Eagles slip past Browns, 17-16

Posted: September 10, 2012

CLEVELAND - Standing under a scoreboard that showed the Eagles trailing the Cleveland Browns late in the fourth quarter, running back LeSean McCoy admitted to a worry that was likely widespread among Eagles fans.

"Not this again," McCoy said. Michael Vick noticed his teammates wondering what was wrong with their quarterback, that Vick hung his head because of the overbearing guilt of "letting my team down."

It appeared an offseason spent trying to solve 2011's problems was a failure. The same issues that infuriated their followers one year ago almost cost the Eagles in Sunday's 17-16, season-opening win over the Browns.

The difference on Sunday was that the Eagles orchestrated a comeback that eluded them in 2011. Trailing by six points with 6 minutes, 25 seconds remaining, Vick and McCoy engineered a 16-play, 91-yard drive completed by a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor.

It was the first fourth-quarter game-winning drive Vick has led in an Eagles uniform. The score did not absolve him of blame in an erratic performance that included 317 passing yards and four interceptions. But it at least ensured that he returned to Philadelphia with a 1-0 record to counter any calls for rookie Nick Foles to replace him. (Coach Andy Reid said he never considered inserting Foles on Sunday.)

"That last drive, I just put it all together," Vick said. "I wasn't going to disappoint my coaches, and I wasn't going to disappoint my teammates. Even though we had to go 90 yards for a score, whatever it took, I was going to get it done."

That's the bravado that Vick often shows, but it was seldom fulfilled last year. Sunday's game very well might have been a loss with 2011's team, although the Eagles were aided by an inferior opponent with an inexperienced quarterback who also threw four interceptions.

Though the victory is what the team will insist matters, other issues must be resolved. The Eagles committed five turnovers - Vick's four interceptions and McCoy's first-quarter fumble - and 12 penalties. Turnovers and penalties were catalysts for last season's disappointing 8-8 finish, and they happened Sunday all too often.

"We got to take care of that," Reid said.

Yet one year ago, the Eagles' defense did not come through as it did on Sunday. Cleveland started rookie Brandon Weeden in his first NFL game and lacked firepower. The Eagles limited the Browns to 210 yards and kept their offense from scoring more than field goals. The Browns' lone touchdown came on an interception return, and all 16 of their points followed Eagles turnovers.

Kurt Coleman, who was named a captain in his homecoming (he went to Ohio State), recorded two interceptions. The second one sealed the victory in the final two minutes when the Browns were attempting to answer the Eagles' game-winning drive.

"When [the offense] came through and scored at the end, it was on us to close things out," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "That's something that last year, in some of those close games, we weren't able to pull it out. Hopefully, we can build off this."

If the defense can remain stout against superior offenses, building off Sunday's win would simply require limiting turnovers and penalties. But though the offense accumulated 456 yards, it had trouble scoring points.

Vick, whom Reid said was "rusty," connected with Jeremy Maclin for successive 46-yard and 18-yard catches at the end of the second quarter to score a touchdown and give the Eagles a lead. McCoy totaled 110 rushing yards, 13 of which came on the game-winning drive.

It was on that drive that Vick regained his confidence. He started 91 yards away from taking the lead.

Afterward, Vick insisted that his teammates had never seen him hang his head before, and that they will never see him do it again "regardless of what the game dictates." Vick also saved a touchdown in the third quarter when he tackled Browns cornerback Joe Haden at the Eagles' 22 after Haden picked off a Vick pass and was headed to the end zone.

The lasting impression of the game depends on perspective: whether the win was more valuable than the acknowledgment of continued shortcomings, whether the offense's explosiveness paled compared it its sloppiness, and whether the defense's effectiveness was overshadowed by the Browns' ineptness.

In the locker room after the game, the overbearing sentiment was that the win was ugly, but it was still a win. The angst of 2011 is still present, but the worries of McCoy and many fans of "not this again" have faded. Because it was not that again.

"I don't want to say it would have been an embarrassment [if the Eagles lost], but it would have been a letdown for the city, around the NFL," McCoy said. "I think expectations were so high for us, and it should be."

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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