Over the years, many people have been happy to get out of Cleveland. But few have been happier to get out of Cleveland than the Eagles and Michael Vick were Sunday.
“I’ve got to get out of Cleveland,” Vick said several times during his postgame news conference Sunday.
Vick and the Eagles offense turned in a stinker in the season opener, but managed to pull out a 17-16 victory with a 91-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Vick to tight end Clay Harbor with 1:18 remaining.
“We get out of here 1-0,” Vick said, “and that’s what’s important.”
The Eagles probably don’t escape Cleveland with a victory except that their opponents were the lowly Browns, expected by most observers to be among the five worst teams in the NFL. The type of mistakes the Eagles committed Sunday will lead to defeat against most NFL teams.
The mistakes included:
- Four interceptions by Vick. If we discount a penalty, Vick threw interceptions on two consecutive offensive plays, the second of which was returned for Cleveland’s lone touchdown of the game, putting the Browns ahead, 16-10, 1:01 into the fourth quarter.
- LeSean McCoy fumbled on his first carry of the season, leading to a field goal on the Browns’ first possession.
- Penalties. Penalties. Penalties. The Eagles committed 12 penalties for 110 yards. Many of the penalties came in crucial situations.
- Despite Vick’s struggles, head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg directed an unbalanced attack, with far more passing plays than running plays, especially until Vick threw his fourth interception.
- Alex Henery missed a 45-yard field goal that would have cut the Eagles’ deficit to three points with 3:01 remaining.
The Eagles were able to overcome their multitude of mistakes by the Lake (Erie) because the Browns also made numerous mistakes. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden was harassed into throwing four interceptions of his own while completing just 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards in his NFL debut. He matched Vick’s four interceptions, but failed to throw a touchdown. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Kurt Coleman each had two interceptions.
The Eagles defense was also good against the run, holding rookie Trent Richardson to 39 yards on 19 carries in his NFL debut. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who didn’t make much of an impact during preseason, led the way in shutting down the Browns’ running game. At times, the Eagles seemed to gang up on the running game, daring Weeden to try to beat them through the air.
Vick completed 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards, with two touchdowns to go with his four interceptions. His highlights were a pair of passes to Jeremy Maclin (7 catches, 96 yards) just before halftime. Vick lofted a soft pass to Maclin down the left sideline for 46 yards, then zipped a strike to Maclin in the back of the end zone for a 10-3 lead 11 seconds before halftime.
“I thought he was rusty,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. “I’m stating the obvious.”
Vick was rusty because injuries limited him to 12 offensive plays during preseason, all of them occurring during the first two preseason games. Against the Browns, he looked like a quarterback that had barely played.
“I think not playing in preseason – not playing enough … as a veteran, I thought I would have that natural rhythm of the game,” Vick said, “(But) you can’t simulate it in practice.”
The Eagles were out of sync from their opening series, which ended with McCoy losing a fumble on his first carry of the season. Their second possession ended with Vick’s first interception of the game, but the Broncos could not take advantage of the turnover.
It would be nice to write that Vick shook off the rust and got better as the game progressed, but he threw three more interceptions during the second half.
The first, midway through the third quarter, turned into a 42-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, cutting the Eagles’ lead to 10-6. The second, late in the third quarter, was returned 49 yards by Joe Haden to the Eagles’ 22-yard line. The defense held, though, and forced the Browns to settle for a 22-yard Dawson field goal, reducing the Eagles’ lead to 10-9.
Vick’s third interception of the second half was his worst. After a false start penalty on first down, Vick threw his second interception in consecutive snaps. D’Qwell Jackson picked off the pass and rumbled 27 yards to the end zone – a place Cleveland’s offense didn’t reach the entire game – to give the Browns a 16-10 lead.
“Obviously, I had plenty of throws I’d like to have back,” Vick said.
At this juncture of the game, the Eagles had called 46 passing plays (including Vick scrambles that count in rushing statistics) and just 13 running plays. The Eagles had an unbalanced attack despite the fact that the Browns were 30th against the run in the NFL last season. The Eagles employed a pass-heavy attack despite the fact that their quarterback had barely played during the preseason.
“We probably could have done a little more of (running the ball) early,” Reid said.
After Vick’s fourth interception, McCoy started to get the ball with more frequency. In fact, the first four plays of the Eagles’ next possession were runs, three of them by McCoy. Another 13-yard run by McCoy advanced the ball to the 28-yard line, but the Eagles couldn’t get much closer. Their efforts appeared for naught when Henery, who had made 17 straight field goals in games that counted but missed makeable field goals in the Eagles’ last two preseason games, hooked his 45-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Against many opponents, the Eagles’ hopes would have faded to black. Fortunately, against Cleveland they merely faded to brown.
The Eagles received one more chance, taking over at their own 9 with 6:25 remaining.
“Whatever it took, I was going to get it done,” Vick said.
It took a 91-yard drive. It took a third-down pass to Jason Avant on third-and-2 from the Eagles’ 17. It took a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Browns. It took a fumble recovery by Vick after he got crunched at the end of a third-and-10 scramble that came up just short of a first down. It took a 3-yard run by McCoy on the ensuing fourth-and-inches play.
Finally, it took a missed interception by rookie linebacker L.J. Fort on second down, which presented Vick with the opportunity to connect with Harbor for the winning score on fourth down.
“Every game you win in the National Football League is a good game,” Reid said.
But the margin of victory, against one of the NFL’s worst teams, was razor-thin. Not only was the margin of victory one point, but if Vick doesn’t recover his own fumble during the final drive and a Fort doesn’t miss his opportunity at an end-zone interception, the season opener wouldn’t have gone down as “a good game,” even using Reid’s criteria.
The feeling at the end of the game was closer to relief than satisfaction.
Vick summed up the mood perfectly at the end of his news conference, exclaiming, “I’m out of Cleveland!”