Correll Buckhalter's inspiring story, about how he persevered through multiple knee surgeries and countless hours of rehabilitation, about how he kept at it even though the injuries cost him three full seasons, rarely seemed to inspire Andy Reid to reward the running back with playing time.

The last time Buckhalter put in a full day's work was back on Oct. 12 in San Francisco. He filled in for an injured Brian Westbrook and, by game's end, no one seemed to notice that Westbrook didn't play. That's saying something.

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But Buckhalter had a very Westbrook-like game, running for 93 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, catching seven passes for another 85 yards, totaling 178 yards of total offense.

All Buckhalter got from the coach for his effort was a thanks, now go back into cold storage, and lip service from Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg about how they should employ Buckhalter a little more frequently.

In the seven games before last night he had played since Oct. 12, Buckhalter had a grand total of 18 carries. He missed the games against Arizona and the Giants with a sprained medial collateral ligament. The only game in which he had more than four carries was against Cleveland, when he had six for 55 yards, a 9.2 average.

Last night at Lincoln Financial Field, in the Eagles' biggest game of the season against their most bitter rival, Buckhalter reminded everyone how valuable he can be. Simply, he was one of the Eagles best players. He led them with 63 yards on 10 carries and caught three passes for 59 yards and a momentum-building touchdown.

"That's what I try to do, prepare myself through the week to come out here on Sunday and have fun," Buckhalter said. "No matter how many touches I get, when I get them I try to make the most of them."

Buckhalter made the play that started the surgical procedure that carved the heart out of the strangely listless Cowboys when he took a dump-off pass from Donovan McNabb, who was under pressure, and kept running until he was brought down at the Dallas 6-yard line - 59 yards later.

After the Eagles' remarkable 44-6 rout of the Cowboys in this winner-goes-to-the-playoffs matchup ended, Dallas coach Wade Phillips said, "The three-yard dump pass that went for 59 was the one that really hurt us."

Said Buckhalter, "The play wasn't designed, but I saw my quarterback scrambling so I tried to be his outlet."

Three plays later, McNabb dove into the endzone to give the Eagles a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, McNabb found Buckhalter in the flat on third-and-goal for a 4-yard TD pass that extended the lead to 17-3.

Typical of Buckhalter, he credited Westbrook for his TD.

"Whenever Brian's on the field, it opens up a lot of things," he said. "They probably focused on him, which left me open. Donovan made the throw. I made the catch and got it in."

The Eagles raced on to the field just as Oakland had finished its upset of Tampa Bay, a result the Eagles needed to keep alive their playoff hopes. But Buckhalter said he was unaware the Eagles had grabbed the second wild card spot until after the game.

"We didn't think about it," he said. "I know I didn't. Me and Westbrook didn't even talk about it. We just talked about going out on that field and exploiting the Cowboys."

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com