Chip Kelly swipes RGIII’s spotlight in exhilarating ‘MNF’ clash
The start was brilliant. The finish was just good enough.
In a Monday Night Football collision of colossal storylines — Chip Kelly’s much-anticipated regular-season debut for Philadelphia and Robert Griffin III’s return for Washington — it was Kelly’s Eagles who pilfered the spotlight. Their new offense was everything it promised to be and more in the first half, en route to 26 points and an eye-popping 53 plays (Up-tempo Green Bay ran 58 total plays against the 49ers).
The Philadelphia pace slowed and Griffin steadied himself in the second half, those simultaneous occurrences nearly proving enough for the Redskins to erase a massive deficit. An onside kick recovery sealed the wild, unpredictable 33-27 Philadelphia win.
The Redskins fans who stormed FedEx Field ready to salute Griffin were in for a letdown early. RGIII opened the evening dramatically: He marched out of the locker room, fell to his knees to pound the turf with both hands, made a sign of the cross, then held an oversized Redskins flag aloft and charged onto the field.
He would barely be back between the hash marks for the next half hour or so. Philadelphia ran 19 of the game’s first 20 plays, getting up and over the ball in a breathtaking fury just as Kelly’s Oregon teams did. Griffin’s lone snap in that time resulted in a fumble by running back Alfred Morris.
“I like the way we dictate the pace of the game,” Philadelphia QB Michael Vick told the NFL Network after his team’s win. “I understand the system and I like what we’re doing. It’s fast, and we’re keeping everybody off-balance.”
You can say that again.
Washington had no answers for Philadelphia’s offense in the first half. Had it not been for three lengthy video reviews and a couple of potentially dubious Washington injuries (after one, an Eagle could be heard yelling, “He’s faking, y’all!”), the Redskins’ defense might not have made it to halftime.
When halftime rolled around, the Eagles had run 53 plays … and Washington had gained 75 yards.
“Anytime you get behind the eight ball like we did and you have an offense that’s productive as they were,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, “you’re in for a long half.”
This was how Kelly’s offense was supposed to click somewhere down the road, with Vick slinging passes, LeSean McCoy breaking ankles, DeSean Jackson carving up secondaries and the sum total running opposing defenses into the ground. Not even Kelly’s staunchest supporters could have expected the rookie NFL coach to come out stoking the fires like he did in Week 1.
That goes for both sides of the football, too. For all the accolades heaped on the Vick-led offense in the first half, Kelly’s defense, which was a wreck throughout the preseason, pitched a shutout for the first 44 minutes and 49 seconds. Washington’s seven points prior to that came on an unusual play that saw a batted, backwards pass from Vick turn into a scoop-and-score TD for the Redskins’ defense.
“We don’t count plays; that’s not part of our deal,” Kelly said. “It was a bizarre first half … they score and their offense hasn’t been on the field.
“The thing you’ve got to count is points, and our defense did a great job for us.”
Vick finished with 203 yards passing and two touchdowns, despite not being all that sharp through the air. McCoy more than pulled his own alongside, rushing for 184 yards and a video game-esque TD run in which he jump-cut over and around E.J. Biggers on his way to the end zone.
But all the mayhem of the opening two quarters-plus nearly took a backseat to a Griffin-fueled comeback late. Morris’ TD with 11 seconds left in the third quarter stopped a 33-0 Philadelphia run and pulled Washington within 19.
Griffin, shaking off the rust accumulated over a preseason spent riding the pine, then worked his way into a groove. A pair of TD tosses to Leonard Hankerson — one with 13:39 left, another at 1:20 — brought the Redskins within striking distance. If Washington had managed to keep the drive between those two scores alive, who knows how this one might have ended.
That promising march, however, died on a false start and four straight Griffin incompletions, a quartet of reminders that the second-year QB may be off and on for a few weeks.
“Robert’s a guy who works extremely hard,” Vick told the NFL Network, “and when he makes his mind up to do something, he’s going to do it.”
Not quite true here. Griffin, ever the competitor, managed to stave off an embarrassing blowout loss by bringing his team back. In the process, he probably gave the stunned Washington crowd hope that upcoming games will be better than Monday’s showing.
This night belonged to Kelly, who, at least for the first three quarters, alerted the NFL that his transition from college to the pros may be a terrifically exciting one.
Just don’t blink, or you may miss what comes next.