EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It is not every day that an NFL player breaks his franchise's record for yards from scrimmage. It is almost never that the guy who held the record, who held it for a quarter-century, is standing on the sideline, watching and cheering.
When Brian Westbrook caught that 40-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of yesterday's 20-14 win at Giants Stadium - a beautiful display of everything Westbrook, a play on which he stayed in to help with blocking the Giants' pass rush, then leaked out of the backfield, caught a pass from Donovan McNabb and ran away from Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce - Harold Carmichael watched. If he didn't know the record (9,042 yards) was gone on that play, he knew it soon enough.
Westbrook. Carmichael. The two of them are separated by 12 inches and more than a generation. They are nothing like each other as players - Carmichael the graceful giant at receiver, Westbrook the little dynamo - but Carmichael, the Eagles' director of player development, has witnessed every step that Westbrook has taken as a professional.
"I remember the first time I saw him,'' Carmichael said. "And I'm thinking, 'Man, he's a small guy.' I had never really watched him play at Villanova so I didn't know. But they were telling me he was something special, and then I saw him at practice. That's when I knew.''
Westbrook's recovery from knee and ankle problems that have dogged him all season was the story of yesterday's win, as well as the game before against the Cardinals. He ran the ball 33 times against the Giants, a personal record, for 131 yards. He scored two touchdowns - the 40-yard reception and an earlier, 30-yard run.
He is the reason the Eagles continue to breathe today. His physical recovery is the unquestioned reason that they are able to continue to do their little wild card calculations. He looks nothing like the player who went out against the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 9. As Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said, "I think he had a little more energy, a little more desire to make plays that he didn't have in the first game.''
Westbrook was a one-legged warrior just a couple of weeks ago against Baltimore - no cutting ability, no burst, no nothing - but he looks like himself again - 131 yards rushing, 72 yards receiving; himself. He says he cannot explain it. He talks about God when you ask him. He says, "It's not me. It's something more than me.''
Carmichael watches him every day in practice and he cannot explain it, either. He says that the extra days off following the Thanksgiving game were big, along with the decision to have Westbrook watch practice last Thursday and Friday rather than participate. But he says he really doesn't know.
"Brian is one of two guys on this team that really never complains,'' Carmichael said. "They just go out and play - same thing with [right tackle] Jon Ruynan. They just go out and play football. I watch Westbrook and there are times when I know he's hurt but I can't tell. I just watch him come off the field. Nobody knows.''
The person who says he predicted that the Eagles would call 37 runs and 34 passes before McNabb's game-ending kneel-down against the Giants - even knowing that it was going to be a cold and windy day that just got colder and windier as time passed - is an outright liar. But, as Westbrook said, "[Eagles coach Andy Reid] 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.''
Westbrook scored on the third play of the fourth quarter on that 40-yard pass play, giving the Eagles a 17-7 lead. At that point of the game, the ratio of called runs vs. called passes was 55 percent passes and 45 percent runs. The difference between yesterday at that point and a typical Eagles game this season was four play calls in three-plus quarters of football, four play calls out of 58 plays. With that, viva la revolucion.
All the rest of the runs came on the Eagles' last full drive - 11 called runs out of 13 plays. It was really impressive - mostly in the 7 minutes, 17 seconds that it ate up. It is what good teams have to be able to do if they want to be as good as they think they can be. It also is pretty much what the Eagles always at least try to do every time they're protecting a 10-point lead with 9 minutes to go.
As Westbrook said, "When your offensive line is doing what they did today - they dominated the line of scrimmage . . . like they did last week [against Arizona] - anything can happen."
It is the Eagles' mantra now, even as they remain a significant wild-card underdog. The biggest question, from here until the end, will be Westbrook's health. It has been true for a while - years, actually. Nine thousand yards. Can he somehow squeeze out another 400 or 500 yards from scrimmage in the Eagles' final three games, building upon the record that is his now, the record that Carmichael built from 1971 to 1983?
"I had it for a while,'' Carmichael said. "But I am quite sure that somebody had the record before me . . . Brian Dawkins is going to break another of my records next week [for most games played for the Eagles]. They're great players, great guys on and off the field. I kind of feel privileged, in a way, that it's them.'' *
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