Yes, Weeden was a deer in the headlights. But running back Trent Richardson, the third pick in the 2012 draft, did not look at all shaky, he just looked swarmed, gaining all of 39 yards on 19 carries. In the second quarter, Richardson had his big moment, trampling Coleman and knocking off the safety's helmet on a 9-yard gain that was Richardson's longest of the day. Coleman was cut under his lower lip and across the bridge of his nose.
But Coleman stayed in the game, and on the next play, Richardson was dropped for a loss on third-and-1. Another much-scrutinized Eagle, new middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, made that tackle. Ryans' debut was excellent, after all the hand-wringing. He led the team with five unsassisted tackles. Coleman had four, plus the two picks and a fine special-teams tackle.
"The credit really goes to the front four. They allowed us to sit back there and read Weeden and force him into some bad throws. The front four got after him all day long," Coleman said.
Coleman said on the final pick, he was roaming the middle in a Cover 3. He was going to try to cut inside Massaquoi, but then he saw the ball going high and stayed put.
Coleman, 24, is from Clayton, Ohio, and he played at Ohio State. To have this kind of game in Cleveland meant something to him. "It's a little emotional, I'm not going to lie," he said. "It was my first time, really, coming back and playing. I was nominated captain. I'm just really proud of this team."
On the Richardson helmet-pop, Coleman said he was blocked by a wideout and "my chin strap popped off, and then I couldn't even see. The rest is history. He ran right into me, my helmet did some work on my face, as you can see . . . Even though I'm in pain, I feel good."
He played every defensive snap.
First-round defensive tackle Fletcher Cox didn't start his first NFL game, but he finished it.
It was Cox who was breathing down the neck of Brandon Weeden when Weeden threw the game-sealing interception to Kurt Coleman with 1:05 left.
"Coach kept me in the game in that situation. He trusted me to rush the quarterback. I just took that and ran with it," Cox said. "He believes in me."
As the game progressed, Cox earned that trust.
Cox recorded the first sack of his career in the third quarter, when he dumped Weeden. The play was muted by a subsequent roughing-the-passer penalty, but that didn't dampen the moment for Cox, who mainly played with the second defensive-line unit.
"It was big," Cox said. "I've still got room to improve, but over the course of the game I can say I was a whole lot better than when I started the game."
The Eagles were penalized a dozen times for 110 yards by the NFL's replacement refs. It's probably wrong to excuse such sloppiness, but it also would be wrong to assume every flag was a legit penalty under the standards established by the real officials. In the NFL, for example, an offensive lineman in pass protection can hold, often all the way to the ground, if he keeps his hands inside the opponent's shoulders. In fact, o-linemen are coached to latch onto their prey as quickly as possible. Sunday's officials in Cleveland did not seem familiar with that nuance, or many others.
"I'm not answering your taboo questions," Eagles left guard Evan Mathis said, jokingly. Then he gave a serious answer. "We can't leave any gray area, no matter who the referee is . . . If it can go one way or the other, that's on us . . . If you're going 2 mph over the speed limit, you're giving them a gray area."
Marcus Hayes contributed to this story.
Contact Les Bowen at email@example.com.