Sunday had to be one of the best regular season days I can remember. Things went great for the Eagles in the 1 PM games to set up a win-and-in showdown with Dallas. The playoffs went from being a distant mirage to a very real possibility. With the season on the line, the Eagles dominated all three phases of the game and won 44-6.
Let's start with the early games. I have multiple televisions so I can track several games at once. I was focused on the Bears/Texans game as well as the Raiders/Buccaneers game. I got down a bit when Chicago jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Oakland held their own with Tampa, but I didn't feel much confidence in that game.
Things didn't look so great.
Then the Houston offense woke up. They put up 31 points and took a 31-17 lead to the late stages of the game. My confidence had changed entirely in that game. Former Eagle Ryan Moats scored on a 2-yard touchdown run for the Texans which helped the cause. Thank you, Mr. Moats.
The Oakland/Tampa Bay game was all over the place. The Raiders had a 14-7 lead for a while, but the Bucs tied it up and then took a 24-14 lead in the early fourth quarter. I talked to a friend on the phone and was despondent, "Our season's over. No way the Raiders come back from down 10. Might as well be a million-point deficit."
Oakland used a trick play to get down the field and that set up a touchdown to cut the lead to only three. The Raiders got the ball back and Michael Bush broke out on a 58-yard touchdown run to give them a 28-24 lead. They later added a field goal and held on for the win.
The football gods had conspired to give the Eagles a chance at the postseason. Would we blow it? Would the Cowboys come up with some game-of-the-century kind of performance? Would we seize the opportunity and show what a high-character team can do when given a second chance?
Andy Reid's teams always play well in December. Sunday was no different. The Eagles came out and played big. They rose to the occasion rather than going gently into the good night. The Cowboys on the other hand were a complete mess. They didn't look all that much different than the Rams did in the season opener at Lincoln Financial Field (which we won 38-3).
I have to admit to being nervous as the game began. I was ecstatic that we had a shot at the postseason, but I figured the Cowboys were going to be a tough game no matter what happened. I didn't count on them falling apart like a house of cards.
Jim Johnson's defense had been brilliant over the second half of the season, but Dallas has a lot of weapons. I thought this would be a major test to see just how good the defense was. Johnson's group of attacking defenders won the game. They dominated. He challenged them with an aggressive game plan and the players responded with great results. They scored two touchdowns and allowed only three points when the game was even remotely close. The defense forced five turnovers and pressured Tony Romo all game long. He was only sacked three times, but he took a major beating. In the early-season loss to Dallas, Romo was not pressured and was able to shred our defense apart.
Trent Cole didn't have a sack or tackle, but he brought pressure all game long. He pounded Romo into the turf every chance he got. Those shots don't always show up in the box score, but you can see the results of them as the game moves along. Romo played scared. He threw the ball off his back foot multiple times. He threw the ball away a few times.
I mentioned Chris Clemons as a guy to watch in my preview. I thought this was the kind of game where he could make an impact. Boy, did he ever. Clemons had two tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery that he ran back for a touchdown. His speed was a problem for blockers. Clemons got pressure on a few pass plays and proved to be a disruptive force.
Brian Dawkins has to get special mention after his performance. Let's forget the football side of things for a minute. His energy and emotion had a major impact on the game. Dawkins celebrated every chance he got. It wasn't done in a "look at me" kind of way, but rather someone genuinely loving the moment. I think the other players fed off that vibe. There was some circular synergy where Dawkins, the crowd and the other players all fed off each other. I believe that emotion can be overrated in football, but it wasn't in this case. The emotion showed through on the field.
Dawkins played every snap like his life depended on it. He finished with five tackles, a sack and a pair of forced fumbles (that both were returned for scores). Dawkins' numbers don't tell the whole story. He hit every Cowboys player he could. Tashard Choice had a short run up the middle. Dawk flung himself at Choice even though he could clearly see the runner was going down. Dawkins wanted to get a shot in every chance he could. He wanted to send a message to the Dallas players: go home. Dawkins wasn't getting in late hits or cheap shots. Nothing even close. He was just finding someone to hit on every possible snap.
Not only did Dawkins have a pair of forced fumbles. Not only were both returned for scores. Both of them stopped Dallas scoring drives. The Cowboys had gotten inside the red zone on each play only to be stripped of the ball. The score was already 27-3 and Dallas faced a major uphill battle, but those two plays cemented the game and allowed Eagles players and fans to sit back and enjoy the experience.
Thank you, Mr. Dawkins.
Akeem Jordan led the team with 11 tackles and had a pair of tackles-for-loss. He made plays all over the field. Quintin Mikell did a good job in coverage on Jason Witten. Sheldon Brown came up with his first pick of the year and just missed two more. Stewart Bradley was disruptive with his blitzing up the middle on run and pass plays. I could go on and discuss every defensive player. They all had a hand in this showing.
The offense can't be overlooked. They helped build the 27-3 lead with clutch plays and excellent execution in the red zone.
Donovan McNabb had a good game. He had two touchdown passes. He helped us to go six-of-nine on third downs in the first half. McNabb made a few terrific throws. He executed very well late in the half when the clock was an issue. He sneaked for the other touchdown. It wasn't a great game, but he gave us what we needed. He led us to first downs and touchdowns. He also protected the ball.
Correll Buckhalter was the standout running back. He had a 33-yard run and a 59-yard pass play. The long pass set up the first touchdown of the game. McNabb dumped the ball to him and Buckhalter took off down the field. He ran through one tackle and then used his speed to get all the way down inside the 10-yard line. He caught a short pass for a score on the next drive. Buckhalter led the team in rushing and receiving. Outstanding game for him.
DeSean Jackson contributed a big catch that set up Buckhalter's touchdown. We faced third-and-9 from the Dallas 38-yard line. Jackson lined up in the right slot and initially started inside, then went back outside. That caused Terence Newman to turn as he ran and let Jackson get a step on him. McNabb threw a perfect pass. Jackson reached up at the last second and brought the ball in just as Newman was starting to look for it. That put us down at the 4-yard line.
Brian Westbrook had more than 60 yards of offense. Brent Celek caught three passes, one for a touchdown, and blocked well while starting in place of L.J. Smith. Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis each caught key third down passes to move the chains. It really was a group effort.
Dallas came into the game leading the league in sacks. DeMarcus Ware had hopes of a big day that would help him set the NFL record for sacks in a season. The offensive line shut him down. Celek, Westbrook, Buckhalter, and fullback Dan Klecko all helped in pass protection. Buckhalter had a good chip block before catching his pass that turned into a long gainer. He also had a good blitz pickup on the pass to Jackson. Tra Thomas stood out the most of the linemen. He had the most chances to single block Ware and more than held his own.
Earlier, I mentioned the Eagles won all three phases. That is exactly true and we can't ignore special teams. Quintin Demps had a quiet day as a kickoff returner so he made up for that by doing well covering kicks. He had two coverage tackles and stripped Adam Jones late in the half. That fumble was recovered by Omar Gaither and led to a 50-yard field goal attempt, which David Akers nailed. Three free points to end the half.
Jackson had a 21-yard punt return that helped to set up our first scoring drive of the game. We had good coverage when Dallas tried a trick play on a kickoff return. Miles Austin lateraled the ball to Jones, who bobbled the ball and was tackled at the 11-yard line.
In my wildest dreams I didn't see the Eagles winning 44-6. I was hoping for a win and thought asking for a 10-point margin might be greedy. In the biggest game of the year, the Eagles players delivered a terrific performance that put the team in the playoffs. The defense is red hot right now. In the month of December, the defense has allowed two touchdowns and scored three. That is the kind of play that can carry a team deep into the playoffs. We'll see what the guys can do. Sunday was a great win and hopefully will be the start of something special.