The worst preseason half you ever saw was also the first this year in which the Eagles didn’t manage to get a quarterback injured, so there was that.
Somewhere in there amid the dozen first-half penalties the Eagles took for 90 yards and the 203 first-half passing yards accumulated by Baltimore future Hall of Fame rookie quarterback Trace McSorley, there was stuff that might matter when the season commences Sept. 8 against Washington.
Oh, before we get to that — lightning halted the game at Lincoln Financial Field with 11 minutes, 43 seconds remaining and the Ravens leading, 26-15. Baltimore got to extend its preseason win streak to 16 games. The parade is scheduled for Saturday.
Eagles starting safety Rodney McLeod, recovering from knee surgery, saw his first action since Week 3 last year, and made three first-quarter tackles. This would seem to put McLeod on a trajectory to start the season, something he verified afterward.
Most of the healthy Eagles starters played a little. That group did not include Carson Wentz, but it did include DeSean Jackson, who no doubt will savor the memory of watching a Cody Kessler sideline pass whiz by him, 5 yards wide of its target. That was the closest the ball went to Jackson.
“I’m comfortable with where he is, how he’s leading this football team, and just felt like this was another opportunity to look at the other guys,” Pederson said, when asked about Wentz. Since starters never play in the traditional preseason-ending matchup with the Jets next Thursday, Wentz officially will not take a preseason snap.
Kessler, concussed last week at Jacksonville, started for the Eagles and was not good.
Last week’s concussion happened because Kessler didn’t get rid of the ball fast enough, and he built on that body of work Thursday night, seemingly unable to quickly process what was happening in front of him and pretty much wasting the evening for the offensive starters, who exited after the first quarter.
Forty-year-old quarterback Josh McCown, who came out of retirement last weekend and played Thursday on the strength of three Eagles practices, got off to a ragged start but eventually found a rhythm. By then, though, Penn State alumnus McSorley had embarrassed the backup Eagles defenders to the tune of a 19-0 advantage that stretched to 26-0 by halftime, with Jake Elliott missing a 41-yard field goal.
“I hate how we started, how I started, but we finally got some good things going,” McCown said. “I think we all looked at it as an extended practice, really. For myself, just being here [a few days], that’s how I looked at it. Just another chance for me to call these plays, these new plays, get a look at them, run them, get to the line of scrimmage, and handle some things. I needed as much work as I could get to be caught up to speed.”
Pederson and McCown specifically credited quarterbacks coach Press Taylor with getting McCown ready to play.
The Eagles had two first downs with 6 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter, when the Ravens kicked off with a 19-0 lead.
Early on, some Eagles starters had nice moments. Brandon Graham welcomed Ravens first-round rookie wideout Marquise Brown to the NFL by enveloping him for a 4-yard loss on an end-around. Graham said he was happily surprised to see Brown right in front of him, with the ball, and took full advantage. Corey Clement, in his first preseason action as he returns from a knee injury, reeled off an 11-yard run.
“It’s been since December, so getting back with the first team and just getting the feel back into the game, it was awesome,” said Clement, who gained 25 yards on seven carries.
But deep sub corners Josh Hawkins and Jeremiah McKinnon were grilled, roasted, fried, and toasted by the Ravens and McSorley, who went into halftime 16-for-24 for 203 yards, two touchdowns, and a 120.7 passer rating.
McCown showed the bored home crowd why the Eagles signed him by lofting a 20-yard touchdown pass to second-round rookie wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on the first drive of the third quarter, and then throwing a TD pass again, against a blitz, 9 yards to tight end Alex Ellis in the back of the end zone, later in the third.
McCown was 17-for-24 for 192 yards and a 122.2 passer rating. Granted, it was against a bunch of guys who might or might not end up on NFL rosters, but still, three days of practice, new to the offense, 40 years old.
Arcega-Whiteside helped make the second half worth sticking around for. Through three quarters he had eight catches for 104 yards and the TD, on nine targets. He was advertised as a red zone threat, and the TD with McCown showed that, the rookie outrunning two defenders to the ball and extending to make the catch with both feet inbounds. He said he decided to take wideout coach Carson Walch’s advice and “just play fast” on the TD play, not obsessing over technique.
McCown said he couldn’t take credit for any chemistry with Arcega-Whiteside, or anyone else, given how little time he has spent with them. He admitted to fumbling for teammates’ names in the huddle. But he certainly seems to have the inside track on the backup job, behind Wentz, though officially, Pederson Thursday night called it “a challenging decision,” that would be made after the preseason finale. Nate Sudfeld, sidelined since the preseason opener with a wrist fracture, won’t be ready for Week 1.
“His preparedness to play is huge,” McCown said of Arcega-Whiteside. “For a young player, he carries himself the right way. … I can’t take any credit for that.”
Arcega-Whiteside said he wasn’t surprised to see McCown hit the ground running.
“He’s been in the league so long for a reason. There were a couple [blocking] calls out there he made, I was like ‘dude, what are you doing?’ And then post-snap, the defense changes … he knew it was going to happen.”
Greg Ward, the former college quarterback turned wideout from Houston making a strong roster bid in his third Eagles training camp, caught four passes for 45 yards. McCown said Ward “made an unbelievable catch” on the sideline that helped McCown settle in.
Rookie Clayton Thorson replaced McCown for the fourth quarter, but he didn’t get to do much before a bright flash intruded. Unfortunately, unlike in “Men in Black,” it did not erase anyone’s memory of the first half.