Remember my season preview, where I said the Eagles had to create a new identity? How they had to engender a toughness we hadn't seen before? A toughness they'd so often lacked in crucial late-game situations? Well, it's happening, and that's why, despite all the other eyesores, I couldn't be more encouraged.* Toughness. Heart. Grit. Guts. Character. Wherewithal. Pick a word to sensationalize that intangible because you're watching it take form. Yes, the turnovers, penalties, and general sloppiness all remain exasperating and have to be cleaned up. However, we're witnessing a marked resilience from these Eagles that bodes well for the rest of the season. There have been similar flashes before, but not in back-to-back weeks, and not so demonstrable. The Ravens came out swinging with their typical macho bravado and street-fight mentality, as if they thought they could intimidate the Eagles into capitulating like the same candy ass lambs of years past. After all, who better to peg the Eagles' personality than John Harbaugh? But as Harbaugh learned, this just might be a very different group of Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did these Eagles take the punishment and refuse to go down, they came right back and threw punches of their own. I can understand why the Ravens bitched and moaned after the loss -- they weren't expecting to get beaten at their own game. The tears, they are delicious. I'd rather my team play "dirty" than soft anyway.
*Okay, so I said this toughness had to be borne out of a physical, smash mouth running game. Whatever, I'm just thrilled that it's happening somehow, period.
1) Balance. HALLELUJAH WE HAVE BALANCE ON OFFENSE!!!!! I can't recall exactly how many of Michael Vick's eight legit carries (two kneel downs excluded) were designed, but I'll go ahead and say half. That would mean Marty (and Andy) called for 35 runs and 38 passes. See, that wasn't so bad, right? Even on a day when the run game wasn't continuously gashing the Ravens defense, the Eagles stuck with it. LeSean McCoy had 25 carries for 81 yards, with a long of 20. So, on the other 24 carries he only had 61 yards. But you know what? I don't care. What's promising is that the Eagles didn't abandon the run. This is something we need to see every week. It helps control the flow of the game. It helps the Eagles churn out yards while beating up the opposing defense. It helps keep Vick from getting hit time and time again. But most of all, it makes me happy.
2) Michael Vick. I'll admit, after the Eagles' first drive, I was calling for Nick Foles. I saw a Michael Vick who appeared to have learned absolutely nothing from last Sunday's game against the Browns. It started well, with the Eagles utilizing a no huddle offense (gee, I wonder why Andy didn't want the media at practice this week) and marching down the field. Then came the GODDAMMIT WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?! moment. Vick rolled to his right, the sideline quickly approaching and a hoard of Ravens defenders breathing down his neck. Instead of running out of bounds or throwing the ball away and living to fight another down, he jumped and threw across his body. NO NO NO NO DON'T FUCKING DO THAT!!!! It was an inexcusable decision compounded by a weak throw, which was intercepted in the end zone by a diving Bernard Pollard. Now, to Vick's credit, that was one of only three bad passes he made all game,** en route to completing 23 of 32 (71.9%). Rather than unravel, Vick came back with a vengeance and made some simply insane throws (the bucket throw to DeSean Jackson down the sidelines comes to mind), in addition to taking the customary lickings and managing to keep on ticking. For the second straight week he began a drive deep in Eagles territory with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, his team down six points and needing a touchdown to take the lead. For the second straight week, he delivered. You'll have to excuse me while I pick up my jaw off the floor. This kind of clutchness is foreign to me, but, you know, I wouldn't mind getting used to it.
**The other two were both intended for Brent Celek. The first came in the second quarter, when Vick didn't see Ray Lewis lurking underneath. Thankfully, Lewis was moving to his right and had to reach across his body; the ball deflected off his hand and fell to the ground incomplete. The second throw I'm referencing came with the Eagles trailing 17-14 in the third quarter and facing a 2nd and 7 at the Ravens' 11-yard line. Vick made a throw that should've been intercepted by an undercutting Albert McClellan, who had a pick-six on his mind, but the ball went right through his hands.
3) Halftime adjustments. One thing I've always lamented about the Eagles during the Andy Reid era has been their inability to make in-game adjustments. If a team had success doing something against us in the first half, they typically continued to do so unimpeded in the second half. Whatever Juan Castillo did/said between the second and third quarters, it worked. Ray Rice had eight carries for 77 yards in the first half. In the second half, he had eight for 22. The gaping holes he had up the middle in quarters one and two were nowhere to be found in quarters three and four. The Ravens offense, which looked so proficient in building a 17-7 lead through the first 30 minutes, sputtered in the second half, with Joe Flacco completing just eight of 25 pass attempts as he had to contend with a ferocious Eagles front seven that made life in the pocket quite uncomfortable. Castillo has taken plenty of lumps, but he deserves hefty praise for what's going on with the defense right now. Those guys are buying into his system. Related: Asante Samuel is a punk.
4) Brent Celek. Nobody is cooler -- or more badass -- than Brent Celek. Nobody. He embodies the toughness -- everything, actually -- I want to see from my football team. Every week Celek reminds me why I ordered his jersey moments after the NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona. Keep throwing him the football.
5) DeSean Jackson. Insert unoriginal, exhausted dig about DeSean Jackson "actually trying" this season. He might weigh 170 pounds soaking wet, but his heart weighs twice that much. When DeSean plays like he's capable, it makes me giddy. And now that he's got his guaranteed money, he can lay it all on the line. Seven catches (on eight targets) for 114 yards. DeSean looks like a man on a mission and is going to have the best season of his pro career in 2012.
6) DeMeco Ryans. Oh, right, this is what having a difference-maker at linebacker can do for your defense. While Ryans' play -- seven tackles (two for loss), one sack, one interception, one pass defended -- was phenomenal overall, it's his inspiring performance as a field general that's most significant. The Eagles haven't had an emotional leader of this magnitude on defense since Brian Dawkins.
7) Mychal Kendricks. Oh, right, this is what having a difference-maker at linebacker can do for your defense. Kendricks sure as hell doesn't look like a rookie. I can't stand Dan Dierdorf and think he needs to go the way of the glue factory, but his incessant fawning over Kendricks was on point. The kid is everywhere, and he can do everything. Future Pro Bowler.
8) Brandon Boykin. As soon as two years from now, we're going to look back on the 2012 draft class as one of the best in team history. Brandon Boykin is part of the reason why. He was excellent all afternoon and most noticeable with the game on the line. Boykin recorded few pass breakups during the final Ravens possession, including one where he jumped like ten feet in the air to swat the ball away and deny Jacoby Jones. Joselio who?
9) Derek Landri. The venerable Derek Landri, if not for a single pass deflection, wouldn't have shown up in the box score because he didn't record a single tackle. Don't let that fool you, though, because he played a spectacular football game. It was Landri's penetration that blew up a few run plays deep in the backfield. He also had a pressure on Joe Flacco early in the fourth quarter, with the game tied 17-17, that forced the Ravens quarterback to overshoot Dennis Pitta -- as a result of hurrying the throw -- on what would have been an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown. Derek Landri is the Brent Celek of the defense, and it's not just because they're both white.
10) Dallas Reynolds and Demetress Bell. Ok, I won't lie to you here, I didn't expressly pay attention to Reynolds or Bell when they came in for Jason Kelce and King Dunlap, respectively. I was too much of a nervous wreck to focus on anything other than who had the ball and where the ball was going. But the fact that Vick had adequate protection and neither player was called for a penalty is more than enough reason for me to include them as part of "The Good" section. Reynolds and Bell were thrust into unenviable spots and came up HUGE. From the sounds of it, this is the beginning of an extended stretch of playing time for both. Fasten your seat belt, folks.
11) Eagles secondary. Dominated Ravens wide receivers and limited them to a mere 12 TARGETS all game. Only Jacoby Jones had a real impact, catching one touchdown and having another wiped off the board because of offensive pass interference. Anquan Boldin did next to nothing and aside from a twisting-and-falling 40-yard catch early in the fourth quarter, neither did Torrey Smith.
12) Third down defense, which had been a major weakness for the Eagles defense in recent seasons. Not anymore, at least through two games. The Ravens went just 4 for 14 on third down (including lapses in coverage that led to Ray Rice being wide open and converting twice on the Ravens' final scoring drive), a week after the Browns went 2 for 13. The Eagles defense is finally taking advantage of its opportunities to get off the field. That's killer instinct.
1) Turnovers. Four more turnovers, including three in the red zone, for a total of nine in two games. Just like the coaches drew it up! Emerging with a 2-0 record is a relief, but this trend is not sustainable. The Eagles need to take better care of the football, or the losses will accumulate.
2) Sloppiness. Turnovers, penalties, general stupidity. All of them, still plagues. Who needs an opponent when you're so good at beating yourself? The Eagles won't keep getting so lucky.
3) Not declining the offensive holding penalty on third down early in the fourth quarter, which would have forced the Ravens to attempt a field goal to break a 17-17 tie. I know it's nit-picky, but this really pissed me off. I was incredulous. I get the rationale behind pushing the Ravens back to the 31-yard line and trying to force a longer field goal, even though their rookie kicker wasn't going to miss from any distance (as he would later prove by booting a 51-yarder). My main gripe was giving the Ravens an extra chance to convert for a first down, and perhaps score a touchdown to take a 24-17 lead, after getting a crucial stop. I don't care that the penalty put them in a third-and-long situation. Knowing the Eagles, offering such a mulligan meant they'd either give up the conversion clean or just commit a penalty to get it done. The latter option prevailed, thanks to a call against Asomugha for illegal contact. Fortunately, DeMeco Ryans sacked Flacco on the ensuing third down back at the 34 to make the whole sequence of events moot. Still, it's the original decision that makes me slap my forehead in anger and disbelief.
1) Injuries. I sincerely hope yesterday's win doesn't turn into a Pyrrhic victory, as the injuries suffered could be devastating. At one point, three players went down in the span of four snaps. Jason Kelce's season is almost certainly over, we're just waiting for the formality of confirmation. I knew it immediately upon seeing the replay. The way his knee awkwardly buckled and bent inward, that's a classic ACL tear (Edit: It's a full MCL tear and partial ACL tear, but the result is the same -- Kelce is done for 2012. Double Edit: Wait, he might not be done for the season? Don't play with my heartstrings like this, doctor dudes.) As far as irreplaceable players -- from a unique skill set standpoint -- on the offense, Kelce is up there with Shady and Vick. So begins the era of Dallas Reynolds, who, at age 28, just got his first taste of regular season NFL action. He'll be getting a lot more. King Dunlap left with a hamstring injury, and the severity remains unknown. Jeremy Maclin isn't even close to 100%, and he likely won't be for the foreseeable future.
Refs Scab Zebras. They don't have any fucking idea what they're doing (forward pass =/= fumble). It's embarrassing, it's difficult to watch, it's ruining the quality of the game, and it has to stop. I need me some Ed Hochuli biceps, and I need them now. By the way, Jacoby Jones totally pushed off Nnamdi Asomugha on that fourth quarter touchdown catch. Yep, textbook offensive pass interference. No doubt. Not at all ticky-tack. I definitely wouldn't have been pissed off if that went against my team. TOTALLY THE RIGHT CALL! You should see the expanse of my shit-eating grin right now.
For the first time since 2004, the Eagles sit at 2-0. No question that the 2011 Eagles are 0-2 right now and the city is in full-blown panic mode. But this isn't 2011, and this isn't the same paper champion, powderpuff Dream Team. If the Eagles can ever get out of their own way, they'll be downright unstoppable. This football team has scary, SCARY potential, and I feel sorry for the rest of the league if it's ever harnessed.
Prior to this season, the last three Super Bowl champions -- Saints, Packers, Giants -- had won the Eagles' home opener. As we all know, correlation implies causation, so I'll see you in New Orleans. If you need me, I'll be one of the 50,000 drunk, naked
people idiots running through the streets while double-fisting piña coladas.
One last thing: The Eagles became the first team in NFL HISTORY to win each of its first two games of the season by a margin of one point. They are on pace to go 16-0, with a +16-point differential and 72 turnovers committed. I repeat: See you in New Orleans.
Other notes: Props to PhillyFollower for accurately predicting the Eagles had more comeback magic in them prior to the game-winning touchdown drive. Also, a friend texted me Saturday night asking for my final score prediction. "24-23 Iggles," I replied, before sending, "No, 27-24," five seconds later. Ignore that second text and LOOK HOW CLAIRVOYANT I AM!!!
Kevin Kolb and the suddenly formidable 2-0 Arizona Cardinals are up next. Happy Rosh Hashanah!