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'Gritty' Eagles win is a reminder that Chip Kelly still knows how to coach

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Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie's confidence in Chip Kelly was rewarded with a win over the Jets on Sunday thanks to a game plan that revolved around the team's defense.

Steven Ryan-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Had the Eagles crashed to 0-3, Chip Kelly would not have been fired, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in the middle of his team's locker room on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

I think we knew that.

Had the Eagles remained winless, 13 games still remained and Lurie said his team would not have vanquished all hope.

I think we knew that, too.

Lurie said Kelly's 0-2 start this season did not mean "he had all of a sudden forgotten how to coach," and that Kelly was not getting enough credit for being a 10-victory coach in each of his first two NFL seasons.

Few paid an ounce of thought to that.

Kelly was being scorned, his personnel moves mocked, his coaching persona singed after Philadelphia's opening losses to Atlanta and Dallas.  That instantly changed here when his team sped to a 24-0 lead en route to a 24-17 victory over the previously unbeaten New York Jets. This victory instantly patched the bleeding. It did something else.

"There is just an aura that goes with winning in the National Football League that is simply remarkable," Lurie said. "It's amazing. Things shift. Things turn."

Relief arrives. People breathe.

Kelly's signature is offense but it was his defense that provided the jolt in a similar way that the Giants did it in this same stadium three nights before against Washington. Both the Eagles and the Giants began the season 0-2 and rode defensive might to healing victories. For the Eagles it was four turnovers -- three interceptions of Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- that built momentum.

The Jets wore predominately white uniforms and issued nearly 80,000 thousand white towels to their fans in hopes of creating a "whiteout" frenzy. It looked more like surrender, with Kelly, with the Eagles clearly the more aggressive and imposing team.

Kelly called it "gritty" and "a street fight."

His players said their coach did not exhibit the stress of the 0-2 Eagles start.

"The main thing he stressed all week was for us not to beat ourselves like we had been doing," Eagles cornerback Walter Thurmond said. "We never talked about fighting 0-3. But we did talk about how it is early, it's September, it's two games and now is a good time to change things."

Running back Ryan Mathews said: "You can't deny going 0-2 to start the season builds a lot of pressure. But coach stressed to us that we are in this together. It's football. Everything is not going to be perfect. It's a long season. So, you get that first win and, yeah, it takes pressure off all of us and gives you a better environment to get better and improve."

Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks said the early three-and-outs their defense forced on the Jets offense created confidence and a blueprint to victory that matched the game plan of Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. The Eagles would employ more pass coverage than blitzing pressure, more potent gang tackling than hesitation. They would choke the running game and force Fitzpatrick to beat them. It clicked.

"The situation was exactly what it was. We were 0-2 and under fire," Kendricks said. "But I wouldn't call it relief for coach Kelly. Yes, he has had scrutiny, we all have, but we all know being around him that he is a pretty collected man. He is confident in himself and in us, and that showed."

The Eagles offense looked superb in the preseason but had limped in the regular season. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said Kelly and everyone involved will continue to uncover the reasons why.

"Teams are game-planning us good now when they weren't at all in the preseason," Ertz said. "It all comes down to execution. And we got that part of it going today. We aren't complacent about it. We still have a lot to work on."

Kelly will continue to tinker with this offense. It is his gift and his challenge. Lurie made him coach in part because of his offensive creativity. Kelly's job is to continue to create ways to make his new offensive pieces fit and rise. This is the Eagles identity. If they cannot be a high-scoring offensive team, the entire foundation could crumble.

Unless, of course, this defense has more grit and fight like this.

Consider the game's final seven minutes.

The Jets had cut the lead to 24-17 when their defense forced a fumble at the Philadelphia 41-yard line. Three plays later the Eagles defense got the ball back on linebacker Jordan Hicks' interception. With 3:33 left Thurmond gained another pick at the Philadelphia 18. Every meaningful, late Jets rally was snuffed by Philadelphia's persistent defense.

"Nobody wants 0-3," Hicks said. "Nobody wants that kind of hole. You avoid it with instincts and with fight. Sometimes things happen real fast in this game. Sometimes things happen for a reason. But I believe if you play with passion and smarts, everything can work out."

As the Eagles next travel to Washington on Sunday, Kelly found a way, at least for a week, for everyone in Philadelphia to breathe.

His own, personal exhale mattered, too.