights.
Until it didn't. Until the New Big Thing lost to the Old Way 26-16.
And here's the problem with Eagles coach Chip Kelly's Big New Thing. It can be beaten.
So much talk has swirled around Philadelphia's version of Kelly's Oregon offense. When the Big New Thing has been on it has been a stunning explosion of fast passes and touchdowns. The worry at those moments has been about wearing down players, exhausting starters on the tiny depth of NFL rosters. But what happens when a team beats the Big New Thing by doing nothing special? What happens when the offense that is supposed to change the NFL is defeated by the most basic of defenses?
Reid's Chiefs watched tape of the Big New Thing this week, absorbing all the amazing intricacies of football Showtime and they realized fancy gimmicks weren't going to work.
"They spread you out and if you play a zone, they have four plays built into one," Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith said. "Looking at it we said, 'OK, let's go man-to-man and go for it.' "
There was nothing special about the defense that gave up 431 yards but only two touchdowns. It didn't rely on fakery or strange formations. It didn't show exotic looks. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick would later call it "vanilla."
The defense didn't surprise. Instead it lined up against the Eagles and beat them in an old-fashioned way, by being stronger and quicker.
The Chiefs' corners studied the films of the league's most talked about offense and realized they had to take away Philadelphia's most dynamic receiver, DeSean Jackson, allowing him short catches but nothing deep. If they could do that, they felt they would have little trouble handling the Eagles' Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant – players they identified later by jersey numbers and not last names as if Cooper and Avant weren't worthy of remembering.
Their plan worked perfectly. The Chiefs kept Jackson from getting deep and covered Cooper and Avant well enough that quarterback Michael Vick couldn't get his passes out quick enough, the offensive line couldn't hold as long as Vick needed and the Chiefs' basic pass rush spilled in. In some ways, Philadelphia's most effective plays were five Vick scrambles for a total of 95 yards. This is not what the Big New Thing had been in the first week against Washington. Then again, Kansas City's defense is much better than Washington's right now. Vick was intercepted twice and the Eagles lost three fumbles. That won't win anything.
Later Kelly sat stoically at a news conference lectern that was once the domain of Reid. The Big New Thing has extended the Old Way's home losing streak which is now a startling eight straight. Kelly shook his head.
"It's about execution," he said. "That's what this game is all about. We have to come back and not put ourselves in these situations. You can't turn the ball over like that in this league and expect to win. We can move the ball up and down the field, we have proven that, but if we're going to put the ball on the ground as we did in the first half and throw interceptions that's not going to win the game for us. You can't lose the turnover battle."
Meanwhile across the hall, Reid tried to downplay a game that meant so much more than just a victory. He conceded that it was nice to come into his old stadium and beat the team that was done with him after last year. He praised Kelly's offense. He said there were many players on the Eagles' sideline for whom he cares deeply.
What he didn't say is that his old play sheet – the one they were so tired of seeing around here – still has magic. The old plays still work. They worked enough against a weak Eagles defense to produce 395 yards. More important, they produced no turnovers. Which leaves something to be said for the Old Way.
Perhaps in time Kelly's Big New Thing will prove to be genius. Maybe it will come to give the Eagles a long streak of wins and many division titles. It could even deliver that long-desired Super Bowl title.
On Thursday, however, the Big New Thing looked flat against the Old Way. For all of its dazzling complexity and blinding pace, the Big New Thing is still not a proven thing in the NFL. It might work. It might not. There are no guarantees.
And in the end, Reid ran his Old Way and it worked just as it had worked so many times over those 14 years – "a long time for a chubby old guy," he said. He tucked his laminated play card under his arm and walked away giving none of the closure they had come to get here on Thursday night.
Just questions about the Big New Thing and whether or not it's going to work.