Chip Kelly is only in his third year as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and because he has yet to win a playoff game, his list of 'signature wins' in the NFL is somewhat small and dictated mostly on the situations he has found himself in over his first two years.
The week 17 win over the Cowboys during his inaugural season, the one that gave the Eagles the division and a playoff spot, stands alone at No. 1. No. 2 would arguably be another win against the Cowboys, this time on Thanksgiving 2014, which put the Eagles at 9-3. This was still in the genius phase, where Kelly's methods were frantically being copied and studied. Every offense needed a Chip Kelly component.
This Sunday, there is talk -- and probably just talk -- that Kelly is on his last legs in Philadelphia. General manager Chip Kelly undid genius coach Chip Kelly and the team would be better off starting fresh before the roster gets purged even further. And while some of this is true, how much could be undone if Kelly clinched the No. 3 signature win of his tenure by beating the Patriots at Foxborough?
"I've seen it work before, and I've seen these players be successful before," Kelly said earlier this week when asked how he convinces himself this system will work during this latest grim stretch. "I've had that question, and I've seen us play really good football. Up until the last two games, I thought we played really well on the defensive side of the ball.
"I think those guys have done a really good job. That's where kind of the Tampa Bay game was surprising. We had not had the ball run on us like that since we've been here in the three years we've been here."
The Eagles will have help on Sunday. Rob Gronkowski is out. Julian Edelman is out. Danny Amendola is questionable, but banged up nevertheless. Patrick Chung, Dominique Easley and Dont'a Hightower are all questionable. These mounting issues have forced the Patriots into an adjustment period, which is when Bill Belichick truly excels, but it still takes time. It may be a reach to say that there is a window to beat the Patriots, but defensively, how much more creative can the Eagles get if they don't have to worry about doubling a tight end and accounting for quite possibly the best possession receiver in the NFL?
"Did they lose Tom Brady?" Kelly quipped when asked if the matchup is more favorable due to the injuries. "That I think would really screw them up. I think it really just speaks to how good a football player Tom is."
He added: "He has an unbelievable command of that scheme. Then, they find a way to find players that kind of fit. I think they know what the individual player can do. It all starts and ends with Tom. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's a huge challenge for us to have to go up and defend him."
This is obviously what Kelly aspires to have one day; to have his scheme be this elastic and effective across the board. But he's also smart enough to know that even the best scheme suffers when drained of talent, because he's living through an important lesson that all great coaches encounter at some point in their careers, especially the ones good enough to get control of their personnel departments. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy would probably have this Eagles team close to first place, if not ahead by three games.
The Patriots are not as good of a team as they were three weeks ago. They are winning off the strength of a very good defense, the best quarterback of the last 15 years and quite possibly the greatest head coach of all time.
Having Kelly deliver a signature win this weekend would go a long way toward healing some of the open wounds in Philadelphia. It could help the Eagles move past what has been a disappointing season and get to the reality of the situation -- Chip Kelly is a great head coach who learned an important lesson. He's living it right now and there is nothing more frustrating to an obsessive mind like Kelly than failure.
All great minds encounter a trial phase and Kelly is doing his best to survive his. This win will keep the owner from storming out of his box and making phone calls. This win will keep the fans off his back. This win will convince the players that they are headed in the right direction, which may or may not be Kelly's most immediate challenge.