This is an expanded version of the story from the Eagles-Browns game that appears in SportsWeek. It includes quotes that were gathered after the SportsWeek deadlines passed. So, enjoy. But also go out and buy SportsWeek, because there's all kinds of other good things in there.
CLEVELAND --- After a relaxing pregame stroll across the surface of Lake Erie, Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles settled into Cleveland Browns Stadium for his first NFL start.
It went pretty well. After a first-series interception, when Foles tried to hang up a bomb for DeSean Jackson and didn’t seem to respect the fact that Browns star corner Joe Haden is allowed to make plays on the ball as well, Foles settled down and did more than enough to keep the buzz going, in his first action against another team’s starters, a game ultimately won by the Eagles, 27-10. They are 3-0 in the preseason.
“I’m having a blast,” Foles said afterward. “There’s nothing like it, when you go out there and you’re on the field with your guys that you worked with all week, it’s special. In preseason, I’m learning a lot, developing relationships with all the guys. That’s the key, when you’re playing, not only are you a team, you’re sort of like a family.”
Foles left at halftime with a 17-3 lead, having completed 12 of 19 passes for 146 yards, a pair of touchdowns that were set up by Browns turnovers, and a 99.9 passer rating. Had Damaris Johnson, who was amazing in his own right, managed to get both feet down in the end zone on what was initially ruled a 23-yard Foles TD pass, Foles’ stats would have been even more impressive.
“He managed the game well,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said of Foles. “He made a couple of nice throws. There were a couple I think he’d like to have back. Those were young guy mistakes. He worked through it, he came back and he kept firing. You’re looking at that as a coach – does he get gun shy, or does he continue to fire? He did it. He stayed aggressive, did a pretty nice job.”
On the interception, Reid said the play was to slot receiver Jason Avant or the tight end. He said Foles got chased out of the pocket and “he got a little greedy there.”
That was Foles’ take, as well. As he scrambled, he said, he “saw DeSean out there and tried to give him a ball he could go after, and I underthrew him a little bit, which is a no-no in that situation. Guy made a good play and picked it. Lesson learned.”
Foles dodged pressure and made throws. He threw the ball away when he had to, after that early blip. He shook off hits with aplomb. All in all, Foles gave Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg no reason to think he isn’t capable of backing up Michael Vick this season. In three games, the third-round pick from Arizona has completed 36 of 57 passes (63.16 percent) for 507 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, good for a 112.24 passer rating.
“For being a rookie, he is so calm,” Eagles tight end Brent Celek told a sideline reporter during the game. “Any time you ever make a mistake, if you can come back and let that go, you’re going to be fine in this league. We all make mistakes, it’s how you respond from it. Nick has done a great job, not only thoughout camp but through the first few games.”
“Nick’s well on his way,” left tackle King Dunlap said afterward. Dunlap started but Demetress Bell got some first-team reps as well; Reid said that Dunlap probably leads the competition there. “A quarterback like that is fun to block for.” Then you could almost see the wheels turning in Dunlap’s head as he added, “We’ll be even more excited when we get Mike back.”
Why is blocking for Foles fun?
“He’s just one of those guys who’s got that gunslinger mentality; if he sees somebody going deep, he’ll let it go, and he’s got the confidence in himself to make every throw on the field, so that’s always fun,” Dunlap said.
The first touchdown came after linebacker Ryan Rau and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon forced a Montario Hardesty fumble and defensive end Darryl Tapp recovered it, at the Browns’ 15. Three plays later, Foles scrambled away from pressure and found Celek late, alone in the middle of the field. Celek shook off a high tackle attempt and trotted into the end zone.
“It really wasn’t a play that was designed for me, I just leaked out late because I knew there were some problems,” Celek said. “Basically I just got open and Nick got me the ball. It was a little bit of improvisation ... Nick is very good within the offense, and then when things break down, he’s able to still respond.”
After Keenan Clayton blocked a Reggie Hodges punt, the Eagles had the ball at Cleveland’s 3. Stanley Havili ran to the 2, then Foles threaded a nice slant to running back Dion Lewis, who was being tackled by Browns safety T.J. Ward as he caught the ball.
Foles and Johnson shook off the TD pass reversal and connected for 45 yards, Johnson making the catch sliding backwards on his rear end.
“He’s been doing a great job,” Foles said of Johnson, an undrafted rookie from Tulsa. “He’s playing really fast. He’s going up and getting the ball, and when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s very dangerous.”
Johnson also had a 30-yard return of a Hodges punt, and a 12-yard return that was much better than it sounds, Johnson making several tacklers miss. If there was any doubt – and there probably wasn’t -- whether Johnson would make the 53-man roster as part of a very deep receiving corps, you have to think he erased it Friday.
“I thought I would turn the corner a little bit, but in this league, everybody’s fast, from d-linemen to linebackers,” Johnson said, when asked about the 30-yard return. “I just tried to get what I could get.”
Reid called Johnson “an exciting little guy.’
Overall, it was as reassuring as a preseason outing can be, when your starting quarterback doesn’t make the trip with bruised ribs and has played only 12 snaps in the preseason while getting X-rayed twice.
The Eagles’ defense took penalties and gave up a long drive on the first possession, but ended that series when defensive tackle Derek Landri rampaged into the backfield unblocked and separated rookie Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden from the ball. Trent Cole recovered.
Third down was not such a huge problem for the defense this time – the Browns were 3 for 9 in the first half – and fewer tackles were missed. (Of course, it also must be said that the Browns, who host the Eagles in the season opener Sept. 9, just might be a really bad team this year. Or maybe they were laying a cunning trap Friday night.)
“I think we came out with a different approach today,” said Eagles defensive tackle/end Cullen Jenkins, who avoided any shouting matches with Reid this time. “I think it was important for us to get out here and try to set a tempo; we know this is a team we’re going to go against in two weeks in the first game. You don’t want to leave any doubts with them of who we are, or give them any weaknesses to try and go off of.”
Reid rested most of his defensive starters after a few series, played the offensive starters more, with Foles, who exited in favor of Trent Edwards for the second half.
Edwards, by the way, had better numbers than the rookie (against lesser players, of course.) Edwards finished with 14 completions in 17 attempts for 127 yards and a touchdown, compiling a 117.4 passer rating. There are rumblings that Mike Kafka – who threw Friday at NovaCare – might play in the final preseason contest, Thursday against the Jets. That didn’t seem to be the plan a few weeks ago. It could be that the Eagles want to see Kafka play again, before deciding whether he or Edwards makes the roster.
Andy Reid said Michael Vick and his ribs threw with Mike Kafka at NovaCare Friday. Reid seemed to indicate Vick would be involved in Sunday night’s Flight Night practice at the Linc, and he reiterated his contention that Vick will be ready for the season opener … Brian Rolle was announced as the perpetrator of two neutral zone infractions early in the game. On the first, Rolle said he was running on the field late, and happened to step over the line as the ball was snapped. On the second, Rolle said he must have taken the rap for a teammate, since he wasn’t near the line ... The Eagles must cut from 90 to 75 Monday, 75 to 53 Friday.