By Joseph Santoliquito
Cleveland, OH (CBS) — Michael Vick tore off his chin strap, shook his head and looked down as if the ground would provide an answer. It wasn’t. Nothing was. Maybe Vick felt like sinking into the turf himself, after pitching four interceptions.
But the Eagles somehow mounted a drive that defied everything that was going against them. They were almost swallowed by a morass of turnovers, penalties, overthrown passes—and Vick’s four interceptions—against the fledgling Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Vick’s little four-yard dart to Clay Harbor wiped away a day of frustration and mistakes with a 17-16 victory over the Browns.
“Obviously, the turnovers on our part were too much, as were the penalties,” Eagles’ coach Andy Reid said. “We eliminated the mistakes. We had a ton of yards at halftime, but not a lot of points. The penalties negated a lot of opportunities to score. We had the holding calls and I thought we settled down in the second half.”
Vick engineered a 16-play, 91-yard drive that led to the game-winning score with 1:18 left to play. Vick finished a nightmare afternoon completing 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
“I had plenty of throws that I would like to have back,” Vick said. “I fought through it. That’s all I could do. The thing was we were never frustrated when we were down. We kept fighting and kept encouraging one another. I have a responsibility to this team and that’s to lead them, not to hurt them. I know I have to keep the turnovers down. I have to continue to get better. I have to continue playing within the system and not trying to do too much. Sometimes I do that. I have to give credit to the defense. They saved us.”
It was a painful victory to watch. Cleveland scored its 16 points off Eagles’ turnovers. It made for one mundane afternoon. The teams combined for nine turnovers, 15 penalties (12 for 110 yards from the Eagles alone) and eight interceptions, four each between Vick and Browns’ rookie Brandon Weeden making his first NFL start.
The Eagles’ defense was stellar—stellar against an NFL rookie making his first NFL start, that is. Eagles’ cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gave Weeden anxious fits, with a pair of interceptions. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans, invisible during the pre-season, were all over the field, sharing the team-high in tackles with five each. Safety Nate Allen looked good, too, with four tackles. As did defensive end Jason Babin, who logged a solid day with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Weeden also missed a number of open receivers.
LeSean McCoy ran for a game-high 110 yards on 20 carries and when the game appeared to be crumbling around Vick, it was McCoy that buoyed the Eagles. McCoy, and a pair of interceptions by Kurt Coleman, whose pick in the last minute sealed the Eagles’ victory.
“We probably could have run a little more early,” Reid conceded. “We thought we saw some things in the pass game, and saw some coverages we could take advantage of. I thought [Vick] was rusty, but he kept competing and kept shooting, which you have to do and come up on the positive side of it. You have to work through it. He didn’t have any preseason and this was an important game for [Vick] to endure and toughen it out, which [Vick] did.”
The Eagles came out of an utterly miserable, forgettable first half with a 10-3 lead. It was advantage that arrived only after turning the ball over on their first two possessions, and stabbing themselves with seven penalties for minus-60 yards.
The Birds seemed muddled in a lurching start-and-stop mode. One play went for 10 yards. The next, Philadelphia got nailed for a holding call. It can only be explained why the Eagles doubled Cleveland’s total offense (456-210), yet won by a point. There were 21 occasions on second and third downs when the Eagles were looking at 10 yards or more for a first down.
It was a too familiar refrain when the Eagles were looking at second-and-16, or third-and-15.
Part of that is a credit to the Browns’ game plan. Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Brad Childress are all former Eagles’ coaches. They know the Eagles’ tendencies. Jauron dialed up some exotic blitzes that came at Vick from various angles. Sometimes rushing three and dropping eight. Sometimes throwing six and dropping five.
It thoroughly confused Vick. He forced passes into double-coverage. He strained in escaping the Browns’ rush and threw across his body. It led to four interceptions.
“Some of the pressures and the reads that they were doing I feel that, as an offensive line, our communication and technique broke down,” Eagles’ right guard Danny Watkins said. “They’re good team. We’ll have to look back at the film and see what we can do better. You can’t blame your play on penalties. It’s one of the things that we have to address. We started building some rhythm and getting the holes and movement, getting the lanes for [McCoy]. Once that started, we began to roll.”
With :49 left in the first half, the Eagles did more in 32 seconds than they did the entire half. Vick arced a perfect pass to Jeremy Maclin for a 46-yard gain to the Cleveland 18. The next play, Vick connected with a wide-open Maclin in the end zone for an 18-yard TD strike and 10-3 Eagles’ lead.
The Eagles obviously got away with one. They won on a day when their quarterback was horrid, when it didn’t seem as if they had any offensive cohesion.
What it may mean for the Eagles’ future is still a big question.
“I think you have to have these type of games to become a championship football team,” Vick said. “We have a tough schedule and a lot of challenges ahead of us. I certainly know my next game I have to play better. My teammates all had this sudden look in their eyes why I was hanging my head. They never saw me like that before. I felt like I let them down. It will never happen again, regardless of what the game dictates. I was glad we pulled this game out. I gotta get out of Cleveland.”
Reid’s Records … Andy Reid won his 137th game, passing Hank Stram for 22nd on the NFL’s all-time wins list (regular and postseason included) … Reid improved his opening-day record to 7-7 (4-1 since 2008), his record against the Browns to 4-0, and his record against the AFC North to 8-3-1.
Welcome to the NFL … Since Reid became head coach in 1999, the Eagles are 15-6 when facing a rookie starting quarterback. In those games, the Eagles have held those signal callers to 274 of 557 passing (49.2%) for 3,097 yards, 18 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
Dominant Defense … The Eagles defense held the Browns to just 210 total yards and 2-13 on third downs, while forcing four turnovers … Browns QB Brandon Weeden threw for just 118 yards and a 5.1 passer rating, which was the lowest by an Eagles opponent since Billy Kilmer’s 4.5 rating on 9/27/76 vs. Washington.
Picking on the Browns … The Eagles defense collected four interceptions on the day, including two from CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (third-career multi-interception outing) and two from S Kurt Coleman (second-career multi-interception outing) … The Eagles are 53-13 under Andy Reid when forcing at least two interceptions and 55-10 when forcing at least three turnovers … The last time the Eagles had two players each record two interceptions was on 12/21/75 when Frank LeMaster and Artimus Parker did so at Washington.
Offensive Quick Hits … TE Clay Harbor caught a game-winning four-yard touchdown with 1:18 remaining in the game, capping a 16-play, 91-yard drive … WR Jeremy Maclin led the team with seven receptions, 96 yards, and the Eagles first touchdown of the season. 13 of Maclin’s 20 regular season touchdowns have come in the red zone … RB LeSean McCoy posted his 10th career 100-yard rushing game … The Eagles racked up 456 yards of total offense and 25 first downs, while converting both of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns … QB Michael Vick notched his ninth-career 300-yard passing game and two touchdowns on a career-high 56 attempts … The Eagles scored both of their touchdowns in the final two minutes of each half.
Defensive Nuggets … DT Fletcher Cox registered his first-career sack … DE Jason Babin notched a sack and now has 21.5 as an Eagle, moving past Brian Dawkins (21.0) and into 19th place in team history.
Rookies Ready To Go … In Andy Reid’s first nine seasons as head coach (1999-2007), the Eagles started five rookies on opening day: G/T Shawn Andrews (2004), DT Corey Simon (2000), TE Jed Weaver (1999), G Doug Brzezinski (1999), and T John Welbourn (1999) … In his last five season openers (since 2008), Reid has started eight rookies: LB Mychal Kendricks (2012), CB Brandon Boykin (2012), C Jason Kelce (2011), LB Casey Matthews (2011), S Nate Allen (2010), DE Brandon Graham (2010), S Macho Harris (2009), WR DeSean Jackson (2008) … The Eagles went 26 years (1984-2009) without starting a duo of rookies on the defensive side of the ball on opening day. Since 2010, Reid has done so twice (Graham, Allen in 2010).
Birdseed … K Alex Henery’s consecutive field goal streak ended at 17, tying David Akers (17 in 2001 and 2009) for the team record … P Chas Henry set a career long with a 62-yard punt and a career-best 55.0-yard gross punting average … WR DeSean Jackson (4,513) moved past Randall Cunningham and into 18th place on the team’s all-time scrimmage yards list … TE Brent Celek (2,854) moved past John Spagnola and into second on the team’s all-time receiving yard list among tight ends … Nine Eagles made their NFL debuts, including WR Damaris Johnson, CB Brandon Boykin, RB Chris Polk, RB Bryce Brown, FB Stanley Havili, G/C Dallas Reynolds, DT Cedric Thornton, DT Fletcher Cox and LB Mychal Kendricks …
No triskaidekaphobia for Damaris Johnson … The rookie wide receiver and punt returner became the first Eagle to don jersey number 13 in a regular season game since punter Rick Engles did so in 1978. Ironically, both Johnson and Engles played their college football at the University of Tulsa. The other Eagles to wear jersey #13: George Kenneally (1933-35), Dave Smukler (1936-39), Len Barnum (1941-42), Joe Hoague (1943), and Chuck Hughes (1967-69).