Jason Kelce’s absence told you even more about his presence

PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 07: Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) looks on during the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles on November 7, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Jason Kelce left with a knee injury during the first quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. He didn’t return until the second possession of the second half. His short-term absence gave Eagles fans another indicator of just how valuable the center has been to the team throughout his 11-year career.

The four-time Pro Bowler has started 122 consecutive regular season and playoff games for the Eagles since Week 8 in 2014. He has remained in the lineup throughout recent seasons while other veteran linemen have missed significant time. His powerful athleticism in the open field and colorful personality have made him synonymous with the Eagles in the modern era.

Kelce has been the cog in an offensive line that has climbed back into the ranks as one of the top units in the NFL and helped the Eagles establish an excellent rushing attack in recent weeks. Head coach Nick Sirianni even compared him to Billy Bob from Varsity Blues in a light-hearted press conference last week.  

Nate Herbig Fills in at Center

Nate Herbig replaced Kelce at center for 31 of the 67 offensive snaps on Sunday. The Eagles struggled to move the ball with Kelce out of the game. Herbig committed two poorly-timed holding infractions that stunted the little offensive momentum they had. One of his penalties erased a touchdown.

FOX color analysts Mark Schlereth pointed out after both penalties that Herbig could’ve avoided the calls with better discipline after his initial blocks allowed the ball carrier to get past his man. Kelce was visibly frustrated on the sidelines after the two holding penalties, an indicator of his pride in the offensive line and his desire to see younger players like Herbig succeed. 

Kelce Returns

Kelce’s return in the third quarter helped the offense gain some momentum. They drove 66 yards on 10 plays, nine of them rushes, on his second possession back in the game. During the drive, he blocked Giants standout Dexter Lawrence to make room for a 13-yard scramble by Jalen Hurts that got the Eagles into the red zone. Three plays later, he created the hole for Boston Scott to score the only Philadelphia touchdown of the afternoon.

He provided the push on the offensive line that allowed Scott to move the chains on third down on the following possession. The pass blocking also improved late in the game and gave the skill position players some opportunities to mount a comeback. Hurts and his weapons unfortunately couldn’t capitalize in a heartbreaking loss. 

Eagles Offensive Line

Assistant coach Jeff Stoutland has established the offensive line as a core strength of the organization. His ability to prepare inexperienced linemen to fill in for injured players has become his calling card.

After Kelce returned, right guard Jack Driscoll left with an injury and forced Herbig to reenter. The broadcast pointed out that Kelce and Herbig were communicating well pre-snap. Even after two injuries to starters, the line found a way to patch things up and give the offense a chance to make plays down the stretch.

Scott, after a devastating fumble late in the fourth quarter, even expressed that he wants to play his best for the sake of a player like Kelce. After complimenting his center’s achievements and importance to the organization, he frankly stated, “Guys like that make me want to give my all.”

After four Pro Bowl selections, three All-Pro selections, and key contributions to the only Super Bowl in franchise history, Kelce will go down as one of the best offensive linemen ever to play in Philadelphia. Firing up the crowd at the Super Bowl parade and speaking his mind about the endless Ben Simmons drama are just two of the many memories of Kelce that will live with Eagles fans forever. Some day, he might be enshrined in Canton as a Hall of Famer.

However, the 34-year-old is far from finished. Talks swirl about his potential retirement every offseason, but he is still playing at a high level. He demonstrates the true mark of a competitor who continues to push himself regardless of his past accomplishments. He will undoubtedly encourage his teammates to recover from the disappointment of Sunday’s loss and push themselves to correct their mistakes.

He displayed his irreplaceable veteran value in a more subtle way than he has in the past, and he will continue as a force on the offensive line as the Eagles fight for a playoff spot in the final five games of 2021. 

 Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire