IRVING, Texas - All season, the Eagles have been waiting for a major contribution from their tight end. If you had Brent Celek coming up with one of the top performances all season at that position, you win the pool.

With L.J. Smith inactive for yesterday's game with the Cowboys, and Smith's replacement, Matt Schobel, taken out on the first series on a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by Dallas safety Ken Hamlin, Celek was the last available tight end on the Eagles' roster. That meant a lot more offensive snaps, and it meant the rookie from Cincinnati - normally a blocker - would become one of Donovan McNabb's top targets.

Celek came through, catching three passes for 50 yards, including a huge 29-yard catch down the middle on a third-and-nine play in the fourth quarter. That put the Eagles deep in Dallas territory, and allowed them to keep possession on what became the game's final drive in their 10-6 victory.

"You've got to always be ready in this league," Celek said. "At any time, anybody can go down. You have to be ready."

Schobel didn't return after Hamlin's hit sent him to the ground, and his head bounced off the Texas Stadium turf. He suffered a concussion on the play, and Eagles coach Andy Reid was irate that no penalty was called.

But Celek held up, while playing his normal spot on the kickoff and punt coverage teams as well. Special teams coordinator Rory Seacrest told him he could take a break every now and then, but Celek stayed on the field, and had a tackle in coverage as well.

"He was OK," Reid said of Celek, the Eagles' fifth-round pick in last year's draft. "He's young."

Celek helped get the Eagles out of a first-and-20 hole from their 10 with a short catch in the second quarter. In the third, Celek was a hot read for McNabb when the Cowboys came on a blitz, and his catch-and-run went for 14 yards.

His biggest play was the biggest of the game. On a third-and-nine situation from the Eagles' 46 with 2:35 left, Celek ran down the middle of the field and caught McNabb's pass in stride, taking the ball to the Cowboys' 25. That forced Dallas to use its last time-out.

"I just went down the middle past the linebacker, and Don made a great throw," Celek said.

On the next play, Brian Westbrook broke through and would have had an easy touchdown but, brilliantly, gave himself up on Dallas' 1-yard line. The Cowboys couldn't stop the clock.

Celek got a lot of playing time early this season while Smith was slowly recovering from hernia surgery. It made him better prepared to step in and handle a bigger load Sunday.

"It's L.J.'s job," Celek said. "He's a great player. You can't take anything away from him. It was my role on the team [to back him up]. So I accept my role. I just want to do anything to make this team win. Whatever I can do to help out."

Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.