This game was proof that a team can walk the tightrope only so many times before falling off; that a team cannot tempt fate that many times and continue to win nail-biting victories.
There is no shame in losing to the Steelers by a field goal on the last play of the game at Heinz Field, but the way it happened—yet again—was frustrating. The Eagles played well enough to win, except…
A terminal case of fumblitis
Once again, Michael Vick continued his pursuit of the single-season fumbling record with gusto. The most damaging of Vick’s four fumbles, two of which were recovered by the Steelers, was his cough-up at the 3-yard line as he tried to score the first points of the game on a QB draw.
Miscues like that, especially on the road, are deflating. Vick compounded his error with another lost fumble shortly thereafter. Seldom, if ever, has the NFL seen a veteran QB who handles the ball with less caution.
The defense managed to hold the Steelers scoreless after Vick’s second lost fumble, this one in Eagles territory. It's been a recurring theme for this unit: being made to atone for Vick's carelessness again and again. No defense can succeed under such conditions every time.
Neither can such an offense. Despite the team's lofty ranking in yardage gained, the Eagles have scored more than 20 points this season just once, and that is all attributable to Vick’s turnovers.
In speaking to the media this week, Vick proclaimed that throughout his career, he has always made protecting the football a priority. Vick led the NFL in fumbles in 2004 and 2010 and is on pace to set the record for fumbles in a season this year. In 2004, he was young. Now he is not, so it sounds like more lip service from a player who never seems to learn.
Time for defensive adjustments
The defense should take some responsibility for the loss after failing to stop the Steelers offense on its final drive. The lack of big plays of late has become glaring. Unexpectedly, the Eagles' vaunted pass rush has not recorded a sack in two full games, nor forced enough turnovers.
Since opposing offenses are obviously game-planning to neutralize the Eagles' pass rush, it is incumbent upon Juan Castillo to start calling some blitzes. This unit has blitzed very infrequently, expecting Trent Cole and Jason Babin to provide a pass rush. That pair has a lot of QB hurries, but is not getting home. Linebackers Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks should be given the opportunity to contribute to the pass rush.
In the end Sunday, however, the defense allowed 16 points on the road. If they can do that every week, they should win a lot of games. For Pittsburgh, however, coming off a bye week at home, the game was virtually a must-win—and one they might have lost had it not been for Vick's turnovers.
Their cause was aided by the return of three injured starters—safety Troy Polamalu, who re-aggravated a calf injury and left the game early; LB James Harrison, who did not do much statistically; and running back Rashard Mendenhall, who revitalized the Steelers anemic running game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage, including the Steelers only touchdown on the day. The Steelers would not have won this game without those contributions.
Still some magic
Vick did settle down to lead the Eagles on a huge, late-game drive that consumed almost the first half of the fourth quarter. It featured two gutsy fourth-down calls by Reid, which were successful only because LeSean McCoy is a magician, and culminated in a touchdown pass to TE Brent Celek that left the Eagles clinging to a one-point lead with six minutes to play.
Yet you got the feeling watching the game that the probability of the Eagles eking out yet another win while still losing the turnover battle was unlikely, especially in Pittsburgh. The defense allowed the Steelers to drive 64 yards and Shaun Suisham kicked the game-winning, 34-yard field goal as time expired.
The Eagles have a good team, but they desperately need to score more points to win footballgames. They cannot do that without Vick reducing his turnovers. It is exasperating to see the same thing week after week.
The Eagles beat the Giants because Vick played a clean game; they lost to the Steelers because Vick reverted to his old ways. The success of the Eagles hinges on whether Vick keeps turning the ball over.
It really is that simple. Correcting it should be simple as well, but they have not done so. It is difficult to root the team on with enthusiasm when looking over your shoulder for the next turnover to derail the down, or the drive, or in this case, the season.
One question Eagles fans had at the outset of the season has been answered. Yes the Eagles have a good team. The second question is whether their QB can reduce his turnovers enough to allow the team to be successful. Eagles fans are still waiting for the final answer from the only person who can provide it.