The chance at redemption Winston Justice sought for 3 months finally arrived yesterday, at the last possible moment, in the unlikeliest of ways.
Two plays into his 176th successive regular-season start, Eagles right offensive tackle Jon Runyan sat in the middle of the field and had to be helped to his feet. Runyan, whose streak is the NFL's third-longest, left the game for good with a concussion. Justice took his place.
For the 2006 second-round draft choice from USC, it was the first action from scrimmage since Sept. 30, when Justice's first career start - in place of left tackle William "Tra" Thomas - became a record-setter. The Eagles gave up a dozen sacks in losing to the Giants, and Justice melted down, unable to parse the silent snap count, mandhandled by defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who sacked Donovan McNabb six times. Largely because of that day, the Birds finished the season with 49 sacks allowed, their highest total since 2000.
Yesterday, Justice was much better in a 17-9 season-ending victory over Buffalo, even though he had no time to prepare and hadn't done much work on the right side all year.
"Since September, I've focused on getting off the ball, and today, I think that made a big difference," Justice said. "It means a lot. I hope Runyan gets better, but I got a chance to get out there and shake some rust off, on the right side.
"I still have some mental flaws, I still have a lot to get better at," said Justice, who was whistled for one false start. "It took me the whole game" to adjust to being on the right. "I think it was getting better after awhile."
A TV reporter asked Takeo Spikes how the 31-year-old veteran felt about young linebackers such as Stewart Bradley and Akeem Jordan making plays the past few weeks, pushing for playing time next season. Spikes' left arm was in a sling from season-ending rotator-cuff surgery.
"One day I plan on commentating, so I may be coming after your job pretty soon," Spikes said. "How do you feel about that? It's just the nature of the beast. Competition brings out the best in everybody."
There has been speculation the Eagles might not want to carry Spikes' $5 million salary next season, although coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson have not encouraged that speculation.
"If I looked back and graded myself throughout the season, I did everything I possibly could do," Spikes said. "Whatever happens to me happens. I would love to be back. I feel like it's unfinished business. We jelled together well. If [he return
s], hooray. If not, I'm pretty sure somebody else would love to have my services."