PITTSBURGH (Aug. 15, 2005) -- After a dreadful opening two-plus minutes that likely will be as bad as any they see all season, the Philadelphia Eagles could be excused for sending a lot of players home.
The Eagles got off to a terrible start following a disruptive week of camp that led to Terrell Owens' one-week banishment for bad behavior, letting the Steelers score the first two times they touched the ball in Pittsburgh's 38-31 preseason victory.
The Steelers scored on an interception return -- of Donovan McNabb's first pass of the preseason -- a punt return and a kickoff return, a trifecta of return touchdowns no NFL team has accomplished in a game that counted. Luckily for the NFC champion Eagles this one didn't, as they fell behind 14-0, 21-7 and 28-10 before rallying to make it close in the second half with reserves on the field for both teams.
"If we didn't understand the importance of special teams before, we certainly do after today," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You have to take that part of the game seriously, too. You have to take care of the football and you have to block and tackle."
The Eagles' first-team offense outplayed Pittsburgh's, except for Willie Williams' 10-yard interception return touchdown with 12 seconds gone, but that 14-0 deficit after only 2:05 elapsed was too much to overcome with the starters playing just over a quarter. Ricardo Colclough returned the Eagles' first punt 66 yards to score, an uncharacteristic mistake for a John Harbaugh-coached special-teams unit that is usually among the NFL's best.
|One of three non-offensive TDs, Ike Taylor returns this kickoff 100 yards.|
Any coincidence that coach Bill Cowher is a former NFL special-teams coach who was disappointed there were no return scores last season?
"Coach Cowher takes special teams real serious and he's really big on that, and you know you have to perform well," Taylor said.
Just before Taylor's touchdown, Eagles coach Andy Reid allowed McNabb to stay out long enough in the second quarter to throw an 8-yard scoring pass to L.J. Smith, finishing off a mistake-free, 70-yard scoring drive that covered 14 plays.
The Steelers' offense figured to get an emotional lift from wide receiver Hines Ward's decision to end his 15-day holdout and report just two hours before kickoff, though he didn't play. Ward, who reported without getting the reworked contract he is seeking, was among the first players off the bench to celebrate Taylor's return score.
"It gives us a lot of optimism because we know that he's here," Jerome Bettis said. "All of that other stuff is behind us, and it's a shot of adrenaline for him to be here."
For the Eagles, McNabb's numbers -- 14 of 19 for 132 yards, a touchdown and an interception -- were acceptable given he was working without either of his starting wide receivers, the absent Owens and Todd Pinkston, who is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. With Owens gone, rookie Reggie Brown made five catches for 52 yards.
"I saw that we can move the ball," Brown said. "We started off slow but once we got settled, we moved the ball up the field and scored."
Owens is due back Aug. 17 after being sent home by Reid last week, with Owens telling ESPN that he's been sent a letter outlining what the Eagles perceive to be his behavioral problems. Reid did not comment on the letter following the game.
With the Eagles on offense most of the first quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spent more time on the field at halftime accepting his team rookie of the year award than he did during the game, finishing 2 of 4 for 13 yards. Bettis, who figures to play little in the preseason with Duce Staley (knee surgery) out for at least a month, carried three times for 7 yards.
"There wasn't much to it," Roethlisberger said. "A couple of plays and it was pretty much over with. There are a lot of things we need to improve on, but it's hard to tell when you're only out there so long."
- Neither team had a running back gain more than 15 yards in the first half.
- Neither Taylor nor Colclough, who are competing for time at cornerback, has scored in a regular season game.
- Eagles LB Greg Richmond had surgery Monday to repair a herniated disk in his lower back.
- The Steelers' starting offense accounted for 29 yards during its only possession.
- The Steelers beat the Eagles 27-3 at Heinz Field during the season a year ago.