Andy Reid heard them. He heard them loud and clear.

Four days after his son died and two days after he buried him, the Eagles coach walked onto the Lincoln Financial Field grass Thursday night for what was essentially a meaningless game.

In their 2012 preseason opener, the Eagles starters played as if the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers had no significance. The team won, 24-23, on Alex Henery's 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

The Eagles won despite the futility of the starters, and they survived a scare - and the prospect of Mike Kafka as their starting quarterback - when an X-ray on Michael Vick's left thumb came back negative.

But there was plenty of meaning behind the ovation Eagles fans gave Reid - first after a moment of silence in memory of Garrett Reid, who died Sunday, and then again when a Reid family statement offering gratitude was flashed on the stadium scoreboard.

Reid took off his black cap and waved it after the first ovation from a less-than-half-full Linc. He pumped his fist when a larger crowd serenaded him in the first quarter.

"An-dy, An-dy," many fans chanted in unison.

"That stuff is so humbling," said Reid. "I take that as a compliment to my son and my family. ... I appreciate every bit of it. We feel the love."

The mantra stood in sharp contrast to nine months ago, when an enraged throng of fans sang, "Fire, An-dy, Fire, An-dy," after an unsuccessful fourth-down call by Reid sealed a blowout loss to the New England Patriots.

But Sunday's tragedy has brought out the best in Philadelphia sports fans, who have taken to talk-radio airwaves and Internet message boards to express their sympathies after Reid's eldest son was found dead in his Lehigh University dorm room.

Reid was joined by his two other sons, Britt and Spencer, on the sidelines as the stadium rose to reflect on the passing of Garrett Reid, whose image was on display. There was a moment of silence and then the applause grew and grew.

It was a nice moment.

Too bad the Eagles had to play.

It was only the preseason - keep repeating it - and the Birds were missing five starters, but Reid's first unit was terrible in a little over one quarter. Vick took only six snaps, and he was without wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who injured a hamstring in pregame warm-ups, but the offense had no rhythm.

"The whole week we've battling through everything - the situation that just happened," running back LeSean McCoy said. "We're just trying to weather that."

Of greater concern was the effort from the defense. Again, key players were missing - defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole didn't suit up. But the defensive-line play was the lone bright spot. End Phillip Hunt, who may have already secured a roster spot, recorded two sacks. Darryl Tapp split another sack with linebacker Brian Rolle.

The woes on defense last season, however, were hardly because of the front four. It was the back seven who had problems. It was defensive coordinator Juan Castillo who had difficulty implementing a scheme that utilized his talent.

The same issues plagued the linebackers and defensive backs early Thursday night - missed tackles, missed assignments, confusion.

Thursday night was only a small sample and safety Nate Allen was also out with an injury. His replacement, Jaiquawn Jarrett, whiffed on one tackle attempt and struck out on another when he missed Jonathan Dwyer and hit defensive end Vinny Curry as the running back zoomed 33 yards.

A play earlier, the newly acquired DeMeco Ryans couldn't wrap up running back Chris Rainey, who ran 14 yards. The Steelers scored on the drive - backup quarterback Byron Leftwich hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 2-yard touchdown pass - to take a 10-0 lead.

The defense did a little better on Pittsburgh's opening drive, holding the Steelers to a Shaun Suisham 46-yard field goal. But it took 16 plays for the Eagles to hold them.

As bad as the Eagles starters looked, it wasn't as dreadful as last August, when Ben Roethlisberger directed two touchdown-scoring drives and three of Vick's 12 passes were intercepted.

Vick completed 3 of 4 passes for only 6 yards and was sacked once. On his last throw he hit the back of center Jason Kelce's helmet with his left thumb. He ran to the sideline clutching his hand as Eagles fans feared the worst.

Kafka didn't do much to instill confidence in those who think he doesn't have the moxie to be Vick's backup. He was 5 of 9 for 31 yards passing and threw an ill-advised pass into the arms of defensive end Al Woods.

There was a flicker of light at quarterback, though. Rookie Nick Foles looked sharp in his quarter of play, completing 6 of 10 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or, or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.