The only way an NFL team can give a nine-point underdog a chance to win is to turn the ball over multiple times, commit too many penalties, and suffer a key injury during the game. On Sunday the Eagles “accomplished” two of the three. Fortunately, it was not enough to make them victims of what would have been a devastating upset.
The most important thing was to win the game and they did that. The second most important thing was to see Michael Vick translate his mantras of self-preservation and ball security from talk to application. He failed miserably on both counts. Had his horrendous play cost the Eagles the game, this season could have unraveled in Week One.
Vick's gradual regression that began after his torrid start in 2010 bottomed out yesterday—at least fans hope that was the bottom. That he dove headfirst over and over, inviting another concussion, was bad enough. That he threw four interceptions and fumbled twice had to have every fan thinking Vick getting pulled out of the game would not have been the worst thing for the Eagles.
After all the talk of limiting turnovers, in his first action of the year, Vick set a career high in interceptions. They were caused by laughable decision-making, throwing into TRIPLE coverage once and right to a defender another time—things a high school QB has learned not to do, let alone a professional who either is, or is masquerading as, a franchise QB.
Vick threw several other passes that were almost intercepted and added two fumbles. He somehow recovered his second fumble, which occurred on the game-winning drive; if not for that, the Eagles would have lost the game. Starting out with a loss to a team that bad could have had them looking into the abyss.
Head Coach Andy Reid and Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did not help by calling passing plays on 72 percent of their offensive snaps; however that is no excuse. No NFL staff should have to protect a $100 million franchise quarterback from himself. However, when a QB is struggling that badly, the coach either has to replace him or try to get the offense back into balance.
The only thing Vick deserves credit for on Sunday is perseverance. In the fourth quarter, a run-balanced offense led them ninety yards to win the game. That counted more than anything else on Sunday. The rest is worrisome for the future.
Vick’s maddening play was exacerbated by a heretofore unseen barrage of penalties, all at inopportune times, erasing one big offensive gain after another. Sure, the Eagles shot themselves in the foot with a couple of obvious penalties. However, with two NFL teams playing, there is no way the disparity in penalties could have legitimately been twelve to three. That wide a margin is just illogical. The ineptitude of the replacement officials was on display all over the league yesterday—something to keep a watchful eye on as the season progresses.
Vick’s regression and the penalties were the worst thing to come out of an ugly game. Had they been playing any team but Cleveland, the Eagles would probably be sitting at 0-1 right now. It was ugly, but it was a lot better than losing.
Browns fans are obnoxious and nasty for the most part. Nothing wrong with that, they were in their own stadium and we were on their turf wearing visiting team colors. To walk out amid taunts from Browns fans after having given the game away to that terrible team would have been very tough.
Aside from the obvious of winning the game, there were some other positives as well. The Eagles defense dominated the game. They held highly regarded rookie Trent Richardson, to a paltry 2.1 yards a carry. They bullied Brandon Weeden into a 5.1 QB rating and picked off four of his passes, including the one that sealed the victory. They allowed just nine points to the Browns offense, despite consistently poor field position due to all of the offensive turnovers.
The Browns are a very bad team and the Eagles defense dominated them as they should any bad team—something they failed to do multiple times last season. More importantly, the defense as a whole, especially the secondary and linebackers, looked much more in synch than they did at any time last year.
The move to jettison Asante Samuel seems so far to be addition by subtraction. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can now play his natural outside CB position, and he looked tremendous doing it. The safeties, which were a collective question mark going in, both played well. Coleman notched his second game with multiple interceptions and cemented the win with his pick of an errant Weeden throw on the final drive of the game.
The linebackers looked much better than they had when the team opened play last season. Demeco Ryans played an excellent game, as did Akeem Jordan. The mental breakdowns were the biggest problem last season and the full offseason seemed to have allowed them to remedy that problem.
The offense was not inept. McCoy ran for over one hundred yards and the Eagles more than doubled the Browns in offensive production, 456 yards to 210. They also more than doubled the Browns in first downs, 25 to 12.
The only statistic that was close was turnovers and the Eagles needed every one they forced to eke out the win. And therein lies the problem. They can outgain and outplay teams and still lose if the offense continues to turn the ball over. If they were playing any team but the Browns, that is what would have happened Sunday as it did last year.
So the biggest determinant of success going into the year was whether Vick had the ability to learn from his past experiences. So far the answer is no, and he is a 32-year-old, 10-year veteran… who has won five games in a row.