Marcus Hayes: Eagles' loss in Pittsburgh is no surprise

Cullen Jenkins likely felt terrible after failing to bring down Ben Roethlisberger despite pulling on his towel.
Cullen Jenkins likely felt terrible after failing to bring down Ben Roethlisberger despite pulling on his towel. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 09, 2012

PITTSBURGH - So the Eagles visited Pittsburgh, where the Steelers seldom lose.

The Eagles took a lead in the fourth quarter but quailed in the face of a power running game and an excellent, clutch quarterback.

The Eagles, a passing team built on speed, scored only 14 points on a cold, rainy day against a defense that, even as it decays, remains coldly efficient against the pass.

They seldom even visited Ben Roethlisberger's passing pocket.

They lost by two.

None of this should be a surprise.

None of this should cause alarm.

"We put ourselves in a position to win," safety Kurt Coleman said. "The season's not lost."

Certainly not.

Not at 3-2.

Not when the offensive line played its best game. Left tackle Demetress Bell, starting again, perhaps for good, in place of King Dunlap, erased Steelers linebacker/end James Harrison. Dallas Reynolds, the center who replaced Jason Kelce, kept the line in order.

Not when Michael Vick went without throwing an interception. That's three games in a row without a pick.

Vick fumbled again, and again, and again, four times all told. He got lucky, and the first one was reversed, since a Steeler inadvertently touched him as he hit the ground, but Vick quickly fumbled later on the drive to compensate.

Both plays were called quarterback runs.

The second, near the goal line, probably cost the Eagles the win . . . but if you're going to call quarterback runs for your undersized franchise quarterback who takes a pounding every week, and do so against an especially punishing defense, maybe you deserve to lose the ball.

The Eagles recovered another fumble, but fumbles didn't necessarily cost the Eagles the game. Two field-goal drives by the Steelers late in each half cost the Eagles the game.

Roethlisberger is expert in such moments; only four active quarterbacks have more than his 25 game-winning drives, and all four - Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning - one day will be in the Hall of Fame.

Roethlisberger's passer rating on those two field-goal drives was 85.7. Roethlisberger's passer rating independent of those two drives was 60.4.

He never was sacked, seldom was hit and hardly was hurried.

"We had pressure," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose team shared the league lead with 50 sacks last season.

This season, teams' first directive against the Eagles is to keep their quarterbacks clean, which limits the number of receivers. That happened again Sunday. The Birds finished the game next to last in the NFC, with seven sacks.

The Steelers did not turn the ball over. They made sure not to turn the ball over, as they have, historically. Roethlisberger has only one interception and one fumble in four games this season. By comparison, Vick, a more daring type, averages more than two turnovers per game.

These are games you win when you're lucky.

When you play perfectly.

When the odds favor you.

You don't win these games when the Steelers are home, in foul weather, coming off a bye, backed into a 1-2 corner, and getting their best running back, Rashard Mendenhall, back from a knee injury.

Mendenhall ran 14 times for 81 yards and combined with Ike Redman for 122 yards on 27 carries. It was the first time the Steelers broke 75 yards rushing this season.

That was not Steelers football.

This was Steelers football: four fumbles forced; a 10-minute possession advantage after the first quarter; smothering former Pitt star LeSean McCoy, who gained 53 yards on 16 carries.

This was Steelers football, and this was hard to beat.

"[Mendenhall] and Roethlisberger make for a dynamic offense when Mendenhall is healthy," admitted safety Nate Allen. "Any loss is a tough one. You win some, you lose some. It's a long season, still."

The Eagles have won their three games by a total of four points, all thanks to fourth-quarter drives Vick engineered.

He engineered a touchdown drive Sunday, a 17-play masterpiece, that put the Eagles ahead in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers simply countered.

"I think we did a great job," Vick said. "You play against teams who have great schemes, but sometimes, they're going to get you."

"It's not like we didn't go out there and fight to the end," defensive end Trent Cole said.

"There's a lot of good stuff that can come from this game," linebacker Jamar Chaney said.

And it should.

Now 5-1 under Mike Tomlin following a bye, the Steelers also are 20-2-1 against the NFC at Heinz Field.

So, to review:

To win Sunday the Eagles would have had to overcome the Steelers' top returning rusher, produce three more points against a stout defense, on the road, in the rain, against a desperate, talented team coming off its bye.

Could they have won?

Sure.

Should they have won?

Probably not.

Losing by three touchdowns at Arizona to a backup quarterback in Game 3, however, is an entirely different matter.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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