PHILADELPHIA --- For their choices, for their philosophies, for the way Chip Kelly wanted to run his program, the Eagles were destined have their 2014 season measured one way. They were going to be judged by how they performed without DeSean Jackson.
There would be defensive issues, and special teams dynamics, and the ever-evolving Nick Foles Experience. But, no, that would be their No. 1 issue, because they made it be their No. 1 issue by giving away their best receiver, in mid-career, for the low, low price of nothing. Could they be as potent a point-producing, yard-line-crossing, defense-confusing handful, even with Jackson still in their division, making his standard contributions?
In a 37-34 victory Sunday over the Washington Redskins, they had a quick answer, one stuffed in a handy package. For even on a day when Jackson would predictably torment them with an 81-yard touchdown reception and three-plus hours of freestyle celebrating, they would prove their head coach's leading offensive theory. They would show, to borrow Kelly's phrase, that they are an equal-opportunity offense, one able to win with the run, or with the short pass, or by the long pass, or by action inside, or outside, or both.
“You see the firepower on this offense,” Zach Ertz said as the Birds completed their first 3-0 start since their Super Bowl effort in 2004. “Between Maclin, Jordan, Coop and the running backs, we are never going to be out of a game.”
That would be Jeremy Maclin, who had 10 receptions Sunday, a touchdown included. And that would be Jordan Matthews, the rookie, who would score twice. And it would be Riley Cooper, who had seven catches. Three tight ends, Ertz included, caught passes. Two backs. Jeff Maehl made a cameo. If the game had lasted another 10 minutes, Kelly probably would have worked-in a tackle-eligible completion, just for the art.
That's how the Eagles play. More, that's how Kelly knew they could play without Jackson. Even more, that's how they played against Jackson, whose team did not win, even though he'd caught 11 passes.
Ever aware of the politics of football, Kelly pretended not to see much of Jackson's day-long carry-on. Hey, he was busy trying to rebuild his disintegrating offensive line. So maybe. But what competitor was ever too preoccupied to savor a last-laugh moment? And that's what the Eagles were enjoying Sunday, countering Jackson's effort with every exhibit of evidence why they felt they could bounce him off their roster.”
By winning the way they won, the Eagles didn't just grab early command of the NFC East. They proved a point.
“If they are going to try to take away our run game,” Kelly said, “then we have to make them pay through the air.”
They could have made opponents pay that way even if had retained Jackson. That's why the topic is not going to go away easily, and why it likely will hover when they visit Washington Dec. 20. But in their first chance to demonstrate to Jackson why they were confident enough to let him leave, the Eagles provided a different kind of taunting.
“Out there, I am just trying to help my team win the game, and I'm going to give everything to give a great effort,” Jackson said. “I think it was a great game and a credit to the other team who also did a great job. But we fought all the way to the end. It's just unfortunate that we didn't win the game.”
The Skins had a 33-yard field-goal attempt clang off the right upright in the fourth quarter. And the Eagles did mix in a 102-yard kickoff return TD. So some football variables did help make the difference in a three-point game.
But there were also the givens. And all along, Kelly believed it was a given that the Birds had enough pass-catchers to succeed without one more.
“We can score,” Maclin said. “And we can score in bunches. That is a credit to Chip, to (offensive coordinator) Pat (Shurmur) and to the guys we have on the offensive side of the ball.”
And it was a message to one no longer around.