Bob Ford: Eagles endure a scare and a dustup in New England

Posted: August 21, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - There were a few moments during the first half of Monday's exhibition game against New England when, with Michael Vick in the locker room for X-rays and Andy Reid screaming at a veteran player on the sideline, the Eagles seemed perilously close to meltdown long before the season ever began.

All that was missing was a shot of Jeffrey and Christina Lurie fighting over nachos in the suite reserved for visiting owners. That's how it started with the McCourts, you know, and the next thing you knew the Dodgers were in receivership.

Fortunately, things finally settled down a little. The Luries remained amicably separated and Vick's ribs remained unseparated, although not quite as amicably. As for Reid, his sideline tiff with Cullen Jenkins didn't last long, but while it did, Jenkins gave it back to the coach pretty good. That seemed to be smoothed over eventually, but it was an interesting sequence.

Nothing mattered as much as the fact that Vick did not sustain a fracture on the left side of his ribcage again. Not the final score, which was a 27-17 Eagles win. Not the encouraging night for backup quarterback Nick Foles or the discouraging night for some of the defensive players. Vick was the breaking story, especially since he wasn't broken. He was leveled by New England's Jermaine Cunningham on the first play of the Eagles' second drive of the night. Vick had his left arm up to deliver a long pass, having probably hung around in the pocket a little too long, and Cunningham nailed him good.

Vick tried to regain his breath and stay in the game, but he had to call time and take a knee, and that was the end of his evening and the beginning of what became an extended audition for rookie quarterback Nick Foles. As he did in the exhibition opener against Pittsburgh, Foles did some really good things. He still isn't very mobile and he wasn't operating against much of a rush, but he was poised and delivered a nice pass.

Foles led the Eagles to two touchdowns in the first half, but both were gained on short fields after New England fumbles that gave the Eagles possession on the 24-yard line and the 12-yard line. Foles threw a rookie interception just before halftime when he failed to account for one of those pesky safeties, but made up for it with a touchdown drive to open the second half during which he found DeSean Jackson for a 40-yard gain.

How Foles would do in a real game against a real first-team defense is another issue, and that uncertainty is why the entire Eagles season could have hung in the balance - as it seems to several times a year - when Vick walked slowly to the locker room for yet another set of X-rays.

It is kind of early for a season to have a turning point, but that sure seemed like one for the time it took to decide that Vick wasn't broken - at least not yet.

Getting real meaning from exhibition games is always difficult, but more difficult now that the NFL insists on using the games as much for programming as preparation. Both the Eagles and Patriots have to play a Monday and Friday schedule this week, and the two organizations chose to approach that challenge from different points of view.

For the Eagles, who play the Browns on Friday, and then again in the season opener Sept. 9, the emphasis was placed on Monday's game, with the starting unit playing most of the game against New England. On Friday, if Reid sticks to his plan - which is usually a given - the Eagles will play very few regulars. In effect, the Eagles treated the game against the Pats the way they usually treat the third exhibition.

New England chose to stay with the regular script. The Patriots will play their regulars in the Friday game against Tampa Bay (after two days of combined practices with the Bucs) and opted to rest most of the first-teamers against the Eagles. For the most part, coach Bill Belichick played his second-unit guys from the very start.

That doesn't mean that everything the Eagles did right should be discounted. It just means they weren't really playing against the New England Patriots. It means that looking for deep insights from the game was probably pointless.

The only point that mattered all night was whether Vick's injury was serious. With him, the Eagles are a good, perhaps very good, team. Without him, they aren't.

Aside from that bolt of news, little was decided. From the looks of things, rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks can really play and veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans is still really struggling. Jackson, having admitted he dogged it last year, caught a couple of balls over the middle. There were way too many penalties on both sides of the ball. The strength of the Eagles, the defensive line, got decent pressure on New England's backups, but there were also a lot of gaps for the Pats to exploit.

Maybe that was why Reid screamed at Jenkins. Maybe it was just frustration bubbling over, having seen his franchise quarterback leaving the field again. Maybe Jenkins committed the sin of laughing on the sideline after an opponent's score or something.

We'll probably never know that. Some things don't come out. But some are right there on display in a night of drama where none was expected. It might be that kind of year, and some dramas still turn out well.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns,

and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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