The Eagles have made a habit of pulling out close games this season. Their three victories were by a combined total of four points. All three wins included an Eagles score in the final two minutes.
The Steelers flipped the script Sunday, using a field goal as time expired to beat the Eagles, 16-14, at Heinz Field.
The game was about more than Pennsylvania bragging rights. The victory improved the Steelers’ record to 2-2, avoiding a deep early-season hole. The loss dropped the Eagles (3-2) into a first-place tie with the Giants in the NFC East. They’ll need a victory over the Lions next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in order to take a winning record into their bye week.
Sunday’s game was also about Michael Vick’s propensity for turning over the football. He lost two first-half fumbles Sunday, including one on the Steelers’ goal line. He lost possession on another occasion during the first half, but the fumble was overturned when it was determined that Steelers linebacker Larry Foote touched Vick with his foot before he lost control of the ball, meaning he was down by contact.
“You can’t do that on the road against a good football team,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. “He fixed it in the second half. The first half … we’ve got to take care of the football.”
Vick couldn’t find a reason for the fumbles.
“I wish I could tell you,” Vick said at the start of his news conference, “but I don’t have an explanation.”
By the end of his postgame news conference, Vick had a slightly different spin on his turnovers when asked if his style of play leads to turnovers.
“I’ve never had a problem before with fumbles,” Vick said. “It was just one of those days.”
Those days have come with increasing frequency this season. Vick has 11 turnovers in five games. The only game in which he didn’t turn the ball over was the Eagles’ 19-17 win over the Giants in Week 4.
What’s obvious is that the Eagles don’t have much margin for error. Four of their five games have been decided by two or fewer points.
Vick’s turnovers didn’t lead directly to points, but the Eagles sure missed the points they failed to get when Vick fumbled on first-and-goal from the 3 during the first quarter. Just four plays after he was fortunate enough to have his fumble at the end of a scramble overturned, Vick wasn’t so fortunate this time. He lost the ball when Steelers safety Ryan Clark hit him, causing the ball to pop loose. The Steelers recovered in the end zone.
Vick (20 for 30, 175 yards, 2 TDs) fumbled again two plays into the Eagles’ next possession. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, a disruptive force all game, knocked the ball from Vick as he scrambled, and Foote recovered at the Eagles 34.
“He didn’t want to come in here and fumble the ball,” Reid said. “He’s trying to make plays.”
The defense held the Steelers without a point after Vick’s second lost fumble. Perhaps the defense got tired of being on the field, though. The Steelers drove at least 75 yards on each of their next two possessions, notching a touchdown and a field goal to take a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Eagles offense looked more listless than President Obama during the first presidential debate, but the offense woke up in the second half. Drives of 80 and 79 yards put the Eagles ahead, 14-7, with the second touchdown coming on a 2-yard pass from Vick to McCoy with 6:33 remaining. It should be noted that Vick fumbled again on the Eagles’ first scoring drive, but guard Danny Watkins recovered to keep the drive alive. Perhaps concerned about losing the football, Vick did not run during the second half.
After the Eagles’ go-ahead touchdown, the Steelers took over at their own 20. A holding penalty pushed them back to the 10, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seemed to come up with a big play whenever he needed it. Shaun Suisham, who made a 20-yard field goal with 6 seconds remaining in the first half, sealed the Eagles’ fate with a 34-yarder as time expired.
Reid, who didn’t have a timeout left this week to freeze the kicker, did not think that fatigue was a factor during the Steelers’ final drive.
“We rotate enough guys that I didn’t think (being tired) would be an issue,” Reid said.
But the Eagles couldn’t stop the Steelers on third-and-12 from their own 18. Roethlisberger (21-37, 207 yards) connected with Antonio Brown for 21 yards. On third-and-4 from the 38 at the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger found Emmanuel Sanders for a 7-yard gain. The Eagles pressured the crafty Roethlisberger, but never sacked him.
The Eagles also received a steady diet of Rashard Mendenhall, who was a difference-maker in his first game since tearing his ACL in January. Mendenhall finished with 81 yards on 14 carries, including a 13-yard touchdown that opened the scoring with 5:01 remaining until halftime.
The Steelers entered the game 31st in rushing yards, averaging just 65 per game. With Mendenhall in the lineup, they more than doubled that output, gaining 136 yards rushing. By contrast, the Eagles managed just 78 rushing yards.
LeSean McCoy gained 53 of the Eagles’ 78 rushing yards, but he had to work for almost every one of them. McCoy was particularly effective on the Eagles’ final scoring drive, which started with his 4-yard run at the 21. On fourth-and-inches from the Eagles 30, McCoy fought off a hit in the backfield and used a second and third effort to gain the first down. He subsequently gained 2 yards on two separate occasions on which there seemed to be no hole, making something out of nothing both times.
The Eagles have been masters at making something out of nothing this year. Like a good magician, they seem to pull a rabbit – or victory – out of their hats in the final moments of games.
This week, however, it was the Steelers who stole a page from the Eagles’ script, pulling out a victory over their cross-state rivals as time expired.