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By Joseph Santoliquito
Pittsburgh, PA (CBS) — The tentative bubble the Eagles had sustained through the first four weeks this season was bound to burst. The way the Eagles had been winning, navigating through some tricky fourth quarters, coming back and holding on, was a dubious way to survive.
The Eagles were successful winning three times by a total of four points. Not on Sunday. Not against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ended the Eagles’ cardiac ways with a 16-14 victory at Heinz Field.
The loss dropped the Eagles to 3-2 this season, while the Steelers moved to 2-2, thanks to Shaun Suisham’s 34-yard field goal as time expired.
“The turnovers early, you can’t do that on the road against a good football team, you just can’t do that,” Eagles’ coach Andy Reid said. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game. We needed to make sure we got off the field on that last drive. They did a nice job with the last drive. I saw some good things we can take out of this. I know that’s hard to see right now. There are some things we can work on to make ourselves better.”
There are a few things the Eagles would like to take back, if they could, in this loss. Shoddy tackling, for one. Two Michael Vick fumbles, one in the end zone, certainly hurt, too. As did Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 20-yard completion to Antonio Brown on a third-and-12 play on the Steelers’ winning drive.
Vick finished strong. He put together a great 17-play, 79-yard drive that chewed up 8:18 off the clock. The Eagles converted two fourth downs, plus two third downs on the series. The drive concluded when Vick, who completed 20 of 30 for 175 yards, slipped a two-yard dart to Brent Celek for his first touchdown catch of the season.
But the drive left 6:33 on the clock. It gave Roethlisberger, who didn’t score many style points by going 21-of-37, for 207 yards, plenty of time to lead the Steelers back.
The dagger came on Pittsburgh’s final drive. With the ball sitting at the Pittsburgh 18, staring at a third-and-12, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and hit Brown at the Steelers’ 38 (the Steelers were 6 of 14 on third-down conversions). Eleven players later, the conversion set up Suisham’s game-winning kick.
Rashard Mendenhall finished with 81 yards on 14 carries, but he slammed the Eagles for 31 yards on the deciding drive.
The Eagles have been fighting it all season and it looked like it would bite them early against the Steelers—that’s turnovers. Two Vick first-quarter fumbles stung. Vick has 11 turnovers alone this season—six interceptions and five lost fumbles.
“It got knocked out, ball leverage, and I’m sure [Vick] will be the first one to tell you that,” Reid said. “We fixed that the second half. In the first half, we had to take better care of the football.”
Midway through the first quarter, the Eagles were driving. Vick had steered the Eagles to the Pittsburgh three-yard line, helped by a 31-yard interference call that placed the Eagles on the Steelers’ 13.
But when Vick tried submarining into the end zone from the three, the Steelers’ Ryan Clark appeared to slap the ball away and Steelers’ linebacker Larry Foote was there to scoop up the fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
“I have no explanation [for the fumbles],” Vick said. “I’m taking all of the positives away from this game. You play against great teams that have great schemes, sometimes they’re going to get you. In the game of football, you can’t be perfect on every play. You’re not going to do everything right. If that was the case, I would be standing here with a different set of emotions. Right now, I’m not really frustrated. I’m more hurt we didn’t pull this game out.”
Both fumbles resulted in no Steeler points.
“It’s something we have to fix [the turnovers] to make things easier on ourselves,” Celek said.
Afterward, Vick was palpably irritated.
“This is going to burn for a minute,” Vick said. “I never really had a problem fumbling the football. There’s really no explanation for it.”
Mike Check … QB Michael Vick eclipsed 150 career touchdowns (117 passing, 34 rushing), throwing for two touchdown passes and a 104.2 passer rating. It was Vick’s 12th game with a passer rating that exceeded 100 during his career with the Eagles.
Shady Bounce … RB LeSean McCoy scored his sixth-career receiving touchdown in his return to the site of his college home games … McCoy now has 4,764 career scrimmage yards, moving past Tom Woodeshick and into 16th on the team’s all-time scrimmage yards list.
Cel Block 87 … TE Brent Celek caught his first touchdown of the season … Over his last 16 games, Celek has accumulated 74 receptions for 1,062 yards and six touchdowns … Celek (244) supplanted Keith Jackson for 16th on the team’s all-time reception list. He now trails only John Spagnola (256) and Pete Retzlaff (452) among tight ends … Celek also tied Jackson for third all-time among Eagles tight ends with his 20th regular season touchdown.
Offensive Quick Hits … The Eagles then-go-ahead 17-play touchdown drive was their longest of the season and included two fourth-down conversions and two third-down conversions.
Defensive Nuggets … The Eagles defense has held opponents to 5-16 in the red zone this season, while limiting passers to a 53.3% completion percentage (96-180).
Birdseed … T Todd Herremans played in his 100th NFL game.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.