Another show of second-half resolve – after turning in another turnover-marred performance – boosted the Eagles to victory over an AFC North team by a point (the first time in NFL history that a team won its first two games of a season each by a single point).
This week’s victim wasn’t the lowly Cleveland Browns, but rather the battle-tested Baltimore Ravens. The game itself was also a brutal war with notable casualties, unlike last week’s game of “who wants to win this less?”
An Eagles optimist might point out that the Eagles could have blown out Baltimore if they protected the football better.
In fact, from the Eagles’ perspective, the first half was like the chorus of a big hit by the Red Hot Chili Peppers: give it away, give it away, give it away now.
Coming off a five-turnover performance against the Browns, the Eagles turned the ball over three times in the red zone in the first half against the Ravens.
On the game’s first drive, Michael Vick led the Eagles to the Ravens’ 12 yard line, where on second and 9, he made an ill-advised throw, throwing back to his left while scrambling to his right. Bernard Pollard intercepted Vick in the end zone. It was Vick’s fifth interception this season.
Fortunately for the Eagles, two plays later Trent Cole knocked the ball out of Joe Flacco’s hand, and Cullen Jenkins recovered at the 15. Despite a King Dunlap holding penalty, LeSean McCoy raced in from outside the 1 to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter. McCoy would carry the ball 25 times – nearly 40% of the Eagles’ plays from scrimmage – for 81 yards.
The Eagles weren’t as fortunate during the second quarter. With the score tied at 7, a botched handoff between Vick and Bryce Brown on third and 1 at the Baltimore 20 gave the Ravens possession. This came after the Eagles took over on downs at the Ravens’ 45, when ex-Eagle Sean Considine tripped over a lead blocker trying to run a direct snap on a fake punt for a first down, but came up a yard short.
On the ensuing play after the fumble recovery, Ray Rice burst up the middle for 43 yards, before finally being caught by rookie Mychal Kendricks, who continued his strong play. Rice would finish with 99 yards on just 16 carries, also catching 6 balls out of the backfield for 53 more yards – accounting for nearly half of the Ravens’ 343 total yards from scrimmage. Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones – who put a double move on a flatfooted Nnamdi Asomugah for a 21-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 8:32 left in the first half.
The Eagles had another costly turnover near halftime. McCoy fumbled at the Ravens’ 9 with 2:34 left. It was the second lost fumble of the year for McCoy, who only had one fumble all last season.
When the Eagles’ defense held the Ravens, the use of a timeout to preserve 1:16 on the clock backfired after Damaris Johnson inexplicably fielded a 56-yard Sam Koch punt at the 3 yard line and was tackled at the 6. This time it was the Ravens calling their last 2 timeouts and taking over at the Eagles’ 38 after Jacoby Jones’ 10 yard return of Chas Henry’s 38-yard punt with 9 seconds left in the half. After a Flacco to Anquan Boldin pass attempt resulted in no gain (though Boldin did get out of bounds), Justin Tucker hit his first of what would be 3 long field goals on the day – this one from 56 yards – as the Ravens stole 3 points and went into the half ahead 17-7 as cascades of boos rained down on the Eagles.
The third quarter would be a different story.
Demeco Ryans intercepted Flacco on the Ravens’ first possession, and with the benefit of an unnecessary roughness call on Ray Rice, the Eagles were in business at the Baltimore 42. Vick made a key third and 6 conversion to DeSean Jackson, who – despite being listed as questionable – caught 7 passes for 117 yards. Three plays later, on third and 3, Vick scrambled to his left, drew too many defenders his way and found Jeremy Maclin all alone in the end zone, barely in bounds. It was Maclin’s only catch of the day (he would later leave with a re-aggravation of his hip pointer), but it was a big one.
Injuries marred the whole game, as Jason Babin left for a time, King Dunlap left for good with a hamstring injury and Jason Kelce left with a hyperextended knee which could cost him significant time. Demetress Bell and Dallas Reynolds were the only backup offensive linemen dressed – and they found themselves in the game from the third quarter on.
Later in the third quarter, the Eagles put together an impressive 10 play drive to the Ravens’ 5 yard line. Replays showed that the drive actually took them to within a foot of the 4 yard line, which is where the first down marker was – but Andy Reid’s challenge of the spot was somehow overturned and the Eagles, who might have gone for a first down on fourth and a foot, kicked the tying field goal on fourth and a full yard. This drive also featured a highlight-reel play, when Brent Celek – already past the first down marker – lept over a bewildered Ed Reed and tacked on some more yards to his impressive play.
Reed would get even later in the quarter when a high pass from Vick bounced off Celek’s hands and into Reed’s for Vick’s second pick of the day. Another chorus of boos serenaded Vick, whose interception total moved to 6 on the young season.
In the fourth quarter, Justin Turner followed up his 56-yarder at the end of the first half with mere chip shots of 51 and 48 yards, putting the Eagles in the familiar position of being down 6 with one last drive where only a touchdown would do.
With 4:43 left, Vick, who would throw for 371 yards, lined the Eagles up at their own 20. He hit his two favorite targets – first DeSean Jackson for 14 yards, then Brent Celek for 24 – and then scrambled for 8 more yards to set up second and 2 at the Ravens’ 34. After LeSean McCoy was stopped for no gain, Vick connected with Celek up the middle for 13 yards and a huge first down. After another McCoy attempt failed – losing 4 yards – the tight end was open on second and long. This time it was Clay Harbor’s only catch of the day, good for 19 yards and then a tack-on roughing the passer penalty gave the Eagles first and goal at the Baltimore 3. Vick took a quarterback draw to the one yard line, setting the stage for why instant replay is the only reason the NFL can even consider using replacement referees.
The referees were blowing whistles on potentially reviewable plays – like Demeco Ryans’ interception and maybe yes, maybe no tackle and then not whistling an obvious forward pass by Vick – which would portend the second and goal play where Vick, hit as he threw trying to avoid a sack, launched a harmless 4 yard duck of a pass.
Or was it?
The referee ruled a fumble, which was subject to booth review because the game was inside the two minute warning – and the booth needed little time to see the obvious. The Eagles got new life, and Vick ran another quarterback draw on third down, racing in untouched for another late lead.
The defense needed to hold and with Turner’s strong leg, anything inside the Eagles’ 40 was potential trouble. The Ravens converted a third and 10, momentarily taking the air out of the Linc, but the leatherlungs howled on third and 1 and fourth and 1, as Flacco’s pass attempts fell incomplete and the Ravens fell short.
Final score: Eagles 24, Ravens 23.
Postlogue: The Eagles take on the 2-0 Arizona Cardinals – shocking winners at New England this week – in the desert next Sunday. By then, we will know if the Birds will have suffered another season-ending injury on the offensive line with another Jason (Kelce). The low hit on Kelce while he was engaged with another player blocking for McCoy was borderline dirty, in a nasty game that saw a bunch of shoving matches and confrontations.
Right script, wrong ending: I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that if it weren’t for replay, my PhillyPhanatics.com colleague Eric Fisher would have nailed the game score and late-game story on the nose (or is it the beak?), having predicted the Ravens would take this battle of the birds by a 23-17 score because Michael Vick’s comeback drive would fall short this week.
I’ll take Vick spoiling Eric’s ending anytime.