In a meaningful game for both teams, Eagles' cornerback Sheldon Brown sent a message early on during his team's 30-27 win over the Denver Broncos.
During the first quarter, Broncos' quarterback Kyle Orton completed a quick pass to wide receiver Brandon Marshall for three yards. But as the ball arrived in Marshall's mid -section, so did Brown, thumping the Broncos' receiver to the ground with a thud. Then, Brown looked toward the Broncos' sideline and pointed at his former visor-donning teammate, safety Brian Dawkins.
"The reason why I pointed at (Dawkins) is because he taught me how to play the game the right way," Brown said. "That way was to tackle the guy with the ball; you don't try and catch it. You don't get glory for that but if you punish him, you set the tempo and the tone and it affects the rest of the game. When I pointed at him, it was to give respect for what he showed me over the years.
"It's kind of like playing in front of a big brother. When you make a play you have to find him and say, 'Look what I'm doing.'"
The message wasn't lost on Dawkins, returning to Philadelphia for the first time since signing with the Broncos in the off-season. Dawkins spent 13 years with the Eagles, the last seven of those as a teammate of Brown.
"Sheldon is a brother of mine, and still a great friend of mine, and he was doing that as a respect thing," Dawkins said. "Those are the type of things that I expected from some of the guys over there ... It was just respect from Sheldon and some other guys as far as that is concerned."
Of course, the game was about far more than Dawkins' return for Brown and the Eagles' defense. Now at 11-4, the Eagles can lock up the NFC East division title and a possible first-round bye with a win in Dallas next week. But that wasn't assured after the Eagles relinquished a 17-point lead in the second half.
Late in the third quarter, the Broncos cut the Eagles' lead to 17-17 with a 7-yard touchdown catch by Jabar Gaffney. On the ensuing kickoff, Macho Harris, returning kicks in the absence of the injured Quintin Demps, fumbled the ball and the Broncos recovered. Two plays later, after a 16-yard touchdown catch by Knowshon Moreno, the lead was cut to three.
"Any time you turn the football over, that's when you have a fall off," Brown said. "You come to the sideline as a defense and you're trying to make corrections. Then, you have to run back and you don't have time to make corrections. Obviously, the offense is doing some things that are successful and when you have that sudden change, it's tough to go back out on the field."
That doesn't mean that Brown blames any individual, especially Harris, who also played the overwhelming majority of the game at safety.
"You have to make mistakes; that's the only way to learn anything in life," Brown said. "That's what an internship is for; you follow somebody and learn what they're doing so you don't screw it up. But in this situation, they don't have an opportunity to be an intern; they have to do it right now.
"When a guy's struggling, you leave him alone. You don't put any more pressure on him because he understands what he has to do. We've all been there. You don't play perfect all the time, it's how you respond. And (Harris) will respond great."
As the Eagles head into their final regular season game, there is still a lot to play for. The Eagles can occupy any of four different playoff seeds in the NFC, and more importantly, they have the momentum of a six-game winning streak to maintain.
As one of the leaders in the locker room, it's up to Brown to make sure the Eagles keep everything in perspective.
"It's about the next game," Brown said. "We're still a work in progress, progressing pretty well.
"We haven't (won anything yet)."
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 11:06 p.m., December 27