The Ravens defense had a chance to silence the critics who questioned its performance against the run in last Monday's victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, the unit may provided more ammunition.
Quarterback Michael Vick amassed 371 yards passing and punched in the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard keeper with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter to propel the Philadelphia Eagles to a 24-23 win and the Ravens into a week of re-evaluation.
Vick engineered a 10-play, 80-yard drive to record his second game-winning touchdown series this season. Afterward, inside linebacker Ray Lewis' diagnosis was simple and blunt.
"You can't keep giving them chances," he said. "Anytime you find yourself in a hostile environment [and] when you've got somebody down, you've got to put them away. We got turnovers, but the game goes back and forth. We knew this was a good team and we're a good team. They made plays, we made plays. But I just think we have to capitalize on all the plays we make."
Unlike a week ago when Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 5.1 yards per carry (91 yards on 18 attempts), the defense played tighter against the Eagles, limiting running back LeSean McCoy to a 3.2 average (81 yards on 25 carries).
But the defense had few answers for Vick in the passing game. Vick frequently used his mobility to buy time in the pocket and find receivers downfield such as the 23-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin that trimmed a 17-7 halftime deficit to three points.
Cornerback Cary Williams said the general rule of thumb for a secondary is about six seconds per play.
"Sometimes with Michael Vick, you get eight or nine," he said. "You've got to account for his ability to elude players and get out of tough situations. It puts a lot of pressure on us, but at the end of the day, we're the men up for the job, and we won't complain about it."
Vick's favorite targets were tight end Brent Celek and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Celek set a career high in receiving yards (157), and Jackson, who was hobbled by a hamstring injury in practice last week, had seven catches for 114 yards to make up for the loss of Maclin, who reinjured the hip pointer he suffered in Philadelphia's season opener.
"He was able to make plays, but we've got to see the film," inside linebacker Jameel McClain said of Celek. "We've got to see who did what, what could we have done better and make sure it doesn't happen. But he's an NFL player and he makes plays. So give the man credit."
The Ravens thought they had cemented their 2-0 start when defensive tackle Haloti Ngata appeared to sack and strip Vick on second -and-goal from their 1 and nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu pounced on the loose ball at the 2. But an official review ruled that Vick's left arm was moving forward, returning the ball to the Eagles.
On the ensuing play, Vick plowed up the middle to account for what would be the final score. Ngata, who didn't argue about the overturned fumble call, said the reversal was critical.
"If it was [confirmed], it's our ball, and we're driving down the field or punting it back further," he said. "But it is what it is, and we've got to move on."
That task doesn't figure to get easier for the defense, which must prepare for a New England Patriots offense that boasts quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Wes Welker. But Williams said there's no sense of panic within the team.
"That's stuff that's fixable," he said. "It's not like we should go into the tank after this. It's not like we're in dire straits. It is what it is. It's one game. We've got 14 other ones out there. We're just going to go out there and play Ravens defense and continue to get better and continue to better our communication and continue to get better as a group."