It was a game that just about everyone expected the Eagles to win. The Birds were heavy favorites going into the regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns. Yet while the Eagles didn’t disappoint with the result, their overall performance in the 17-16 win is certainly a cause for concern.
The Birds got off to a shaky start. In the midst of an impressive opening drive, Mike Vick handed it off to star running back LeSean McCoy. On his first carry of the season, Shady did something he only did once last year: fumble the football. The Browns took advantage, striking first with a field goal, putting them up 3-0.
The sloppiness for the Birds continued. They turned the ball over yet again after a Mike Vick pass intended for Brent Celek was intercepted by Chris Robertson.
The Eagles tied things up at the start of the 2nd quarter after an Alex Henery field goal. The Browns nearly struck again after a 35-yard run from Travis Benjamin. But Nnamdi Asomugha saved the day, tackling Benjamin before he could reach the end zone in an amazing display of hustle. The tackle led to an interception, as Kurt Coleman picked off a Brandon Weeden pass.
The impressive defense continued as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off another Weeden pass later on in the quarter. Once again however the Eagles failed to capitalize.
After the Browns defense continued to frustrate them, the Eagles offense finally broke through at the end of the half. With under a minute left in the second quarter, Vick threw a 46-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin, putting the Birds in field goal range. Vick finished the drive off, throwing an 18-yard bullet to Maclin for the touchdown. An Alex Henery field goal put the Birds up 10-3 going into halftime.
The defense continued their dominance in the second half, highlighted by another interception from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie early in the 3rd quarter. Vick threw his second interception of the game however with around 7:30 left in the third. The Browns crept closer to the lead after another field goal, cutting the lead to four. Vick’s struggles continued later in the quarter as he threw his third interception. The Browns continued to capitalize, cutting the lead to one off another field goal.
The tide turned in the 4th quarter. Vick threw his fourth interception, matching a career high, and the Browns returned it for a touchdown, gaining the lead. The offensive woes for the Birds continued. The normally reliable Alex Henery missed a field goal with a little over nine minutes left that could have cut the lead to three. The miss ended Henery’s streak of 17-straight field goals made.
Despite a terrible second half, Vick stepped up when it mattered the most. He led a 16-play, 91-yard drive that was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Clay Harbor. The Birds then regained the lead for good with a field goal. Kurt Coleman then intercepted another Brandon Weeden pass to seal the win.
Vick finished the game going 29 for 56 throwing for 317 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. It was a mixed bag for the franchise QB. At times he displayed the explosive playmaking ability that he's known for, making dazzling runs and timely throws. Vick also deserves credit for leading the team to victory in the closing drive. And of course he walked away without an injury, which is always a plus.
Yet Vick also exhibited poor decision several times while appearing visibly rattled by the Cleveland Browns defense. Take away Vick's game-winning drive and you have an inconsistent first half and a terrible second half for the QB. Vick will certainly need to improve on his overall decision making going into next week's game against Baltimore.
It certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom for the offense. McCoy shook off the early turnover and picked up where he left off from last year with another brilliant performance. Shady ran for 110 yards on 20 carries. Both Maclin and Desean Jackson also performed well. Maclin finished with one touchdown and 96 yards on seven receptions. Jackson finished with 77 yards on four receptions.
Then of course there was the defense, which played brilliantly. Newly acquired linebacker Demeco Ryans, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Kurt Coleman each turned in impressive performances.
Yet the win, incredible defensive effort and strong performances from Shady, D-Jax and Maclin, were overshadowed by something that was a recurring theme with the team last year: sloppiness. The Eagles committed five turnovers and gave up a total of 110 yards on 12 penalties.
Luckily for them, the underdog Browns were unable to capitalize, though they were certainly close. The Birds won’t be so fortunate if the sloppiness continues against the Baltimore Ravens next week. For the Eagles to stand a chance in that matchup, they need to play smarter and much more efficiently. The performance they put up today isn’t going to cut it against a team that can actually take advantage of careless mistakes with a QB capable of putting the ball into the end zone.
The bright side? The Eagles are 1-0. The down side? They have a lot of work to do. For a team that supposedly has Super Bowl aspirations, today's performance was unacceptable.