EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - When it was over and the Eagles had retreated to the inviting warmth of the cramped visiting locker room at Giants Stadium, it was difficult to tell who had most enjoyed the dominating display of power football.
"It takes all the stress out of blocking on long-yardage passing and that type of stuff," Eagles offensive tackle Jon Runyan said after his team beat the mighty New York Giants at their own game and in their own stadium yesterday.
The Eagles, with an assist from Mother Nature, deployed a run-first offense and a stifling defense in their 20-14 victory. In the process, they improved to 7-5-1 and enhanced their playoff hopes while handing the Giants just their second loss in their last 17 games.
Thanks to a Dallas loss in Pittsburgh and an Atlanta loss in New Orleans, the Eagles are only a half-game behind those teams for the final NFC wild-card berth. The Giants, 11-2, had to wait until the Cowboys' loss to the Steelers to clinch the NFC East title.
"We loved it," safety Quintin Mikell said when asked about an uncharacteristic offensive performance that consisted of 41 running plays and 30 passes. "That's old-school football. Pound the rock and play good defense. If that's what we have to do to win, I'm with it."
It's definitely what the Eagles had to do to win on this blustery day.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the Eagles had been getting weather reports since Wednesday that they'd be playing in windy conditions at the Meadowlands.
"Then Andy got a report just before the game that it was only going to get worse, so that's when we started formulating a little different game plan going in," Mornhinweg said.
Remember the run became the battle cry and the players, well, they ran with it.
"There's no trickery to it," Runyan said. "You're either going to block the guy or you ain't, so it's just a matter of pounding on people. When you're just leaning on people, a lot of times Brian [Westbrook] is going to find a crease in there and square it out. He did a good job of doing that today."
Actually, Westbrook, after sitting out of practice Thursday and Friday, did an amazing job of finding creases and picking up yards. He ran a career-high 33 times for 131 yards and a touchdown and also caught six passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
"We were able to run the ball successfully early, and Coach stayed with it," Westbrook said. "He was very committed to it, and I give a lot of credit to him because usually we're not that committed to it. He saw that we were getting it done.
"We always try to tell him 2 or 3 yards is not that bad, and we had a couple of carries where it was just 2 or 3 yards. But he stayed committed to it, and sooner or later, that turned into 5 or 6 yards, then we had the big run down the middle."
The big run down the middle was a 30-yard touchdown by Westbrook behind the right side of the Eagles' offensive line with 1 minute and 52 seconds left in the first half. That run gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead, and it seemed to convince Reid that handing the ball to Westbrook was definitely the way to go.
Even after the first half ended in potential disaster for the Eagles - Justin Tuck blocked a 32-yard field-goal attempt that was returned 71 yards by cornerback Kevin Dockery for a touchdown - Reid remained committed to the run when his offense got the ball at the start of the second half.
"The thing Andy talked about right away at halftime was we've got the ball, so let's make a statement," Mornhinweg said. "They had a little momentum, and we had to get it back."
The Eagles got it back and gave it right back. The offense, remaining balanced, went 54 yards on 15 plays and ate up seven minutes of clock before another David Akers field-goal attempt was blocked midway through the third quarter. The Giants' deficit remained just three points.
A well-rested Eagles defense quickly forced a New York punt on a series that also ended the afternoon for bruising running back Brandon Jacobs, who left with a sprained ankle. The Giants' offense didn't get back on the field until there was 13 minutes, 38 seconds left in the game, and by that point the Eagles had built their lead to 17-7.
The Eagles' second touchdown drive started with six straight running plays, including a third-and-1 conversion on a 2-yard run by Kyle Eckel.
"We were doing what they usually do," offensive tackle Tra Thomas said. "The coaches stuck with it. There was one time we ran every time. I think everybody was extremely high off what we were doing."
Quarterback Donovan McNabb, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown, used his arm to finish the 11-play, 86-yard drive that took more than six minutes.
Faced with a third-and-11 play at the Giants 40 after tripping from behind center on the previous play, McNabb found Westbrook in a one-on-one mismatch over the middle with linebacker Antonio Pierce. The quarterback hit Westbrook in stride and the Eagles' running back raced away from Pierce and into the end zone.
Like everybody else, McNabb was on board with the commitment to the running game.
"I think for any quarterback, when you have established the run it sets up the play action, and then you can use your drop-back game just to throw them off key a little bit," he said. "It was very productive for us today."
The Eagles won the time of possession battle by nearly 10 minutes, but the defense deserved a lot of the credit, too. After being torched for 219 rushing yards in a loss to the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field last month, they yielded just 211 total yards yesterday. It was by far the Giants' least productive offensive game of the season.
"We like to think of that as our type of game," Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "We want to stop the run and pound people and be a physical football team. We see that as Eagles football."
That, of course, hasn't always been Eagles football this season, but the Birds now have a fighter's chance of becoming a playoff team.
"A lot of . . . people wrote us off," Mikell said. "We're not finished yet. We still have some fight in us, and we're going to keep going until it's over. We dropped too many games early on, and that's something that can always come back to haunt you, but I feel like we're just taking care of what we can. As long as we win out, I'll be happy with that."