Chip Kelly makes fast impression in Eagles debut

Dan Wetzel

LANDOVER, Md. – The onslaught started with four Philadelphia snaps in the first minute of play. Yes, four plays in one minute. "I don't think you can get too much faster than that," Michael Vick said. Yeah, well, don't challenge Chip Kelly to find out.

The four plays went for 56 yards and that was probably all anyone really needed to know that the Kelly experiment in the NFL was going to work, let alone lead to an opening night 33-27 victory over Washington that wasn't really as close as it looks.

There were 30 plays run in the first quarter alone. There were 322 first-half yards, the Eagles seemingly slowed only by suspicious leg cramps of Washington defenders. There was just one big blur after the next, Kelly's Oregon Ducks reborn in the pros.

Did the country just witness a revolution in the National Football League?

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"Maybe so," Vick, he of two touchdowns throwing and another rushing, said in a way that sure sounded like a knowing yes.

Kelly, the 49-year-old revolutionary in the Eagles visor, was asked about his play-calling. Had he even bothered to reach all the way into his bag?


Bag of tricks, he was told.

"I don't think it was a bag of tricks," Kelly said. "It was just football."

If this is just football then this also may be the future. The furious tempo and spread attack that swept the college ranks over the past decade or so made its full and complete entry in the NFL Monday. As opening nights go, this one played to rave reviews.

"That," said owner Jeffrey Lurie, who lured Kelly to Philly, "was a great dream."

Or a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Kelly and the other proponents of this style of play have been influencing the league for a few years now. Indianapolis, Denver and, especially, New England have all applied the principles of the tempo to their attacks. But this isn't borrowing.

This is what Chip Kelly is about, full-throttle, full-attack, full enjoyment.

"It's really a game," Kelly said. "Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously. We love playing football. There's a passion to it. That is the way it should be played.

"I had a lot of fun tonight. I think our guys had a lot of fun."

The guys had fun. You can be sure of that. Vick looked like he was 22 again, throwing for 203 yards, rushing for 54, even getting out there and laying down multiple blocks. LeSean McCoy ran for 184 yards and a TD. DeSean Jackson caught seven passes for 104 and a score. Everyone was running in space. The stats would've been higher, but Philly held a huge lead in the third quarter and tried to slow down the game and run clock. It almost cost the Eagles, but they held on in the end.

"We've got to look at that," Kelly said.

[Related: Chip Kelly's offense was good, but not the best in Week 1]

"There will be games we have to press for four quarters," Vick promised, looking like he couldn't wait.

"It was a crazy game," Vick continued. "I've never been a part of anything like. When the first quarter was over, I thought we were about to go to halftime. It was unreal. The only thing I can tell myself is, it's going to be a long season."

Imagine being the other guys. At the start of the game, all along the Eagles sideline, the Philly defense made sure to get a front-row spot to watch what it had been stuck practicing against since April.

As the Eagles began roaring over Washington, as defenders huffed and puffed and supposedly got injured to slow down the pace, they could only cackle with delight. They'd been waiting months to see this.

"It was awesome," linebacker Trent Cole said. "I wasn't surprised one bit."

"I'm happy to be on their side [rather] than out there defending them," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "As a defense, to sit back and watch an offense, wear a defense down like they did, it's very fun to watch."

"[Washington was] having a hard time lining up," McCoy noted.

It wasn't a perfect performance by any means, but across the Eagles locker room, the players weren't enjoying just the satisfaction of a victory or the joy of winning. There was a sense this was the start of something very big.

Everyone is going to just get better as the offense gets fine-tuned. There's more to it. Wait until the Eagles work out the kinks. And the defense thinks it's sharper than ever, just from having to practice against the offense. Robert Griffin III wasn't so scary this year.

"I have to say, from playing them in the past, the game [seemed] a lot slower to me," Cole said. "I always thought they were the fast team. It just seemed like they were slow out there. It looked like it was slow because look who we are playing against. That's who we've got to go against in every practice."

Mainly this was just fun. Kelly was laughing and smiling throughout the game. Players were hugging him and knocking his visor off. This may be the pros, but it felt rather collegiate.

That, more than the offensive innovation, is what Lurie said he saw in Kelly. That this system worked – against the opinion of many critics – is just a bonus.

"I saw him as a program builder not as an offensive technician," Lurie said. "I was looking for someone who builds programs and brings people together and, at the same time, has a smart, dynamic mind. It wasn't about taking a certain offense to the pros, it was bigger than that."

Kelly shrugged off a lot of the praise, a lot of the standard business of a postgame NFL news conference. On the number of plays: "We don't count plays. We never have." On whether he was concerned Vick got hit too often: "He seemed pretty happy."

He shrugged. Just enjoy it, he was saying.

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"We've said since day one it's a game, it doesn't have to be run like a business," Kelly said. "We don't practice like a business, we don't train like it's a business. We've got a bunch of guys who are excited about being at work every day, and they make us coaches be ready for them because these guys are going to challenge us. It keeps us sharp."

It's something you only rarely hear in the control-freak, deathly serious NFL.

"He's a dynamic coach who has his own way of approaching football," Lurie said.

Back in the locker room, right after the game, Lurie walked up to Kelly and handed him a special commemorative game ball marking his first victory. They'd taken a chance on each other last spring – the owner going to the college ranks, the college coach jumping to the pros.

History is littered with failure in marriages like this. If there were every any second thoughts, they're long gone now.

"The first," Lurie said he told Kelly, "of very many."

Opening night on Broadway couldn't have gone any better.

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