y Zach Berman, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
PITTSBURGH — Through the season’s first month, the Philadelphia Eagles fostered a mind-set that they could win games like the one they lost on Sunday.
They witnessed Michael Vick overcome a collection of perplexing turnovers to engineer come-from-behind drives in the fourth quarter. They watched the defense hold firm in the final minutes and boasted about an intangible willpower to thrive on the narrow tightrope that often separates victory and defeat in the NFL.
The Eagles fell off that high wire during Sunday’s 16-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. The loss dropped the Eagles to 3-2 as the team experienced a familiar scenario that yielded a different result.
Vick struggled early and delivered late — a characteristic close to becoming a Sunday routine — but the defense could not force the Steelers off the field on a drive that exhausted the game’s final 6 minutes, 33 seconds and finished when Shaun Suisham’s 34-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as the clock expired.
“It’s not just final drives; it shouldn’t even be that close,” Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “We’re not playing complete games. We’re just waiting until the end and trying to pull it out at the end.”
The sky is not falling after a team loses by two points on the road to a quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and a team coming off a bye week. But it demonstrates that the Eagles were not succeeding with a sustainable style, that Vick is still too fallible before the fourth quarter and that the defense is not infallible in the fourth quarter.
Vick’s confounding season continued with an effort that included 20 completions on 30 passes for 175 passing yards and two touchdowns — one to LeSean McCoy, another to Brent Celek. But he also lost two fumbles, including one at the goal line that cost the Eagles points in the first quarter. That does not even include a lost fumble that was overturned by an official’s review and another that the Eagles recovered.
“I wish I could tell you, but I don’t have any explanation,” Vick said when asked why the fumbles continue to occur.
Vick has accounted for 11 turnovers this season, His zero-turnover effort in last week’s win over the New York Giants seems to be more like an anomaly than improvement. Vick said he “will do a better job of protecting the football,” although he has expressed a similar sentiment before.
Vick credited the Steelers for knocking the ball out of his grip and also rejected the idea that he is prone to fumbles. He tried rerouting the conversation to the positives. Those included a 17-play, 79-yard drive in the fourth quarter that featured two fourth-down conversions and gave the Eagles a 14-13 lead.
“I wish I could take back the fumble on the goal line, but I can’t,” Vick said. “Ultimately, we put ourselves in a position to win the game, but we didn’t win.”
The reason they didn’t win is because after the Eagles took the lead, the defense could not stop the Steelers the way they had the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Giants in previous fourth-quarter wins. Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that included two third-down conversions. One was a third and 12 and another was a third and 4, and the Steelers found the slot receiver on both plays.
“We need to make sure we get off the field on that last drive,” coach Andy Reid said.
Reid exhausted two timeouts on the Eagles’ go-ahead drive and had only one left to stop the clock late in the game. Timeouts were not the problem, though, because the defense spoiled opportunities to make stops and seal a win.
“We have to get off on the third downs,” defensive end Trent Cole said. “They had some big plays and they hurt us. As a defense, we just can’t have that.”
This was a loss in which the blame can be appropriately spread throughout the locker room. Even though the defense didn’t make the late stop, it limited the Steelers to 16 points and has played all season without offensive firepower.
The offense is only scoring 15.6 points per game through five games, and Vick emphasized that the Eagles must score more to help the defense. The notion that the Eagles can wait until the fourth quarter to eke out close game is too risky — and likely unsustainable.
“There are going to be close games,” Jenkins said. “But you have opportunities like that, you can’t let them slip away. That’s an opportunity that we let go. We should have won that game.”