Eagles showing a whole new toughness
September, 16, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Mel EvansDeMeco Ryans and the Eagles' defense held off Joe Flacco and the Ravens for a narrow victory.
PHILADELPHIA -- Despite everything, the Philadelphia Eagles had the lead. Despite four more turnovers, six more penalties and a slew of significant injuries to offensive starters, the players in the Eagles' defensive huddle were looking up at a scoreboard that showed them leading the Baltimore Ravens 24-23 with 1:55 to go and the ball on the Baltimore 20-yard line, and they were fired up.
"This is the play!" middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans shouted at his teammates, before each of the eight plays the Ravens would run on that final series. "This is the play we make to close the game!"
And the Eagles bought it. And make those plays they did. Rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin went high in the air to break up a Joe Flacco pass. Safety Nate Allen busted up a couple. Nnamdi Asomugha got one, too, though he got called for illegal contact on his and handed the Ravens five yards with 1:21 to play. Just one more obstacle, and Ryans kept barking, kept urging. The defensive line swarmed Flacco, who threw incomplete on third-and-1, incomplete on fourth-and-1, and Ryans' prophecy came true. The defense held.
The Eagles held on for a 24-23 victory over the Ravens. Despite it all, and for the second week in a row, the Eagles had come back in the fourth quarter to win a game by one point. And if you watched the Eagles play the fourth quarter last year, there's no other way to put it: This is new.
"I think the belief is what's new," Asomugha said. "I think we would say the same thing in the huddle last year, but we'd be wondering what play we were going to run and not really be believing it. So I think that belief is there now that, when it comes down to the end of the game, we can finish it off."
The turnover problems, the penalty problems and the general sloppiness are not new. Those were here last year, and they're still here. Whether the Eagles can correct those things will go a long way toward determining what kind of season they have. But there has been enough talk so far about what's the same about this year's Eagles. Sunday's game, in the end, and same as last week, was about what's different. Last year's Eagles didn't come back to win games in the fourth quarter. Last year's Eagles didn't stop teams on that final drive. Last year's Eagles were giving away September games they should have won. This year's Eagles are winning September games they should have lost.
"We've been put in that same position two weeks in a row, and we love it," safety Kurt Coleman said. "It builds character. We're glad we've come away with two wins, but what's just as important is the way games like that, and proving to yourself every week that you can win them, really help build the character of your football team."
This was one of the big questions about the 2012 Eagles. Last year's flop gave everyone reason to doubt whether this group had it where it counts -- whether it had the guts, the heart, the whatever-you-want-to-call-it that teams need to win games in the fourth quarter. Adding Ryans at middle linebacker, picking rookies such as Boykin, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks to infuse the defense with energy, intensity and depth -- these are moves that have so far paid off. The Eagles have needed their defense to stiffen up when the offense was struggling and repeatedly handing the ball to the other team in each of their first two games. Twice now, that defense has responded. The Eagles gave up just 146 yards in the second half of the game while Michael Vick and his crew erased a 17-7 deficit. They watched starting center Jason Kelce, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and left tackle King Dunlap get carted away to the locker room. They watched Vick somehow figure out an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final five minutes, nearly turning it over again but holding just tough enough to get it done.
"It was obviously like, 'Here we go again,'" said Vick, who has thrown a stunning six interceptions in his first two games but also completed 23-of-32 passes for 371 yards in Sunday's contest. "But you just look at your teammates, your coaches, the people who depend on you, and you just want to get it done. It's just another opportunity to be 2-0, and that's all it boils down to."
For the most part, that's true. It's not as though the Eagles don't still have issues. They won't be able to average 4.5 turnovers per game and expect to win every week. Kelce's injury appears serious enough to end his season, and that's going to matter. Maclin looks like a guy who's going to be playing hurt, at best, for some time. Many of the play-calling and discipline issues that have been driving Eagles fans for years remain in evidence, and as the weeks go along they will want to see them taken care of.
"Look, there's nothing I can tell you," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I don't like turnovers. I don't want turnovers. The players don't want turnovers, so we have to get better at it. You have to hang onto the football when you're given a chance to handle the football, and you have to make sure you throw it to the right person. This isn't something we planned on having."
But despite it all, the Eagles are 2-0. And just as they all believed in each other to come back and beat the Ravens this week, they believe they can fix their problems over the long haul. And amid all of this, they've already shown more toughness and heart and grit in two games than they showed last year in 16. And that's got a chance to serve them extremely well if they ever get the sloppy stuff fixed.