In the thriller Escape From Cleveland Browns Stadium, Michael Vick made his last past count the most on Sunday. His 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining provided the winning points, but what Vick knows – as we all do – is that the Eagles aren't going to win many games when he throws 4 interceptions and the offense turns the ball over 5 times.
Those turnovers led directly to 16 Browns points, and had it not been for a great – underline it three times – performance by Juan Castillo's defense, the Eagles would have been answering questions about their 0-1 start to the 2012 season.
Instead, we're breathing, as Vick said after, "a sigh of relief." The Eagles rolled up 456 total net yards of offense, generated 25 touchdowns and still needed a 91-yard touchdown drive that consumed 16 plays and 5:07 in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
In case you are worried, and wondering how in the world the Eagles are ever going to recover from such a frustrating outing, understand that the players and the coaches and the team are looking at things a lot differently.
A win is a win is a win in the National Football League, as head coach Andy Reid reminds us oh, so many times.
"I think this is good for us. It really tested us," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had 6 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. "One of the things you can't do in this league, especially against a team that you are supposedly better than, is to let them hang around. We played them in their place, the crowd gets involved, and guys start believing. When we have opportunities to take advantage of what they're doing, that's what we've got to do. We've got to take advantage."
It was a sloppy, ugly game, and maybe that should have been expected from an offense that had Vick on the field for all of 13 snaps in the preseason. He threw seven passes in the preseason and, no matter how much practice the Eagles held in the last two weeks, the offensive timing was just not there. Cleveland's defensive scheme changed on nearly every play. The front seven played aggressively, blitzing off the edges and keeping Vick – who had 32 rushing yards on 7 attempts – contained. The bootlegs that work so well really didn't work against Cleveland.
Meanwhile, every time the Eagles had something going, penalties set them back. The team was penalized 12 times for 110 lost yards, and 6 of those penalties went against the offense (a holding penalty was declined). The field position stunk, Vick was off his game and the rhythm just wasn't there.
Fortunately, the defense bailed the Eagles out until the final offensive drive. Collectively, the Eagles were brilliant. The pressure up front was terrific, even though the Eagles recorded just 2 sacks. DeMeco Ryans led a superb performance by the linebackers, and the secondary played one of the best games it has played in many years. Both cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Kurt Coleman picked off a pair of passes, and Coleman's second theft of rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden sealed the deal. Coleman's first pick, in fact, came off of a deflection in the red zone to end a Browns drive. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, playing in press coverage most of the game, allowed a single reception. Safety Nate Allen was all around the football.
The Eagles defense, which opened last year in St. Louis amid a flurry of miscommunications and missed tackles, played sound, physical and opportunistic ball in Cleveland.
"I felt we were all on the same page and it worked well," said Asomugha. "We got into a groove. It felt good. They got a slant on us early when we were in off coverage, so we pretty much went press after that and it worked out well for us."
In the big picture, hey, the Eagles got a win. They probably threw the ball more than is ideal – does Vick have to throw 56 times each week, even when he's struggling? – and the offense somehow scored only 17 points with all of those yards accumulated. It has to get better, a lot better, for the Eagles to beat good football teams.
Well, a good one comes to Lincoln Financial Field in the form of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The Ravens are going to be in Vick's face, and that defense gets to the football. LeSean McCoy needs he touches -- he had 20 carries for 110 yards and another 6 catches for 26 yards in Cleveland – and the Eagles need to stop killing themselves with penalties and turnovers.
So it's got to get much, much better. We all know that. For now, the Eagles are 1-0 because the defense kept the offense in the game and the offense put together a drive that was just awesome in the fourth quarter. Ninety-one yards for the score to Clay Harbor. A red-zone touchdown to win the game.
"It doesn't get better than this in the opener!" shouted left tackle King Dunlap as he walked off the field.
Well, it does, because a lot of Eagles fans were sick to their stomachs for most of Sunday's game. Now that it's all settled down and we have perspective, what matters is that the Eagles are 1-0 and moving on.