By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — DeMeco Ryans’ emphatic words floated there above the heavy din at the base of Lincoln Financial Field as the Eagles’ defense broke its huddle. Ryans wanted to make sure the message was clear, so he shouted repeatedly, “It’s for the game, it’s for the game, it’s for the game!”
The phrase stuck to Eagles’ rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks when he peeled off into coverage and cut in front of Baltimore’s Ray Rice, forcing Joe Flacco’s desperate fourth-down pass to float high over Rice’s head in the last minute of Sunday’s thriller.
It was for the game.
The Eagles survived myriad mistakes once again to come out with a one-point victory, sliding by the Baltimore Ravens 24-23 in moving to 2-0 this season.
Here’s something else: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Eagles are the first team in NFL history to win their first two games, each by one point. The Eagles are 2-0 for the first time since 2004 and for the second time under Andy Reid.
Michael Vick—once again—swooped in to erase four turnovers (and nine total in the Birds’ first two games), directing a 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in Vick’s one-yard plunge for the game-winning score with 1:55 left to play.
From there, the Eagles’ defense, a sieve in the fourth quarter of games last year, clamped down for the second-straight week to preserve the victory.
Though this win arrives riddled with nerve-wracking errors, the bottom line is the Eagles are 2-0 and sit atop the NFC East as the division’s only undefeated team. Did anyone expect that, with the Eagles playing this way?
More importantly, they’re the type of games the Eagles lost last year. It says something for Vick, who for the most past was sharp, completing 23 of 32 passes for 371 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for another.
Showing great poise, Vick completed 4-of-5 for 57 yards on the winning drive.
“Going into the fourth quarter, I felt confident,” said Vick, who threw two interceptions and has tossed six picks in two games, though one of those interceptions came off a deflection against the Ravens on Sunday. “Obviously I’m saying to myself, ‘Here we go again.’ You never know how it’s going to pan out or what the outcome is going to be. You just look at your teammates. You look at your coaches, the people who depend on you. Obviously, we’re home, and the crowd. You just want to get it done. It’s just another opportunity to be 2-0 and that’s what it all boils down to.
“We know how good we can be. We see the progress and we see what we do down after down, and then it’s all negated by penalties and turnovers so the sky is the limit. I’m waiting to have a game where it’s all clean and I know sometimes that is very rare in this league, but it can be done.”
Defense came to the rescue again Sunday. The Eagles yielded 146 yards of total offense in the second half to the Ravens, who were limited to two fourth-quarter field goals of 51 and 48 yards. Ryans’ intercepted pass in the third quarter turned the course of the game around.
But when the game mattered most, when the Eagles needed a stop, they got it, holding Flacco to 2-of-8 passing on the Ravens’ final drive, which stalled at the Baltimore 46 with :50 left to play.
They’ve done it this season, holding Cleveland and Baltimore to a combined 6-for-27 on third-down conversions through the first two games.
“From the beginning of this offseason our mindset was totally different from last year, and that’s to get the job done, we were amped up because we want to be in that position, we want to seal the game,” Eagles’ safety Kurt Coleman said. “Our defense wants to be great, and I’m going to keep on repeating that. In order to get there, you have to go up against the best competition, you have to be able to make plays when it counts.”
The Eagles had a good understanding what Baltimore was doing offensively in the first half. But watching film in game-planning to defend the Ravens’ no-huddle offense was certainly different than facing it live.
“I think we got a little flustered by their no-huddle in the first half,” Coleman said. “So we slowed things down and understood how they were going to attack us. We matched up and it was really that simple, just matching up. We knew the no-huddle was coming and that got us flustered. We made plays in the first half and they still kind of caught us off guard. We made corrections, really nothing much.”
Blitzing a little more also helped. That pressed Flacco into releasing the ball earlier.
“Last year, we weren’t getting it done like that, this year our attitude is different and we want to seal the deal,” Coleman said. “I told the whole defense it was my fault the first half, I wasn’t amped up enough. I had to turn it up, and these guys played lights out the whole game. We started off and we’re not going to back off from any challenge.”
Another silvery line from this victory was the play of rookies Kendrick and Brandon Boykin, who defended two passes in his direction during the Ravens’ last drive. On Baltimore’s last play, it was Kendricks that picked up Rice swinging out of the backfield and forcing Flacco’s high throw that pushed the Eagles to 2-0.
One more plus was the balance of the Eagles’ offense. Philadelphia ran the ball 41 times and threw 32 times.
“We just wanted to be balanced,” Vick said. “Coach [Reid] is still going to throw the ball downfield, but we have a great running back in LeSean McCoy and he does such a great job of making guys miss and getting yards, and our offensive line does a great job as well. So give those guys a lot of credit. They played extremely tough against a 3-4 front and we got it done today.”
Despite four turnovers. Despite spotty tackling. Despite six penalties for 53 yards. Despite it all. The Eagles are 2-0.
“This team can be great, we just have to do a better job with the turnovers and it has to stop,” Vick said. “We believe in one another. That’s what’s most important.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.
Injury Update … C Jason Kelce was lost in the third quarter to a sprained right knee and Reid stated an MRI on Monday will determine the severity of his injury and could possibly be lost for the season … WR Jeremy Maclin was carted off the field in the second half with the same hip pointer that had bothered him entering the game and King Dunlap was lost with a strained hamstring.
Captain Comeback … QB Michael Vick has engineered back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks and now helped guide the Eagles to six wins in games they trailed in the fourth quarter … He threw for 371 yards and one touchdown, marking the second-highest output of his career and his eighth 300-yard passing with the team. He is now tied with Norm Snead for fifth on the franchise’s all-time 300-yard passing games list … It was the second time in Vick’s career that he has thrown for 300-plus yards in consecutive games … Vick also rushed for 34 yards and his 34th career rushing score, a game-winning one-yarder with 1:55 remaining … His 71.9% completion rate was his second-highest percentage as an Eagle.
Cel Block 87 … TE Brent Celek led the team with eight catches and a career-high 157 yards, the most by an Eagles tight end since Pete Retzlaff had 204 on 11/14/65 vs. Washington… Celek moved past L.J. Smith and into fourth place all-time among Eagles tight ends with 235 career receptions. He is also now 16th on the team’s all-time list … Celek has six career 100-yard games.
Action Jackson … WR DeSean Jackson eclipsed 100 receiving yards for the 14th time in his career, tying Pete Pihos for sixth on the Eagles all-time list … Jackson now has 4,632 career scrimmage yards, tying Fred Barnett for 16th in franchise history.
Offensive Quick Hits … The Eagles have racked up 942 yards of total offense and 51 first downs through two games in 2012 … The last time the Eagles had two 100-yard receivers in the same game was when Jackson and Celek did so on 9/20/09 vs. KC … WR Jeremy Maclin recorded his second touchdown in as many games and now has 21 in his career. Maclin now has 197 receptions, tying Charle Young for the fourth-most by an Eagle in his first four seasons. His touchdown total also ranks fourth.
Defensive Nuggets … The Eagles defense has held their two opponents to just 535 total yards and 6-27 (22.2%) on third downs in 2012, while forcing six turnovers and compiling four sacks. Opponents are just one for four in the red zone this season … DE Trent Cole picked his 69th career sack, stripping Joe Flacco for a fumble which was recovered by DT Cullen Jenkins and led to an Eagles touchdown … LB DeMeco Ryans tallied his third-career interception and his 9.5th career sack. The last time he did both in the same game was 12/3/06 at Oakland. The last Eagles linebacker to do so was Will Witherspoon on 10/26/09 at Washington.
Shady’s Scores … RB LeSean McCoy scored his 29th career rushing touchdown, passing Wilbert Montgomery for the second-most ever by an Eagle in his first four seasons. He trails only Steve Van Buren (38). With that score, McCoy (206) tied Calvin Williams for 19th on the team’s all-time scoring list … McCoy also moved into 20th on the team’s all-time scrimmage yards list with 4,446.
Birdseed … S David Sims played in his first NFL game … DE Jason Babin played in his 100th NFL game.