By Joseph Santoliquito
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CBS)—It was perfect. The way it was executed, the way Bryce Brown took the handoff, and Lane Johnson and Brent Celek sealed off their guys inside, and how Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce pulled and kicked their men out of the way.
Brown had great space before him, receiving more blocks downfield from DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper, hugging the sideline for what looked like a 26-yard touchdown run.
Only to have Jacksonville free safety Dwight Lowery close and put his helmet on the ball as Brown neared the goal line, causing the ball to pop free and land into the end zone for a Jacksonville touchback.
The third-quarter play in the Eagles’ third preseason game on a muggy Saturday night in Jacksonville—the final dress rehearsal, as they like to call it in the NFL—typified what was a trying game and possibly served as a glimpse into what might be a trying season—brilliance followed by bungling—for the Eagles.
That the Eagles won 31-24, improving to 2-1 in the preseason, doesn’t matter. The fact that a number of very good plays were negated by stupefying plays does, and seems like the mantra for the 2013 Eagles.
The best case in point was Michael Vick, who played into the opening series of the third quarter, completing 15 of 23 passes for 184 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
Since he probably won’t see the field in the Eagles’ preseason finale against the New York Jets next Thursday at MetLife Stadium, Vick most likely will close the preseason completing 28 of 38 passes for 383 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, one was on a meaningless toss that closed halftime against Carolina.
But in his first extended play of the preseason, Vick’s play was very uneven. He led the Eagles to 16 points in the first half, though the Eagles were 1-for-4 in the red zone. Vick found Riley Cooper in the back of the end zone for his only TD pass, a 9-yard strike.
Vick did prolong plays, rushing for 53 yards on 7 carries. However, it was hard to ignore Vick’s interception on a second-and-six at the Jacksonville 40 in the second quarter. Vick threw up an air ball that fell into the arms of the Jags’ Dwayne Gratz, after Vick was pressured by Jacksonville’s Sen’Derrick Marks coming up the middle.
The maddening part was Vick didn’t have to throw the ball. He panicked, spoiling a fine rhythm, after completing six-straight passes before the interception.
“[The offense] was up and down, we had some drives I thought we could have finished, but we did some good things and I think there a lot of things we can learn from this,” Vick admitted. “I think I learned some things that can take me a long way as far as orchestrating the offense better. I think the offensive line understands the tempo we have to play at, and some things we capitalized on and some things we didn’t.”
Another patchy performance came from Eagles’ outside linebacker Connor Barwin. He made a spectacular play intercepting a Chad Henne pass at the Jacksonville 21, deflecting the ball into the air then hauling it in on his back. The pick was the first Eagles’ turnover during the preseason and led to Vick’s lone TD pass.
In the second quarter, on a fourth-and-1 play at the Eagles’ 35, Barwin got caught inside when the Jags’ Jordan Todman ripped down the sideline for 14 yards and a first down. It eventually led to a Jacksonville 35-yard field goal.
Later in the second quarter, Todman burned the Eagles for a 63-yard TD run, where he was hardly touched. Eagles’ safety Patrick Chung took a bad angle, Clifton Geathers was cut blocked and the Eagles had no backside help at all resulting in the long score.
Yes, Nick Foles looked excellent against Jacksonville’s reserves, taking the Eagles up the field for the eventual game-winning score.
And the game did mark the long-awaited return of All Pro left tackle Jason Peters, who hasn’t played since appearing in the 2012 Pro Bowl, on January 29, 2012. Peters’ health, after recovering from rupturing his right Achilles tendon twice, will be paramount to any success the Eagles’ offense has this season.
That won’t erase the defensive lapses. And they were many. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher didn’t seem to know where to line up at times. Early in the third quarter, there was one occasion when Henne caught the whole Eagles’ defense not set.
Maybe Chip Kelly better rethink using certain placards to call in plays. During the second quarter, a Bart Simpson placard rose up behind Kelly as he shuffled down the sidelines. Some may misconstrue it more for the cartoonish way the Eagles’ defense is playing than a sign for a defensive play.