Heading into week one of the 2012 NFL season, most expected the Philadelphia Eagles to completely steamroll the Cleveland Browns. After all, the Eagles are expected to be one of the premier teams in the league, despite the disappointment of the 2011 season.
The Browns are still the Browns. They’re starting their 17th quarterback since the beginning of the 1999 season, and they also have a rookie running back and rookie starting wide receiver. Only two other teams since 1970 have started a season with rookie starters at those three positions.
Yet, somehow, the Browns hung in against the Eagles throughout the entire game.
The Eagles’ offense looked exactly like the offense in the first few games of the 2011 season, collecting chunks of yardage but failing to turn them into points. In fact, the Eagles’ 17 points are their fewest ever when they collected at least 450 yards.
But the Eagles turned the ball over five times, including a lost fumble by last year’s Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy. It came on his first carry of the entire season.
The four interceptions were the result of poor throws and terrible decision making by Michael Vick, although two of the interceptions were on tipped balls. The fourth interception, however, was one of the worst throws I’ve ever seen Vick make. In fact, it was exactly like Vick’s interception touchdown to Nick Barnett of the Buffalo Bills last year–a linebacker makes the grab in the middle of the field and runs untouched to the corner of the end zone.
If it wasn’t for a 91-yard drive engineered by Vick and the Eagles in the final few minutes, the team would have headed back to Philadelphia with an 0-1 record, all set to face the Baltimore Ravens, easily one of the top teams in the league.
And that 91-yard drive is exactly why the Eagles should feel confident about this victory heading into week two against the Ravens.
Look, I completely agree that the Eagles had their fair share of major mistakes against the Browns. Vick looked atrocious, the offensive line was embarrassing, and kicker Alex Henery missed yet another clutch field goal.
But teams have bad games. The Eagles have had their fair share of bad games.
The Arizona Cardinals beat the Eagles 21-17 in 2011. The Minnesota Vikings beat the Eagles 24-14 in 2010. The Oakland Raiders beat the Eagles 13-9 in 2009. And the Bengals tied the Eagles 13-13 in 2008.
When the Eagles play down to a much inferior opponent and allow them to hang around, they never win. They’ll blow it on a late interception or fumble (or they’ll tie).
Today’s game had every sign of that happening, and when the Browns took a 16-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, losing seemed inevitable for Philly.
It seemed even more inevitable when Henery missed a 45-yard field goal with nine minutes remaining in the game. If you’re writing the recipe for disaster for an Eagles game, a missed kick will definitely be included in the fourth quarter script.
But then suddenly everything clicked for the Eagles, who registered a big stop by their defense and then marched 91 yards despite Vick making two costly mistakes that probably should have cost the Eagles the game.
First, he fumbled after a nine-yard run on 3rd and 10. Yet somehow he scooped up his own fumble and the Eagles were able to convert a 4th and 1.
Then he floated a pass into the end zone that was somehow not intercepted by Browns rookie linebacker LJ Fort, who had the ball go through his hands. An interception would have sealed a devastating and potentially season-changing loss for the Eagles.
And that’s when Vick capitalized, tossing a four-yard touchdown to backup tight end Clay Harbor. Henery’s extra point gave the Eagles a 17-16 lead.
In the past, the Eagles still would have found a way to lose this game.
Rookie Brandon Weeden would have quickly and methodically marched the Browns down the field, and veteran kicker Phil Dawson would have nailed a long field goal to win the game, a la Matt Bryant of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006.
Or a blown coverage by $60 million man Nnamdi Asomugha or a missed tackle by safety Nate Allen would have given the Browns a 1st and 10 on the Eagles’ 15 with time for a walkoff field goal.
Not this year. Not this time.
Weeden’s very first pass was intercepted by safety Kurt Coleman, sealing a victory for the Eagles.
Call the game whatever you want. Slopy, ugly, boring. But it was a win, and every win in the NFL is a good win.
Not every win needs to be pretty. Look around. Other teams have bad wins too.
I wrote earlier this year that I really didn’t see much of a difference between the 2010 and 2011 teams, except for their performance in close games.
The 2010 Eagles were 4-0 in games decided by four or fewer points. They beat the Detroit Lions 35-32, the San Francisco 49ers 27-24, the Indianapolis Colts 26-24, and the Dallas Cowboys 30-27. (They also won the Miracle at the New Meadowlands game, but that was a seven-point game.)
That’s really the only major difference between the two teams. The ’10 Eagles had a +62 point differential and the ’11 Eagles had a +68 point differential. The only difference is that the ’10 Eagles went 10-6 (10-5 when they played their starters) and won the division, and the ’11 Eagles went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
More than that, the Eagles failed miserably last year in late fourth quarter game-winning drive opportunities.
Mike Kafka, subbing for an injured Vick, failed to lead the Eagles back against Atlanta in week two, with Jeremy Maclin dropping a 4th and 4 pass that would have kept the drive alive. Against San Francisco in week four, the Eagles moved into 49ers territory before Maclin lost a fumble, ending the game. A dropped pass by Jason Avant resulted in a game-clinching interception against the Buffalo Bills the following week. And a nine-yard completion to Maclin, who slipped after the catch, on 4th and 10 against the Cardinals ended it in week 10.
That’s five opportunities, and one win would have gotten the Eagles into the playoffs.
This year, the Eagles are one for one.
This team has some glaring weaknesses. That’s for sure. Vick looked rusty, although you can (try to) blame it on his lack of a preseason. We’ll find out if that’s the case. The offensive line was brutal, although they also started weak last year and the ended the year on a high note. There were a lot of penalties, too many turnovers, and not enough running plays called by Andy Reid.
But the Eagles won.
All that matters is the win. I believe that a game like today is a wake-up call for the Eagles, and I think most would agree. The best thing is that the Eagles don’t have to suffer a loss because of it.
If the Eagles are 8-5 and fighting for a playoff spot, they’re not going to have to look back on week one and wonder what could have happened. They won. A win is a win and the NFL doesn’t focus on point differentials or margin of victory.
I expect the Eagles to be just fine against the Ravens on Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised with a loss. The Ravens are a great team. But I wouldn’t be remotely surprised with a win.
Just be thankful that the Eagles’ annual wake-up call didn’t cost them in the standings.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. You can follow Bryn on Twitter by clicking here and here. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.