Sometimes history repeats itself, sometimes the trends are meant not to continue. The New Orleans Saints have been one of the most successful franchises in the NFL ever since hiring Sean Payton as their head coach, but they always seemed to have trouble outside in the cold in January. They fell to the Chicago Bears in Chicago in 2007. They fell to the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle in 2011. They’re a team that thrives in the climate controlled home field advantage of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but tends to shrink in front of hostile crowds. This year, they had to spend Wild Card Weekend in Philadelphia, and the City of Brotherly Love is not exactly known for their balmy weather or warm hospitality this time of year. This game had the markings of a Saints defeat written all over it, but maybe that was just what Sean Payton and Drew Brees needed to hear.
The Philadelphia Eagles did a good job this year of putting the Andy Reid Era in their rear view mirror and turning the page. Often times, teams will let a longtime successful head coach go, and face a letdown period, like when the Denver Broncos replaced Mike Shanahan with Josh McDaniels, or when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers replaced Jon Gruden with Raheem Morris, then Greg Schiano, and now Lovie Smith (good luck, Lovie!), but in this case, both the Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs got the right coach going forward. Chip Kelly is the future of football. He took the Eagles to the top of the NFC East in his first year coaching in the NFL in any capacity. His approach to the game when he was offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire (and later offensive coordinator and hear coach at Oregon) caught the attention of Bill Belichick and the Patriots. I’m sure that he will take the Eagles in the right direction, and I hope Philly fans run him out of town right around the same time as Belichick decides to retire, since I don’t trust any of Bill’s assistants to run my beloved Pats.
The game featured two quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Nick Foles, who graduated from the same Austin, Texas high school a decade apart, but were both ignored by their hometown University of Texas. Brees will be a Hall of Famer someday, and Foles is just bursting onto the scene this year, responding well to Kelly’s system, and taking advantage of the opportunity given to him when Michael Vick got injured. Brees was shaky in the first half, but found his groove late, when the Saints’ defense was too injured to stop the Eagles. The game ended with a last second field goal, reminiscent of the BCS National Championship Game Chip Kelly lost three years ago to the Cam Newton-led Auburn Tigers. These kinds of losses hurt, where the last team to hold the ball wins, and it could have been you if the game were a minute or two longer. I was confident Chip would win a National Championship with Oregon if the NFL didn’t lure him away first, and I’m convinced now that Chip Kelly will be back in the playoffs again soon. There was a chance of a Chip Kelly/Andy Reid Super Bowl this year, but the two top Coach of the Year candidates who both have connections to Philly were both eliminated from the playoffs today.
Drew Brees and the Saints proved a lot of people, myself included, wrong tonight. If they can win in Philly, who’s to say they can’t win in Seattle? Or in Green Bay? Or in an outdoor Super Bowl in New York? Doing it once is good, but there’s still a long way to go before the end of the season.