CLEVELAND - The Eagles won their fifth preseason game, but just barely.
Wait. It wasn't preseason, was it? It just smelled that way.
For the second consecutive season, a pedigreed group in green is expected to survive deep into January.
For the second consecutive season, a pedigreed group in green looked lousy in its opener, on the road, against a pathetic opponent.
Both times, they won.
Neither time, should it matter.
The Eagles scraped past the lousy Rams in St. Louis last season, then dropped four straight.
This time, against perhaps a worse team, they won by one point.
"We dodged a bazooka," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.
Michael Vick, who missed all but 12 plays in the preseason due to hand and rib injuries, threw four interceptions. He was as bad as he ever has been . . . but he didn't incur any of the 12 penalties for 110 yards. And he didn't fumble to end the first drive; that was running back LeSean McCoy, stripped clean on a cutback.
This, against perhaps the worst team in the league.
Cleveland is a perpetual expansion franchise, reloaded once again.
The Browns started five rookies, chief among them 28-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden, a former minor league pitcher who lacked his fastball. He threw four interceptions. His 5.1 passer rating was exactly 10 times worse than Vicks.
Featured back Trent Richardson, who missed the preseason following two knee surgeries, managed just 39 yards on 19 carries.
Yes, the Eagles' defense played effectively.
No, the Eagles' defense did not play a real NFL team.
The Eagles led, 10-3, at halftime.
If they play like this in a week when the Ravens visit, they will trail by 30.
And they know it.
"We felt like we played one of our worst games ever," said wide receiver Jason Avant. "And won. We feel like we just won the lottery."
Well, that's a step forward.
"Ugly game like this, in the past, we always lost," Avant said. "Oakland [in 2009]. Buffalo. Arizona."
Losses to the Bills and the Cardinals last season cost the Eagles a playoff berth.
A loss to the Browns on Opening Day might have blown the 2012 season to smithereens.
"We definitely dodged one there," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
The biggest name in a defensive backfield that underperformed last season, Asomugha and his unit shined Sunday.
Opposite corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted Weeden twice. Rookie nickel corner Brandon Boykin played well. Ohio native Kurt Coleman sealed the game with one of his two interceptions. Fellow safety Nate Allen made a couple of tackles, and Asomugha kept the Browns off the board with a touchdown-saving tackle in the second quarter that set up Coleman's first pick.
But, again, this was the Browns.
Can it really count?
Weeden on Sunday followed an illustrious line of failed franchise quarterbacks: Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn and Tim Couch.
Really, the Browns were better matched against the Temple Owls than the Eagles. Not only did the Browns start those five rookies, but once veteran corner Sheldon Brown left the game with a shoulder injury late in the first quarter, 11 of their top 22 players had fewer than three seasons of experience.
They call them the Baby Browns here in Cleveland.
The Eagles arrived ready to take the candy.
Cleveland, as a city, might never see a lovelier day than Sunday afternoon. Warm and breezy, sailboats and speedboats dotted the blue-green waves on Lake Erie both inside and beyond the breakwater, all under a cottonpuff sky.
Cleveland football fans might never see uglier football.
Vick could have had at least three other passes intercepted.
He fumbled twice; the Eagles recovered both.
McCoy lost 30 rushing yards in the second quarter on three holding penalties.
If ever a team deserved to lose, it was the Eagles.
But they did not.
"You saw a tough football team," said head coach Andy Reid, at once both ashamed and proud.
He has insisted that the 4-0 finish to the 4-8 start last season meant something.
Maybe it meant Sunday didn't become Oakland, or Buffalo, or Arizona. Maybe it meant that players didn't check out, as seemed to be the case so often last season, when the Dream Team went south.
Sunday, nobody bickered. Nobody cast blame.
"You can build with that attitude," Reid said.
"It's about how you fight," said Jenkins, who, last season and this, has become the defense's leader and spokesman. "I think we handled it good."
No one handled it worse last season than DeSean Jackson, who, seeking a contract extension, admitted unprofessionalism. Placated with a big-time deal, Jackson on Sunday quietly caught four passes for 77 yards, effectively served as a deep-threat decoy and even turned defender on one would-be interception.
Afterward, Jackson allowed that, even against a team like the Browns, the Eagles can lose focus.
"We've got to keep facing challenges," Jackson said, "not get complacent."
Well, not anymore.
At least they remained undefeated in preseason.