Not even people inside the City of Brother Love could envision Chip Kelly leading the Eagles to an upset over the Patriots Sunday afternoon in Foxborough.
Philly entered the game having lost three straight, had allowed 45 points in its last two defeats and many believed the team had quit on controversial coach Chip Kelly.
Combine that with the fact that Bill Belichick's team is almost unbeatable following a loss and after Thanksgiving – New England hadn't lost two in a row following Turkey Day since 2002 – and the Patriots were a strong favorite in Week 13 despite injuries to Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and others.
And when the home team took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter it looked like Belichick's squad would bounce back and take care of business. That's when the Patriots coach called for controversial dropkick onside kick by Nate Ebner. Philly, who Belichick praised during the week for having one of the best special teams units in the game, was ready for the play and took over on their own 41 and eight plays later Sam Bradford hit Zach Ertz for a touchdown to pull within a score.
The teams then traded punts before New England was forced to punt again from its own 38 with 15 seconds left in the half. That's when Eagles safety Chris Marago came in unblocked over left guard to block Ryan Allen's punt, with teammate Najee Goode recovering for the scoop-and-score 24-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Sadly, that wasn't the end of the Patriots special teams problems or big plays by the suddenly lively visitors. Just as Tom Brady was about to seemingly regain momentum with a drive to a touchdown, his throw to Danny Amendola deflected in the air to be returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Malcolm Jenkins for a theoretically 14-point swing.
New England's next drive ended in another punt, this time Darren Sproles joining the big play party for Philly going down the left sideline for the 83-yard touchdown and the stunning two-score lead for the visitors late the third quarter.
Another Brady interception on a deep ball in the end zone gave the Eagles the ball back again on the next New England drive led to the only real drive of the day for the Eagles, an 80-yard march to a Bradford-to-Jordan Matthews touchdown for the stunning 35-14 Philly lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Sure the Patriots put together a flurry late to pull to 35-28 and even had the ball back in the waning minutes with a chance to try to tie. But drops, including a potential big play catch-and-run from Brandon LaFell, not enough offensive momentum saw Brady turn the ball over on downs to close out the almost unfathomable upset.
New England fell to 10-2 on the year, while Eagles moved to 5-7 to remain in the playoff hunt in the ugly NFC East and give Kelly's future in Philly life.
It was a day when the New England run defense wasn't good enough. The offensive line – which allowed Brady to be hit 13 times for the second straight week – wasn't good enough. Brady and his receivers weren't good enough. The kicking game was far from good enough.
As Belichick might put it, nothing was really good enough. The special teams failings and curious coaching decision for the rugby-style kickoff will be the focal point, but this was a team loss on so many levels to a team that wasn't expected to be capable of the upset if it was even motivated to pull it off.
"Overall we didn't do anything well enough today," Belichick said. "Just really didn't do anything well enough to really win. We competed and sort of had a chance there at the end to come back, but when you give up 21 points when your defense isn't on the field you are going to lose about 98-percent of those games."
On the controversial initial Ebner onside kick, Belichick said simply, "We did what we thought was best."
"Give them credit, they took advantage of our mistakes. We've been good in [the kicking game], we weren't today."
And he said on the blocked punt, "We just blew it."
The same could be said for the game as a whole.
The team had too many bad plays and now has to move on to a Sunday night game in Houston that suddenly has more meaning coming off two straight losses. Playoff seeding is very much up in the air. Getting things rolling again on both sides of the ball is important.
"Disappointing night, but we have to find a way to win a game next week," Brady concluded.
But before looking ahead to the Texans and trying to end a rare late-season losing streak, here are some of the key highs and lows from an ugly loss to the Eagles:
James White – The second-year passing back had his breakout game as New England needed him in its comeback effort. Brady threw in White's direction 13 times for 10 catches totaling 115 yards and a touchdown. White had a key 25-yard grab on fourth down and simply produced as well and as much as any Patriots player on this ugly evening. White has to be earning more chances and a bigger role moving forward, especially when Brandon Bolden struggled in his chances against Philly with just one catch on five targets, including a drop that was a near interception.
Jamie Collins – The linebacker returned from a month off and didn't seem to be worse for the wear of his unspecified illness. Collins led the Patriots with eight tackles. He also had a pass defense and QB hit. Collins ripped the ball from Kenjon Barner on a curious late carry to give Brady and Co. one last chance to try to pull off the crazy comeback. Collins is once again the man in the middle of the Patriots defense. Overall the unit wasn't good enough, but Collins was solid in his first game back.
Offensive line –Maybe it's unfair to lump all seven guys together, but the group just isn't getting the job done. Brady was sacked four times and hit 13 times. He was feeling the pressure and at times anticipating it, probably due to the fact that he's been hit a combined 36 times in recent weeks. The tackles weren't good. The penalties weren't good. The holes weren't really there in the running game. The offensive line is starting to make people have flashbacks to early last season and that's not good at any time, certainly not in December.
Bill Belichick –One has to assume that Belichick made the call for the strange Ebner dropkick onside with a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. That play seemed to give the Eagles life and help ignite the Philly team that had been well on its way to another ugly loss. He also had Ebner kick another onside later in the game that went easily out of bounds with the help of an Eagle hand. The Patriots are emotionally floundering right now and that has to be on the head coach as well. Belichick gets all the credit in many of the victories and with a two-game losing streak late in the year while battling injuries he has to get some of the blame for falling apart Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium.
Special teams – Joe Judge's troops have been a positive for the Patriots seemingly every week for the last year-plus. They very much helped win games. This time they very much led to a loss. There was a clear screw up in protection on the punt block. There was terrible coverage on the Sproles return for a score. The onside kicks were both atrocious. New England has been so good in the kicking game for the last two seasons, but the team could not have been much worse in that area in this one.
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