In the end, after all the pomp and circumstance, the cheers and the improbable nature of a football blowout gone wild, the Eagles emerged from a battle with Denver on top, 30-27, thanks to, well, thanks to an entire team pulled it together after nearly letting it all fall apart.
Up 17 points in the third quarter and about ready to blow the doors off of Denver, the Eagles suffered a sudden, unexpected collapse. Two touchdowns in less than a minute gave the Broncos life and made the fourth quarter of a gorgeous football late afternoon and early evening at Lincoln Financial Field a teeth-gnashing, edge-of-the-seat affair.
The Eagles won it late, as they have done three times during this wonderful six-game winning streak, as Donovan McNabb's sideline pass to Jeremy Maclin, initially ruled incomplete and then overturned by replay review, gained 27 yards to the Denver 13-yard line and set up David Akers for a 28-yard field goal with 4 seconds to go to push the Eagles to 11-4 with a frenzied week of "Dallas sucks" moments ahead.
Maclin's catch, on a second-and-8 snap from the Denver 40-yard line, was spectacular. He broke off a go route and McNabb's throw to Maclin's back shoulder was right on target. Maclin extended his body, catch the ball cleanly and got both feet inbounds. The initial ruling was that Maclin was out of bounds on the left sideline.
Upon further review, it was a 27-yard catch that rookies just don't make. This one did, however, and the Eagles suddenly had a first down at Denver's 13-yard line with 59 seconds to go. The Eagles ran three running plays, milked the clock and gave Akers a chance to win the game. The snap from Jon Dorenbos was perfect, the hold from Sav Rocca was right and Akers was true on his kick as the Lincoln Financial Field crowd went nuts.
How it became a ball game after the Eagles roared out to the 17-point lead -- 27-10 -- was, well, bothersome. Very much so. From the very moment they touched the football, the Eagles were electric, explosive and darn near unstoppable in scoring 27 points. McNabb was brilliant completing 15 of 19 passes for 242 yards and two scores in the first half, and while the Eagles should have had more points, they still led 20-7 with the ball to open the third quarter.
And they immediately had a big play -- McNabb to Maclin for 25 yards -- and it looked like the route was on. It didn't happen that way. McNabb threw an interception on the second play of the third quarter and Denver turned the takeaway into three points. But then the offense drove 80 yards in six plays and McNabb threw a touchdown pass to Jason Avant that went off of safety Renaldo Hill's hand, bounced off of Avant's right hand before he secured it with his left for a tremendous six points.
It was 27-10. It was time to party. Brian Dawkins, given a standing ovation when he entered the field as Denver's defense was introduced, was on the other sidelines but he wasn't much of a factor on the field. And then it all started to unravel.
An Asante Samuel interception and 40-yard return to the 48-yard line appeared to be the final nail, but Macho Harris was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty on the play when he hit tight end Tony Scheffler -- the intended receiver on the play -- and the Eagles started the drive at their 1-yard line, rather than the 48.
Just like that, and I mean instantly, the offense went in the tank. McNabb fumbled the snap on first down and then threw two poor passes and Sav Rocca punted. He got off a 40-yard kick and the Broncos, after the return and a penalty on Tracy White, took over on the Eagles' 25-yard line. Five plays later, Kyle Orton threw to Jabar Gaffney for a score and it was a ballgame once again.
Everyone's blood pressure rose even more when Harris fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Denver recovered at the Philadelphia 16-yard line. Two plays later, Orton went to Knowshon Moreno for a score and, uh-oh, it was 27-24 and the momentum was definitely in the corner of the Broncos.
By that time, the Eagles were strangely out of sync offensively. They had nothing, literally, until a McNabb scramble on third-and-25 from the Eagles 15-yard line gave them 27 yards and a first down and changed field position. The drive stalled, but the Eagles titled the field in their favor. Rocca got off a 40-yard punt to the Denver 9-yard line and the Eagles held on three downs to set up McNabb and to give Maclin a chance to grab his share of the heroics.
You want to analyze this game? Good luck. The Eagles showed a glimpse of how devastating they can be offensively, and the awful performance from midway through the third quarter to late in the fourth quarter was an example of the team's nagging penchant for going into prolonged funks. Why does this team let the pedal off the metal at times?
The defense, on the other hand, did an excellent job of winning the fourth quarter. The Eagles allowed just one first down in that quarter and they pressured Orton and took a very successful slip screen away from Denver's arsenal. Gaffney, with 7 catches, 69 yards and 2 touchdowns, was far more difficult to defend than Brandon Marshall, who was a target on 13 throws and who ended with 8 catches for 39 yards. Orton, as ugly as he can be at times in the pocket, tossed 3 touchdowns and only one interception.
At this time of the year, you stop analyzing. The final two weeks of the regular season are usually as crazy as are the first two weeks, as evidenced by the upsets on Sunday. Bottom line: The Eagles are 11-4 with a division title in the balance Sunday at Dallas.
The Brian Dawkins story? The fans gave him a fine, fine ovation when he was announced before the game. He didn't come out for pre-game warmups worried, he said later, of letting his emotions get the best of him. In the game, Dawkins had 8 tackles but wasn't much of a factor in the overall scheme of things. After the game, he exchanged pleasantries with the players, waved to the fans and answered a handful of questions about his performance and the return to Philadelphia.
End of that story.
This story keeps rolling. The Eagles have won six consecutive games in just about every fashion, the latest a nail-biter that for a long, long time looked like it would be a stroll in the park.
* NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- Brian Westbrook had 9 carries for 32 yards and 2 receptions for 5 yards and looked like he had some quickness and moves in his first game in six weeks. Most important, Westbrook came out of the game with no injuries and could play an increased role in the weeks to come. The Eagles ran the ball 28 times for 105 yards and McNabb was 20 of 35 passing. Good balance, especially in a wide-open first half.
- Macho Harris really struggled in the kickoff return game, but he is about the best option the team has until Quintin Demps is healthy. Demps was inactive after battling his ankle injury all week. Let's hope he is ready to play in Dallas. Harris, by the way, took most of the snaps at free safety in the game. Thus, the Eagles had four rookies -- Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Moise Fokou, playing a ton. McCoy had 6 carries for 27 yards and caught a screen pass for 39 yards.
- Champ Bailey did a nice job on DeSean Jackson, who caught 4 passes for 33 yards and was a target on 10 passes.
- Great, great catch by Brent Celek on a seam route that he ran. McNabb threw a perfect pass and Celek made a fingertips catch for a 31-yard gain.
- The Eagles missed Michael Vick and I don't care what anybody says. He plays a crucial role in this offense. The Eagles were 4 of 13 on third downs and 2 of 5 in the red zone. The final red-zone possession, of course, was the winning field goal drive.
- Maclin has 52 catches for 715 yards and 4 touchdowns. Not bad at all considering he reported late for training camp, was used sparingly early on and then missed last week's game. The kid has a chance to be special.
- Jason Peters was beaten by Elvis Dumervil on the Eagles' first drive, but then he played well. The Eagles didn't give him much help against Dumervil, who recorded two sacks in the game.
- That slip screen the Broncos ran is the same one Dallas used effectively in the game earlier in the season. The Eagles stopped it when Joselio Hanson shot the gap and nailed Marshall for a 4-yard loss. "I don't think we saw it again after that," said safety Quintin Mikell.
- In case you missed it, Sunday's game at Dallas has been moved to 4:15 p.m. Oh boy, is this going to be a great, great Eagles week!