"When you win," Lorenzo Booker said, "a lot of things get swept under the rug."
The Eagles running back was smiling as he said this in the locker room after yesterday's 15-6 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Eagles did not play particularly well on offense, and they suffered some injuries that could turn out to be bigger problems than expected down the road. The two things - the not playing well and the injuries - were related, of course. The Eagles can't lose Brian Westbrook from a football game, or have Donovan McNabb wincing with each pass, and not feel the pain on the scoreboard.
"It was a great day for the defense to come up big," guard Todd Herremans said. "We'll give 'em our game ball."
The defense was the story yesterday, and if you look elsewhere, there will be plenty to read about it. The defensive line was all over Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson blitzed the Steelers at every opportunity. And Brian Dawkins made a statement play near the end of the game, doing a flying squirrel leap over a Pittsburgh blocker to chop the ball out of Roethlisberger's hand for a fumble.
All very impressive, and all of it contributing to the nasty details that ended up under the rug. For a few players, and Booker is one of them, the win saved them from some heavy explaining.
When Tony Hunt suffered a concussion on the first series of the game, and when Westbrook hurt his right ankle on the opening play of the second quarter, the Eagles were suddenly without their starting backfield.
Correll Buckhalter filled in well enough, although his rushing numbers were nothing spectacular. He did score the only touchdown of the game on a swing pass around the left side that ended with Buckhalter leaping a defender to make the end zone.
Booker's day didn't go as well. He ran five times for 11 yards and caught two balls for 5 yards. The play he would most like to see under the rug, however, came late in the second quarter, when he whiffed on a block and linebacker James Farrior smacked into McNabb. The collision caused McNabb to throw an interception that led to a Pittsburgh field goal just before the half.
"It was my man, all right," Booker said. "I did the thing you're never supposed to do. I bit on the outside move. When you miss a block, it's the same as dropping a ball. Donovan was already feeling bad, and that hurt him, too."
McNabb had already taken a shot to the chest earlier in the half. He was worked on by the training staff on the sideline, made some test tosses - with Kevin Kolb also warming up in the process - and stayed in the game despite being obviously in pain. He was still 16 for 19, but it was Kolb who started the second half before McNabb returned during the Eagles' second series of that half.
Without Westbrook, the Eagles didn't present as many problems for the Steelers' defense to solve. Buckhalter is a good player, but he isn't Westbrook. Nobody is.
The passing lanes were suddenly tougher for McNabb to navigate. He was just 8 for 16 in the second half, and the running game took its bites in ever smaller portions. For the game, the Eagles gained just 65 yards on 23 carries.
"I was a bit conservative in the second half. They were playing deep cover two [pass coverage], and I tried to run the ball more and bank on the offensive line," coach Andy Reid said. "We could have run the ball better."
They could have run the ball more, too. It felt to Reid as if he and Marty Mornhinweg were calling more runs, but that wasn't really the case. The Eagles had 10 running plays and 20 passes in the first half, 11 running plays and 16 passes in the second half, not counting a McNabb knee to end the game.
That doesn't represent a significant adjustment, but it does represent just how much a healthy Westbrook and McNabb mean to this offense.
"You don't replace Brian by just plugging somebody in," Booker said. "No, you just don't."
Westbrook has what Reid called a "strained" right ankle. He will have an MRI test today to determine if there is ligament or tendon damage in the area. He left the locker room on crutches last night, moving slowly, although not quite as slowly as the Eagles' offense without him.
"We didn't get done what we wanted to today," Herremans said, "but we got through it."
The Eagles are hoping for good news about Westbrook today. They are also hoping that the first ding of the season suffered by McNabb isn't a harbinger of things to come.
This could be a very interesting season, particularly if the defense shows up again every week, but yesterday's game also was a reminder of how tenuous the business can be.
Some people can't be replaced, some wins can slip away and become losses, and some things will eventually refuse to be hidden beneath the rug.