Up and down night for Eagles in Chicago

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nick Foles steps up in the pocket to pass during the first quarter last night at Soldier Field in Chicago.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nick Foles steps up in the pocket to pass during the first quarter last night at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Posted: August 10, 2014

CHICAGO - It took three preseason possessions for Nick Foles to equal his interception total from 2013.

But not really.

The good thing about the play of the first-team offense in last night’s preseason opener, a 34-28 loss to the host Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, was that it didn’t matter. If Foles is still forcing balls into coverage for interceptions a month from now, the way he did twice in the early going against the Bears, then there will be reason to worry.

"It’s a sick feeling in your stomach," Foles said afterward. "I know I’ll feel a certain way for 24 hours, but I’m going to move forward, I’m going to correct it. It’s not my first time to throw two picks in a game. I’ve done it before. I know how everybody’s going to look at it, but I’m going to stay positive. I’m going to learn from it. I know the situations, I’m gonna keep it in the data base of my brain, and I hopefully don’t make the same mistake twice."

It was kind of hard to tell a lot about either team, with flags flying at an absurd rate, the promised rules crackdown in full effect. The teams were penalized eight times for 79 yards in the first quarter, 13 for 107 in the first half, 23 for 292 in the game, not including the penalties that were declined. Foles, 6 for 9 for 44 yards and a 38.4 passer rating, had two nice completions called back, including a 20-yarder to Brent Celek on the play before the first interception, which came on the resulting third and 18, with pressure in his face.

Evan Mathis was called for holding twice, Jason Peters once (declined), and Jeremy Maclin took a 15-yard facemask. The Eagles faced a first and 30 from their 12 on their second drive of the night.

The starters were scheduled to play 10 to 15 snaps, a couple of strong series, Chip Kelly had hoped, but Foles and the offense had to go three series to get a dozen snaps. Foles moved the team from its 20 to the Bears’ 32 before deciding, on second and 4, that he needed to gun a ball late into a gaggle of players, presumably intended for how Zach Ertz. The pass was picked off by corner Sherrick McManis. Foles said he tried to make "too big a play."

Kelly said the Eagles "were very sloppy" with turnovers and penalties.

Kelly said Foles has to throw the ball away in that situation. He referenced pass rush pressure in discussing both Foles picks and said he wanted to watch the film before deciding how Foles played.

"It’s definitely been a while since we’ve played, but we can’t have the errors that we had to start the game on offense, whether it be the interceptions or the penalties," Foles said.

"It was definitely sloppy," Mathis said. "Luckily, it’s the preseason, and it gives you a lot of things you can see on film that you need to work on."

The Birds’ bad day continued past midnight, as their charter was stuck in Atlanta by bad weather and they weren’t at all sure how or when they were getting home today.

The Eagles’ first-team defense authored a strong first series, yielding one yard on three plays. The next series didn’t go as well. The Bears went 69 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown, Zach Miller outfighting DeMeco Ryans at the back of the end zone for a 10-yard Jay Cutler pass. Cutler went to the bench 9 for 13 for 85 yards and a 112.7 passer rating. The Eagles’ defense, last in the league against the pass in 2013, continued a habit of giving up third and long conversions, which happened three times in the drive, in which the Bears also had a 40-yard completion called back. They converted 10 of 17 third downs on the evening. Overall, Chicago threw for 399 yards.

The starters in the back end didn’t really look that bad, the main culprit when they were in was a very tepid pass rush. Even when defensive coordinator Bill Davis tried a few tricks, like lining Connor Barwin and Trent Cole up together, they couldn’t get in Cutler’s face.

Cole said the first-team defense didn’t get to develop any rhythm or flow in such a brief appearance.

"Seemed like you stepped on the field and stepped back off," Cole said.

LeSean McCoy carried one time for no yards, Darren Sproles three times for 11. The first-half rushing star was Matthew Tucker, who ran six times for 34 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tucker fumbled the ball away early in the third quarter, though, setting up a Bears field goal. And then he suffered a hamstring injury and left the game, with 40 yards on eight carries.

The Eagles’ brightest spot might have been third-round rookie Josh Huff’s 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which staked the Birds to a 21-14 halftime lead.

"My teammates did an excellent job in blocking. I was kind of hesitant to bring the ball out at first, but I was able to see (the blocking develop). My teammates made the plays that kind of basically let me walk through the seams … I was able to make the kicker miss, and the rest was history."

Huff hasn’t really stood out in camp, but as he and others noted during the week, he is the kind of strong, sturdy performer you notice more in games. You noticed him last night, zipping down the left sideline. Corner Nolan Carroll, who missed the game with an injury, was listed as the No. 1 kick returner this week, but Kelly warned us that the depth chart doesn’t mean much.

Kelly talked afterward about Huff’s ability to "finish" as a returner, break that last tackle to take a kick all the way.

Huff had the ball in his locker stall.

"Most definitely. Even though it’s the preseason, that ball means a lot to me right now," he said.

Mark Sanchez, making his return to the NFL after tearing up his throwing shoulder late last preseason for the Jets, completed seven of 10 passes for 79 yards and a 93.3 passer rating. Sanchez was particularly effective throwing to Ertz, who went into halftime with four catches on five targets for 60 yards.

"I thought the other quarterbacks really did a good job tonight," Foles said.

Kelly said Sanchez "played calm, had some poise about him, and put the ball on the money."

"It felt great. It was really exciting. I’m just blessed to come back and feel 100 percent," Sanchez said.

Asked about Foles, Sanchez said: "Look, it’s the first preseason game. I’m not worried one bit about Nick. The dude’s nails. He’ll be fine, and he knows that … He knows how to battle, to push through stuff."

Other notable happenings:

*Nate Allen intercepted Bears backup QB Jordan Palmer, who threw the ball up while being hit by Brandon Graham.

*Undrafted rookie running back David Fluellen’s first carry went for 15 yards. Then he worked his way into the end zone with a short pass from Matt Barkley, play starting at the Bears’ 14. Nice 12-play, 94-yard drive engineered by Barkley, albeit against deep subs. But later he way underthrew Huff and was picked off. Barkley finished 7 for 16 for 73 yards and a 52.3 passer rating.

*Seventh-round rookie nose tackle Beau Allen got great push against the Bears’ second-team offensive line. Allen seemed to knock the ball from Palmer’s hand after shoving the center into the QB, but it was ruled an incomplete pass and the Eagles didn’t challenge. Kelly said Allen "was a disruptive force out there."

*Maclin, who didn’t practice because of leg soreness twice during the week, made his return from ACL surgery, catching one pass for 15 yards.

*Fourth-round rookie corner Jaylen Watkins gave up a 73-yard TD bomb from Jimmy Clausen to Chris Williams. He later intercepted a pass.

*Second-round rookie wideout Jordan Matthews, the story of training camp until now, didn’t get in until midway through the second quarter and did not do anything impressive, working with and against backups. He badly bumbled a Barkley throw, tried to run before hauling in another, and couldn’t separate a few other times.

Kelly described Matthews as "inconsistent. I don’t know if he was pressing there or not." Matthews caught 4 passes for just 14 yards, on seven targets.

Matthews cited "concentration things I just have to work on."

*First-round rookie linebacker Marcus Smith also wasn’t in the game until deep sub time. He made one really good tackle, was otherwise unremarkable.

*Linebacker Casey Matthews suffered a lower back injury.

*Nose tackle Damion Square blocked a field goal.

*Fourth-string QB G.J. Kinne completed eight of 10 passes for 88 yards and a 103.3 passer rating, best among Eagles quarterbacks last night.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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