SCARE-US-TO-DEATH night at Lincoln Financial Field was a huge success, bolstered by the big, new video scoreboards, on which you could watch Jeremy Maclin writhe in apparent agony and LeSean McCoy head to the locker room for thumb X-rays.
Maclin and McCoy ultimately were not seriously injured in last night’s 31-21 preseason victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. And the remainder of the evening was just about as reassuring as the preseason can be. Nick Foles led three first-half scoring drives, finished 19-for-29 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an overthrow interception on which Darren Sproles appeared to slip.
McCoy and his sore toe carried four times for 24 yards, and added a darting 22-yard touchdown reception on a double screen. Then McCoy got the thumb X-ray, which did not reveal a break. Eagles coach Chip Kelly decided he had seen enough of the league’s 2013 rushing champ, so McCoy will have until the Sept. 7 season opener against Jacksonville to let his thumb and his toe heal.
“It’s just a little thing,” McCoy said in a postgame corridor, a bandage on his right thumb. “Football [bleep].”
What should the NFL do about its exhibition schedule?
Maclin produced a bigger scare when he crumpled making a cut and stayed on the ground, holding his right knee, which has undergone two ACL repairs. But Maclin eventually walked to the sideline, then to the exam table, where he dallied only a few seconds before grabbing his helmet and rejoining the fray.
“I felt good. Everything checked out fine, and I wanted to get back out there,” Maclin said.
He acknowledged he was scared initially, as anyone would be coming off a year lost to an ACL, who feels his knee twist unnaturally.
“My foot just got stuck,” Maclin said. “That’s very similar to how a lot of guys tear their ACLs, but that just goes to show that my quad’s really strong, everything’s intact, to be able to get out of that ... To be honest with you, I was shook up a little bit, initially.”
Maclin said the medical staff determined on the field that he was probably OK and he really didn’t want to go to the table at all.
Amid all this medical intrigue, while reporters were focusing their binoculars on the bench, the Eagles were doing just about everything you needed to see them do on the field. Pass rush? First-team defense harried Ben Roethlisberger into an 8-for-17, scoreless first half, 60 passing yards and a tremendous Nolan Carroll pick. Carroll started at cornerback, after Brandon Boykin and Cary Williams sat with surprise hamstring injuries.
Roethlisberger, who played deep into the third quarter, eventually was sacked by both Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, who have four of the Eagles’ five preseason sacks.
The defense by and large avoided the flag fest downfield that made the first two preseason outings impossible to evaluate.
“I think we needed a performance like this,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “That’s obviously a confidence-booster.”
Protect Foles? Allen Barbre was beaten badly on one early snap, but in back-to-back touchdown drives, Foles was free to stand and survey his options. Riley Cooper’s first action after missing the first two preseason games with a foot injury? Three catches for 25 yards, looked fine. Maclin? Eight targets, six catches, 43 yards, very sharp, before and after the knee scare.
The Eagles outgained the Steelers by 372-190 in the first half and built a 17-0 lead that could have been 21-0, had a Foles end-zone pass not trickled off Sproles’ fingertips.
“The first 2 weeks, we stubbed our toes a little bit,” Maclin said. “I think the most important thing we wanted to do this week was come out and set the tone,” as the Birds did in building a 31-7 lead before the Steelers’ deep subs scored twice against their Eagles counterparts.
“They’re not shooting themselves in the foot,” Kelly said, when asked about the progress of his offensive starters since the preseason opener. “We ran the ball fairly well, we had a good mix [of plays], we got the ball spread around to different receivers ... we got the ball out well.”
“I felt we improved every week as a unit,” Foles said. He almost certainly won’t play in the preseason finale next week against the Jets, so his final preseason numbers are 33-for-48 (68.8 percent) for 304 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, two of which came in the first three possessions against Chicago.
“Chicago just wasn’t a good game,” Foles said. “I just stayed focused and didn’t freak out and just kept working.”
Worried about running-back depth behind McCoy and Sproles (six carries, 33 yards), with Chris Polk basically missing the entire summer? Matthew Tucker slashed and slammed for a pair of touchdowns, gaining 46 yards on 10 carries. Then Henry Josey rambled 70 yards for a TD that was called back on a really dubious hold, called against B.J. Cunningham. Cunningham later had a touchdown catch erased on a penalty by a teammate. Kenjon Barner, obtained from Carolina on Tuesday night, even got in on the action, seven carries for 32 yards, though he fumbled a kickoff that Josey picked up.
After watching the Patriots pile up 35 first downs last week, as the Eagles dropped to 0-2 in the games that don’t count, the Birds notched their 35th first down against the Steelers midway through the fourth quarter. Foles, Matt Sanchez and Matt Barkley engineered touchdown drives, with the Steelers leaving many defensive starters in at least through the Tucker TD that made it 24-7.
“We were on the same page [with Foles],” center Jason Kelce said. “The offensive line had good rhythm and the communication was there today.”
Kelce agreed that the second offensive-line unit (helped by the presence of Lane Johnson) has “played great. To tell you the truth, they’re playing as good as, if not better than we are right now. They’re in a good groove. There’s a number of guys who have stepped up and played extremely well. I think we’re going into the season with great depth.”
Sanchez continued his impressive play, going 7-for-9 in the third quarter, 85 yards, 106 passer rating.
First-round rookie linebacker Marcus Smith didn’t play as much as he had in New England, but Smith’s play was reassuring, even the 18-yard reception he gave up to Antonio Brown. Brown is a really fast wideout; generally if you isolate him on a linebacker and the QB has time, the defense is in big trouble. But Smith ran stride-for-stride with Brown; it took a perfect pass from Roethlisberger to beat him.
If there was a red flag, it was the otherwise meaningless 31-yard field goal Alex Henery missed in the fourth quarter. Henery earlier hit from 36, and kicked off well, but you don’t miss from 31 in the NFL and maintain any job security.
Henery, now 1-for-3 on field goals in the preseason, might have been feeling the pressure after the Eagles dressed kicker Cody Parkey, obtained the day before from Indianapolis. Parkey kicked off a couple of times and made an extra point.
Kelly was asked whether Henery is battling his confidence right now.
“I wish I could put my finger on it. I don’t know what he’s battling. Obviously, you’ve got to make a field goal like that,” Kelly said.
As expected, Eagles Chris Polk, Jake Knott, Brad Smith, Josh Huff and Julian Vandervelde sat out the game with injuries … The Steelers lost starting linebacker Jason Worilds to a knee injury … Eagles WR Arrelious Benn left with a “head injury” the team said.
On Twitter: @LesBowen