PHILADELPHIA — Four F-16 jets from the 177th Fighter Wing stationed at Atlantic City International Airport drew loud cheers from the fans when they soared over Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.
But the crowd saved its loudest roars for the fourth quarter, when Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and the rest of the team staged their second impressive rally in as many games.
Vick engineered yet another fourth-quarter comeback, this time capping an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone that helped secure a 24-23 victory over Baltimore in the Eagles’ home opener.
“The crowd was just amazing today,” Eagles tight end Brent Celek said. “It was exciting, especially at the end of the game. You couldn’t talk to anybody because it was so loud in there.”
The Eagles earned the cheers with a series of big plays on offense and defense that enabled the team to win its home opener for the first time since 2008 and start a season 2-0 for the first time since 2004, the season in which they reached the Super Bowl. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Eagles are the first team in NFL history to win each of their first two games of a season by one point.
Some of the biggest plays came late in the fourth quarter, when Vick, Celek and the rest of the offense repeated last week’s heroics at Cleveland with an even more impressive performance against middle linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens’ touted defense.
Vick, who threw two more interceptions to run his season total to six, again regained his composure in the clutch. He completed 4-of-5 passes for 70 yards during the final drive and had three rushes for 11 yards, including the 1-yard dash up the middle from the shotgun formation that gave the Eagles a one-point lead with 1 minute, 55 seconds left in regulation.
“Going into the fourth quarter, I felt confident,” Vick said. “Obviously, I’m saying to myself, ‘Here we go again.’ In that moment, you just have to be at your best and it’s got to be by any means necessary. We are home, in front of our crowd. In that situation, you just want to get it done.”
The Ravens’ attempt at their own rally ended with 50 seconds remaining, when quarterback Joe Flacco’s fourth-and-one pass from their 46-yard line sailed over running back Ray Rice.
After a slow start, the Eagles’ defense held the Ravens to just a pair of field goals from rookie place-kicker Justin Tucker during the second half. Philadelphia middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans had his second straight solid game, this time grabbing an interception and a sack to go with six tackles and one assist.
“That’s what the fourth quarter is all about,” Ryans said. “You pull out everything you’ve got and you make a play. Everyone has to have that mind-set, that want-to, that willingness to keep fighting no matter what.”
For the second straight game, the Eagles struggled through the first three quarters. Vick’s end-zone interception on the opening series was the first of four Eagles turnovers. In addition to Vick’s interceptions, running backs Bryce Brown and LeSean McCoy each lost one fumble.
Defensively, they had trouble stopping Flacco,Rice and Tucker, the rookie place-kicker. Flacco, who grew up in nearby Audubon, N.J., helped give the Ravens (1-1) a 17-7 halftime lead with a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Rice ran around and through the Eagles’ defense for 99 yards on 16 carries. Tucker, a rookie free agent, booted three field goals, including two of more than 50 yards.
“I’d like to see what our team looks like when you don’t have all those turnovers and mistakes,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “We can be a very explosive team if we just take care of those. But that’s the way it was for us again today. It was important that we were able to overcome (the mistakes) again. I don’t like turnovers and I don’t want turnovers. We have to get better at that.”
Overcoming the mistakes represents a change from last season, when the Eagles repeatedly coughed up late leads. Five of their eight defeats came in games when they were ahead in the fourth quarter.
So far this season, they’ve played their best football down the stretch.
“If you cut away those turnovers, we can be the best team in the league, hands down,” wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. “As long as we’re able to keep playing the way we are right now, the sky is the limit for this team.”
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