EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In an entertaining 36-31 loss to the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 9, the Eagles' offense was still missing a relatively important cog.
Sure, Brian Westbrook played in that game, but his 59 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches eliminated any chance of the Eagles committing to the run game. But there was something different about the Westbrook that suited up against the Giants on Sunday.
It was a difference all too familiar to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Westbrook, who has made a career of killing the intradivision rivals, returned to form in the Eagles' 20-14 win at Giants Stadium. Westbrook carried the offense with two backbreaking touchdowns, and the coaches' confidence in him allowed the Eagles to dominate the time of possession game.
And in the swirling winds of Giants Stadium, an explosion from the run game is exactly what the Eagles needed.
"It was one of those days. We were able to run the ball successfully early, and (head coach Andy Reid) stayed with it. He was very committed to it," Westbrook said. "I give a lot of credit to him, because usually we're not that committed to it." Photo Gallery : PHI vs. NYG 12-7-08
A 30-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put the Eagles up 10-0 and helped Westbrook begin to open things up. Before that point, Westbrook was as generally ineffective as he was in that Nov. 9 meeting.
After that touchdown, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg kept pounding. Westbrook ran the ball 33 times, a career-high, against the NFC's second-ranked run defense. But it was on a screen pass that he made his biggest impact. On a third-and-11 early in the fourth quarter, Westbrook got behind the Giants' pass rush, took a dump-off from McNabb and raced 40 yards to paydirt, taking advantage of a mismatch with linebacker Antonio Pierce. That touchdown gave the Eagles a 10-point lead that they would not surrender.
Westbrook put up 203 yards from scrimmage (131 rushing and 72 receiving), passing former wide receiver Harold Carmichael for the franchise's all-time lead in the process. But more importantly, Westbrook helped to keep the 7-5-1 Eagles afloat in the NFC playoff race for another week, at least.
Winning their final four games, though not the only mathematical means, has been generally considered the Eagles' only way of sneaking into one of the two NFC wild card slots. But that task becomes much easier after beating New York on the road, a game in which the Eagles improbably dominated the game at the line of scrimmage.
"When your offensive line is doing what they did today," Westbrook said, "anything can happen."
The blustery, windy conditions immediately seemed to favor the smash-mouth, hard-knock Giants, and the Eagles were down to their third-stringer at right guard, Nick Cole. But the Eagles' defense didn't allow any points until 15 seconds were remaining in the game, and Westbrook did the rest. His effectiveness allowed quarterback Donovan McNabb to relax and focus on short, high-percentage throws in poor conditions.
And Westbrook is improving physically. First, the three extra days of rest Westbrook got from playing last Thursday couldn't have hurt. Then, there's the fact that he's just getting healthier in general, as nagging knee and ankle injuries slowly fade away.
The numbers say it all: Westbrook's 203-yard performance almost outgained the Giants' offense (211 yards). In all, Westbrook has six touchdowns in his last two games, after going scoreless in three straight.
"Based on what we did the last time we played them, I'm sure they weren't expecting us to run the ball as much," he said. "We had some success early and that really paid dividends for us at the end of the game."