For Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, there was a familiar sting in the Eagles' last-second 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night. For the 12th time since Lurie took over the franchise 19 seasons ago, the Eagles' year ended with a playoff loss. What's different about this loss, however, is that through the rawness of defeat there is an overwhelming sense that this group of players and coaches who are just getting started.
"When you make a coaching change, you have to transform a new culture and these guys and the coaching staff just formed an incredible bond and ability to prepare and ability to win," Lurie said following the game. "That can take years and they did it all in about six months. That's what's so great here. We're all crushed to be eliminated. Crushed. You're in this because you love it so much, but you're devastated. But I have no doubt these guys will be back and will be more confident than ever now that they know what they accomplished.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. It's a missed opportunity and it's the tip of the iceberg. I think everybody in this room knows it. It's a very young team and, at the same time, they've already learned what it takes. Now they just have to execute a little bit better, have a little better early start of the season and I think they clearly feel they have what it takes."
In hiring Chip Kelly just over a year ago, Lurie made clear his faith that the former Oregon head coach was the man to lead the Eagles into the future. Yet, throughout the year, Lurie was still impressed with how Kelly turned the Eagles' fortunes around from a moribund 4-12 2012 season.
"I'm not totally surprised, but I was just weekly reminded by how dedicated and intelligent and dynamic (Kelly is) and how much he has a feel for players," said Lurie. "It's not just all about his Xs and Os, we know that's pretty dynamic. But his ability to rally and bring people together for a common cause is very impressive and it's going to serve us great starting next year.
"My expectations were more about making sure that we had a terrific coaching staff that could transform a roster and a group of young players into something special and that was it. It wasn't about wins and losses. I was incredibly impressed how quickly Chip and his staff were able to get this group together and perform extremely well. There are just so many good young players around this locker room that they'll be incredibly dedicated. We know that."
For Lurie, 2013 also served as validation for his decision to move forward with general manager Howie Roseman as the primary roster constructor. After changing the process prior to the 2012 NFL Draft to allow Roseman more control, the Eagles have added a young nucleus that includes Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Bennie Logan, among others.
"It's been the unwritten sort of background to the season," Lurie said. "When we streamlined the draft process, allowed Howie and his staff to really function as a group, he hired great people and the last two draft classes speak for themselves and we're poised for a really good one this year. At the same time, the atmosphere here, the chemistry is great. I think it'll attract terrific players around the league. If you're a young player, wouldn't you want to play for Chip?"
Foles' emergence, in particular, has changed the general scope of the Eagles' future. Last offseason, Lurie made clear that the roster's greatest need was a franchise quarterback. In the 24-year-old Foles, the league's leader in passer rating and the owner of the greatest touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history (27 touchdowns to two interceptions), the Eagles may just have their man.
"I don't want to comment on any player, but how could you not be impressed with Nick and everything he's accomplished?" Lurie said. "Including tonight; no turnovers, led us back from 20-7. Incredibly impressive."
Of course, there will be a long offseason to dream about the brightness of the Eagles' future with the assembled cast of young talent and Kelly's coaching staff to lead the way. For now, despite his faith in the future, Lurie remained crestfallen.
"There is just an incredible chemistry in this team with excellent young talent," Lurie said. "That's a powerful combination with young coaching. You can combine great coaching, great talent and great chemistry and you can go anywhere. That was the missed opportunity tonight. We were a dangerous team."
More from Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie
On Michael Vick: "Michael has been as impressive … to us just internally. Incredibly mature teammate, leader and somebody who helped Nick (Foles) tremendously. He's been a joy to have. He represented the team always with class. I didn't know a lot about Michael before he came, heard a lot, and he's been very impressive."
On how the team can improve in 2014: "I think we have to obviously get off to a better start in the season, but this was – because it was a young team – they were just finding out how good they were. Obviously you want to try to get a bye in the first round. That would be the next goal, win the division, get a bye. But you have to come back with the same – you're 0-0 when you start the next season but this group is just awfully pleasing to, I think, us and the fans. It's such a great group of guys, both the players, the coaches and everyone around them that you can't help but root for them because they try so hard. You could see this in May, June, July; you could see it August. It didn't reflect in the record early, but once you saw what they could do, coming back 20-7 in a playoff game tonight, it was just heartbreaking."
On the difference between Kelly's first year and the first year of past head coaches: "There's just so much promise with Chip and this staff and this group. It's all a young, dynamic coaching staff merged with a young, terrific group of players who really want to win and they do it with class and they do it with great chemistry. They love each other and they will do anything to train and be better and this will only serve to motivate them even further. They know now they're good. Now they just have to get better."
On what the team proved this season: "This team proved so much to all of us. Great team chemistry and outstanding effort from the training on. Just incredible effort. Very competitive. Terrific young players and I think they all know the future is really bright and come back with the same incredible effort and attitude that they've shown from day one. I have no doubt they will and they'll just build off this. For most of these guys, this is the tip of the iceberg and that's what's so great."