BRIAN WESTBROOK does not need this final game for validation because it is already his. That he wants the records - for most yards from scrimmage and most receptions in an Eagles season - is clear enough. Wants and needs are different things, though. He does not need them.
Westbrook's identity is secure. That he is the Eagles' most valuable player need not be explained; to elaborate would be to belabor the obvious. It is as plain as the chip on Westbrook's shoulder - about his salary, and his earlier reputation for being injury-prone, and on and on. The Eagles cannot function without him at this point, and everyone knows it. They cannot hope to be great without him.
If you ask the MVP question to Westbrook, it is about the league, not the team.
"I think I bring a lot to the table for this team," he said yesterday. "Across the league, you see a lot of very talented guys, guys who get it done. Tom Brady and those guys in New England, Peyton [Manning] is doing a great job in Indianapolis. I think I've done a great job with this team and allowed my talents to be used in the proper way.
"I could be MVP in some ways," Westbrook said.
And who could argue?
He will not get it, of course - not while playing for a 7-8 team that is headed into its last game against the Buffalo Bills, not with an undefeated team in New England, and with the balance of power in the NFL tilted so radically toward the AFC. This is not an argument that he should get it, either.
Instead, it is a simple reaffirmation of his excellence. He needs 2 yards from scrimmage to take the Eagles' single-season record currently held by Wilbert Montgomery (2,006 yards in 1979). He needs three receptions to surpass Irving Fryar, who had 88 catches in 1996. He is rewriting the history of an old NFL franchise. Nothing else needs to be said.
There also is the potential to win the NFC rushing title - Westbrook currently trails Minnesota's Adrian Peterson by 14 yards. This one holds a particular symbolism for a player who does not play for a coach who emphasizes the run, and who was used a little lightly before this season because of a reputation for injuries (mostly because of the, uh, injuries).
The conference rushing title, he said, "would mean a lot. I have the capability of doing that. It comes down to carries and how many carries you can get over the whole season. This year, I've had probably the most carries that I've had in a season and I've been able to stay relatively healthy. It's been very productive for me, in that way."
At this point, Westbrook acts as if the injury-prone rap doesn't really bother him, but it is an act and this season has been his vindication. With that, he did miss one game because of a knee injury and barely practiced in the second half of the season - but, come Sunday, the Eagles would lean on him with little regard for the consequences. In 2007, the durability question had a new answer.
"I think that's a question that you have to answer every year," he said. "It's not that you do it one year and you never have to answer it again. I think it's one of those questions that you have to answer every year and, hopefully, I'll be healthy for years to come."
Running back is a brutal position in the NFL, and players routinely wear themselves out by their late 20s. In an odd way, the limiting of Westbrook's carries in previous seasons should benefit him now. If you believe that every body has a maximum number of hits it can absorb, then Westbrook is ahead of the game, whatever his maximum is.
"I hope so," he said. "I hope that I can play at this level for a while. I think that my number of uses, prior to this year, will help me out, to allow me to play a little bit longer. The name of the game in the NFL is to try and have longevity so that you can have a better career, better stats and things like that. That's what I'm trying to do."
On Sunday, barring a disaster, Westbrook will make franchise history. That the Eagles wasted that history is plain. There is nothing they can do about it, either - other than hope it is merely a prologue. *
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