There is something about a snow game that separates men from wimps, transforming professional football players into frolicking kids as if funneled through a nostalgic time warp. The teams that embrace these storms as litmus tests, and view whiteout conditions as very cool and very fun, are the teams that tend to unify within and claim their fans’ respect and hearts.
Chip Kelly and the Eagles, for one.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens, for another.
What would endear a Philadelphia football team to a demanding, half-psychotic Philadelphia sports audience? A hard-ass victory in a blizzard, with the city paralyzed and cars stuck on roadsides and the entire metropolis trying to derive survivalist tactics from the Eagles. The situation looked bleak until late in the third quarter as the Eagles slipped and stumbled in the slick stuff, looking very much like the product of a rookie head coach from Oregon. The Detroit Lions, a dome team, were handling the cold weather much better and winning big.
Then came a game-changing sideline suggestion from cornerback Cary Williams to Kelly, who looked frigid in his green parka. “I felt like post patterns would work for us,” Williams said, per USA Today. “I told him, `Let’s go up top on those guys with the post or the fade because it’s hard for us to stop, turn and run and gain enough speed and momentum on the receiver when the receiver already has the momentum.’ ”
Next thing you knew, Nick Foles was looking like Brett Favre and Tom Brady in the snow, ignoring the elements to make big passing plays downfield. Meanwhile, Kelly had the good sense to keep feeding the NFL’s second-leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, while reminding him to focus on trudging straight ahead like a snowplow. The Eagles ruled the final quarter and a half, with McCoy rushing for a franchise-record 217 yards and touchdown slogs of 57 and 40 yards in a 34-20 romp over the choking, mistake-ridden Lions — realizing that describing the Detroit Lions as choking is a perpetual redundancy.
“Everybody has a plan — and then the first snap, it kind of goes awry,” Kelly said. “We talk all the time that it’s how you react. We’re both playing in the same conditions, and I think our guys embraced it. They really enjoyed it. They had a lot of fun.”
For a guy who was struggling two months ago in his first NFL season, Kelly has done a remarkable job since then of adjusting to obstacles on the fly. When Michael Vick was injured, which could have grounded a spread offense supposedly predicated on fast quarterbacking feet, Kelly turned to the 6-foot-6 Foles and developed him into one of the league’s most efficient passers. When critics such as Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians referred to Kelly’s scheme as a “college offense,” the Eagles responded with a 24-21 win over the Cardinals and have gained more than 400 yards in 10 of 13 games while going 8-5. When the defense looked incapable of stopping anyone, emphasis was placed on improvement that has been evident in recent weeks. And Sunday, when it was paramount to hold onto the ball, the Eagles fumbled only once and recovered it while Foles threw just one pick — his first of the season, amazingly enough. The Lions? They fumbled seven times and lost three, including a killer botched snap in shotgun formation that quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t see coming midway through the fourth quarter.
“It’s not the same as a sunny day, that’s for sure. But you’ve got to make adjustments,” Stafford said.
Remember this victory if the Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys in the final regular-season game, as I expect, and win the NFC East. Also remember it if the Lions blow the NFC North. As for the Ravens, they may sneak into the AFC playoffs only because of their own snowstorm victory 100 miles down Interstate 95.
We throw around the term “miracle” too loosely in sports. What happened Sunday was a miracle and a half. Oh, it was helped by an utter absence of defense in the final two minutes and five seconds, which led to an insane back-and–forth flurry of five touchdowns by the Ravens and Minnesota Vikings. It was Flacco who had the last word with four seconds left, hitting rookie Marlon Brown with a nine-yard pass in the back of the end zone for a 29-26 victory. “Do you believe in miracles?” cornerback Jimmy Smith shouted, per the Associated Press.
I believe in motion sickness, having watched a 35-point ping-pong rampage that included Jacoby Jones’ 77-yard kick return for a Ravens score and a 79-yard hookup from Minnesota’s Matt Cassel to Cordarrelle Patterson. You may live the rest of your life without seeing anything like it.
“You couldn’t even get emotional. It was too confusing,” Jones said.
“I’ve never seen a game like that before,” Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs said. “Besides the Super Bowl, that’s the most special win I’ve been a part of. Crazy.”
It should be noted that both winners were outdoor teams in northeast cities while both losers were indoor teams. It also should be noted that Chip Kelly officially has arrived in Philly. He has tried to ingratiate himself by using some of the city’s icons as part of his clever system in conveying play calls via sideline signage — the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Rocky Balboa, a cheesesteak sandwich. Now he can add another.