PHILADELPHIA – Each team has a Pro Bowl quarterback, but the star of this show was an unheralded rookie playing in his first NFL game.
Quarterback Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles’ third-round pick from Arizona, threw two long touchdown passes on Thursday night to lead the Eagles to a 24-23 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field.
Foles completed 6 of 10 passes for 144 yards, two touchdons and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 143.75. And Eagles kicker Alex Henery was the hero in the closing seconds, booting a 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds left to play for the winning points.
“I felt comfortable out there with my guys, the players I practice with every day, and that helped a lot,” Foles said. “The speed of the game was a little quicker, but it’s still football and it was exciting to play in my first NFL stadium.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play much for the Steelers, but he played long enough – one series — to complete almost all of his passes and give his team a 3-0 lead.
Most importantly, Roethlisberger got out of the exhibition without getting injured, even though he was sacked twice. That’s more than the Eagles’ Michael Vick can say. Vick hurt his left hand – Vick is left-handed — in the second quarter when he hit the helmet of center Jason Kelce while following through on a pass. But the Eagles can breathe a sigh of relief — X-rays taken on Vick’s left thumb were negative.
“When it first happened,” Vick said, “I heard a pop and I thought I broke it.”
The Steelers started two rookies on their offensive line — David DeCastro at right guard and Mike Adams at left tackle, a good early test for their first- and second-round draft picks, respectively. But Adams hurt his right knee in the second quarter and sat out the rest of the game.
The Steelers took the opening kickoff and put on an impressive drive, including a 17-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders. But sacks by defensive ends Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp slowed the drive, and the Steelers had to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham and a 3-0 lead.
Roethlisberger took a seat on the bench after that, having completed 7 of 8 passes for 49 yards and a QB rating of 92.2.
“We just wanted to come out and be physical and see how we could match up,” Roethlisberger said.
The Eagles’ offense stalled again and a 33-yard run by the Steelers’ Jonathan Dwyer put the ball on the 3. On third down, quarterback Byron Leftwich found Sanders wide open in the end zone for a 10-0 lead with 11:10 left in the second quarter.
Then Steelers defensive end Al Woods intercepted a screen pass from backup QB Mike Kafka and returned it 51 yards before running back Bryce Brown ran him down on the Eagles’ 5. But the offense couldn’t punch it in, and the Steelers had to settle for another field goal and a 13-0 halftime lead.
“It was a good chance to see the offense operate at game level and get ourselves ready from that aspect,” Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said.
The Eagles finally found a spark with Foles, who started the third quarter. On first down from the Eagles 30, Foles went back to pass and was pressured. He stepped up in the pocket, avoided a would-be sacker and spotted rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson wide open over the middle. Foles hit Johnson in stride and Johnson outraced the defense to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown that cut the Steelers’ lead to 13-7 with 7:49 left in the third quarter.
“I know I can make plays because I’ve always been able to make plays,” Johnson said. “Now I’ve just got to show that I can do it at this level.”
Then Foles struck again. This time he hit rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard down the left sideline for a 44-yard touchdown, which gave the Eagles a 14-13 lead with 5:52 left in the third period.
But that didn’t last long, as Steelers running back Chris Rainey turned a short screen pass into a 47-yard TD, which gave the lead back to the Steelers, 20-14, with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles took back the lead with 5:26 left to play, when fourth-string QB Trent Edwards hit rookie wide receiver Jamel Hamler with a short pass that Hamler turned into a 16-yard TD.
The Steelers regained the lead on another field goal before the Eagles pulled it out in the final seconds.
“We still have a long ways to go,” the Steelers’ Sanders said, “but I am liking what I’m seeing so far.”