Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) celebrates his touchdown in the first half Thursday against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feels the pressure from the Eagles defense just before getting sacked in the first quarter.
Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks to the sidelines after getting sacked in the first quarter of last night's loss to Philadelphia.
The Steelers' Cortez Allen, left, and Will Allen gang tackle Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson in Thursday's preseason opener in Philadelphia.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- Todd Haley unveiled his new offense, such as it is, Thursday night, and there was a big difference from those the Steelers have run the past several years.
It featured no Mike Wallace, no Rashard Mendenhall, a few missing starters in the line and, before the first team could get out of there, two knee injuries.
By the time the smoke and all the third- and fourth-stringers from both sides cleared the field, the Philadelphia Eagles came from behind to win, 24-23, on Alex Henery's 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.
The Steelers had taken the lead with 1:57 to go, 23-21, on rookie Daniel Hrapmann's 43-yard field goal.
Ben Roethlisberger spent one very long opening series tossing a lot of very short passes mixed among some short runs as the Steelers took 16 plays to move 52 yards and score on Shaun Suisham's 46-yard field goal.
Roethlisberger said, basically, that the offense was vanilla and really did not go deep into the playbook.
"They're a good team," Roethlisberger said of the Eagles, who play in Heinz Field for real Oct. 7. "We expected big things from them, and it's preseason, so you are not seeing a bunch of crazy stuff. We just wanted to come out and be physical and see how we could match up."
Some air went out of that first drive when fullback David Johnson hobbled off with a right knee injury in the middle of it. Coach Mike Tomlin called it "severe" after the game, and it appears it is a torn ACL, knocking him out for the season. The only other fullback on the roster is Will Johnson of West Virginia, signed this year after being out of football in 2011.
There was somewhat better news about rookie offensive tackle Mike Adams, who also left in the first quarter with a right knee injury, and backup running back Jonathan Dwyer. Adams does not have a severe injury, and Dwyer has an AC sprain. Dwyer had put them in position to score the first touchdown with a 33-yard run.
The idea in these first preseason games is to get the first team some quick work, then get them out quickly so the young players can get the work and the starters can be safe.
Sometimes, it just doesn't go as planned.
It was hard to tell whether Haley's offense went as planned or not. That first drive took nearly 10 minutes to move half a football field, and only one play covered more than 8 yards -- a 17-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders down the left sideline after the quarterback scrambled away from pressure.
In the third quarter, 5-foot-8 rookie halfback Chris Rainey showed what he might add to the new offense by ripping off a 53-yard touchdown after a short pass from quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who played the entire second half.
"He is explosive," Roethlisberger said of the rookie. "He brings a lot to the table, and you never know what you are going to get. You just give him the ball and you sit there and watch because he is explosive and fun."
Antonio Brown, the Steelers' MVP last season, was not disappointed by what he saw.
"We came out, executed, got our looks, executed our new offense, got an opportunity to get a look at a defense opposite of ours and run our new plays," Brown said.
"So it was a good chance to see the offense operate at a game level and ready ourselves from that aspect."
Among the things that did not differ from past years: Roethlisberger was sacked twice in that first series, the first time when Adams could not contain defensive end Phillip Hunt. Adams, a second-round draft choice, was promoted to the first team last week over veteran Trai Essex, but he still must hold off another veteran, Max Starks, currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
David DeCastro, a first-round pick, started at right guard because Ramon Foster moved to left guard to replace the injured Willie Colon.
Roethlisberger completed seven of eight passes for 49 yards on that drive but also lost 11 yards to sacks. Dwyer carried twice for 40 yards before his injury.
After Suisham's opening-drive field goal, the Steelers scored twice more in the second quarter for a 13-0 halftime lead.
Byron Leftwich threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Sanders after two long runs set the Steelers up inside the 5 -- 14 on a draw by Rainey and 33 yards by Dwyer through a big hole off the left side that involved DeCastro.
"We definitely expect big things," Sanders said of the 2012 offense. "We don't really set limits. We feel like the sky is the limit so we don't put a limit on anything. We just go out and try to work extremely hard because it will all pay off."
Suisham kicked his second field goal, from 31 yards, after defensive end Al Woods returned an interception 51 yards to the Philadelphia 4.
But the emphasis on red-zone efficiency this year hardly showed up after Woods turned the ball over to his offense.
Baron Batch carried twice, losing one and gaining one back. Rainey then took a handoff from Leftwich in the shotgun and was tackled for a 9-yard loss.
The Eagles finally scored in the third quarter and did it in a big way when rookie Damaris Johnson flashed open and caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Nick Foles.
Johnson put a move on Steelers cornerback Curtis Brown and got behind the entire secondary to make it 13-7.
The next time the Eagles got the ball, Foles went after Brown again.
This time, Brown had good coverage on a deep pass down the left sideline but never saw the ball until it landed in the arms of Gilyard, who landed on the pylon for a 44-yard touchdown.
That was two consecutive plays, two touchdowns over Brown for 114 yards.
That gave Philadelphia a short-lived, 14-13 lead. A few plays later, the Steelers responded with a different kind of long touchdown pass. From the shotgun at his 43, Johnson tossed a short pass to rookie Rainey, who had lined up next to him.
Rainey caught it at his 40 and turned it into a 57-yard touchdown reception by weaving through and then outrunning the defense to the end zone.
The Steelers were back in front, 20-14.
Philadelphia regained a 21-20 lead with 5:26 left when Trent Edwards tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jamel Hamler, who eluded tacklers Myron Rolle and Andre Freeman to score.
That set up the late matching field goals that gave the Eagles the victory.