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Dawkins leads the way with jarring hits

Brian Dawkins did not practice on Thursday or Friday.

Brian Dawkins did not practice on Thursday or Friday.

He played on Sunday.

Boy, did he play.

"That guy right there, my hat goes off to him," safety Quintin Mikell said, pointing to his mentor a few feet away in the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field after the Eagles seized an unlikely spot in the NFC playoffs. "He could barely practice all week. He was banged up, sick and he came out and played great for us. If nothing else, I played my heart out for that guy because he deserved that from us."

Dawkins made two of the game's biggest defensive plays - cornerback Sheldon Brown's second-quarter interception was the other - during the Eagles' 44-6 rout of the Dallas Cowboys yesterday, and it was impossible not to admire the veteran safety's work.

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said Dawkins and quarterback Donovan McNabb kept the team focused on the Cowboys all week rather than the speculation that this would be the team's final game of a disappointing season.

"They never got wrapped up in the speculation," Westbrook said. "They always focused on what they had to do, and they're the leaders of this team. That's what we expect from them."

Dawkins, who had sat out two days of practice this week because of illness, provided even more.

With the Cowboys threatening to at least make things interesting early in the second half, Dawkins came on a blitz and sacked quarterback Tony Romo. In the process, he jarred the football loose. The bounce was a fortuitous one for the Eagles. It went right to defensive end Chris Clemons, who rambled down the right sideline 73 yards for the first touchdown of his career.

"I know Tony is a guy that is trying to extend the play with his legs, so I was just trying to get to him as quick as possible and hopefully get the ball out," Dawkins said. "I was happy that stopped that drive. It kind of deflated that excitement that they were feeling."

After the Cowboys got deep into Eagles territory again following the Clemons' score, Dawkins forced another fumble as Dallas running back Marion Barber tried to get away from him.

"The second fumble, I was just laying out and trying to make the tackle, to be honest with you," Dawkins said. "I swiped at the ball, but you just tell me how that ball stayed inbounds and I was able to punch it back on the field. I have no idea."

It was that kind of day for the Eagles.

Cornerback Joselio Hanson was the beneficiary of Dawkins' second forced fumble and he returned it 96 yards for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a 41-3 lead.

It was the first time in NFL history that a team had two fumble returns of 73 yards or more.

Heckert to Detroit? Adam Schefter of the NFL Network reported yesterday that Eagles general manager Tom Heckert was a candidate to take a similar job with the Detroit Lions next season.

Heckert, a native of Adrian, Mich., was also mentioned for that job earlier this season after the Lions fired team president Matt Millen. Heckert was a finalist for the Atlanta Falcons' GM job last off-season but lost out to Thomas Dimitroff, the former director of college scouting with the New England Patriots.

There has been speculation this season that some of Heckert's power in personnel decisions has been usurped by Howie Roseman, who was promoted to the role of vice president of player personnel last off-season after previously being involved primarily in contract negotiations. Eagles coach Andy Reid still has final say in all personnel decisions.

A team source said he was not aware of the Lions' interest in Heckert but did not rule out that it was possible.

Extra points. DeSean Jackson set the rookie record for receiving yards with his 34-yard catch that set up the Eagles' second touchdown late in the second quarter. Jackson finished the season with a team-leading 912 receiving yards. . . . Darren Howard's fourth-quarter sack gave him 10 for the season. It's the third double-digit sack total of his career and his first since 2004 when he was with the New Orleans Saints. . . . David Akers' 40-yard field goal in the opening quarter gave him 31 for the season, a team record. He added two more later, including a 50-yarder as time ran out in the first half. . . . Quarterback Donovan McNabb finished the season with 3,916 passing yards, breaking the franchise record of 3,875 he set in 2004. . . . The Eagles set a franchise record with 416 points, one more than they had in 2002.