His was the fatalistic attitude so prevalent in these parts yesterday afternoon, even when everything - the Raiders, the Bears, even the weather - was pointing in a positive direction. Sitting in the front passenger seat of his black Cadillac sedan just before kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field, Gov. Rendell could not allow himself to think about the Eagles' beating the Cowboys.

What if they lost yesterday after again having control of their playoff destiny? What if, needing only to beat Dallas, the Eagles instead handed another game to those hated Cowboys?

The game had the makings of - oh, the worst moment in franchise history? Rendell was sure of it.

Only the Eagles didn't lose, and it was one of the best days in their storied history as they destroyed the Cowboys, 44-6, to extend the season for at least a week. Up next: The Minnesota Vikings on Sunday (4:30 p.m.) in a matchup between Andy Reid and former Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress.

Yesterday morning, it seemed unthinkable that the Eagles, who needed both for Oakland to beat Tampa Bay and either Minnesota or Chicago to lose, would get the help they needed. But just before the 4:15 p.m. kickoff, the fans at the Linc, including the predominantly pessimistic governor, had serious reason to hope.

After the Raiders had sacked Jeff Garcia one final time to seal their improbable comeback from a 10-point second-half deficit, the Eagles ran through an inflatable helmet onto the field with fireworks exploding overhead and the fans cheering deliriously.

Sitting in his car, Rendell heard the booms of the fireworks and knew that just as last week, the Eagles' future was in their own hands.

"My theory," Rendell said, "is either one of two things is happening here. Either the Lord is playing with the emotions of Philadelphia and wants to get back at us for some reason and is having all this set up and wants us to lose the game and it's just going to be the worst . . . or maybe the Lord is a Mormon. Who knows?"

The worst-case scenario, Rendell said, would produce "the biggest downer in Eagles history." So said the man hailed with shouts of "Guv" as he walked to his seat in the stands.

Earlier in the day, the parking lots surrounding the stadium were full, but not necessarily festive. Clusters of fans crowded around televisions rigged by the industrious to watch the Bucs host the Raiders. Oakland, a dismal team all season, had nothing to play for, but the Eagles had everything riding on the Raiders.

In the second half, after Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell threw an interception that resulted in a Tampa Bay score and a 10-point lead, it looked as if the Eagles' season was nearly over.

"This is an unusual situation, yes, the way it's working out with the 1 o'clock games," said former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, now a correspondent for NBC Sports, who was watching the Tampa Bay-Oakland game on the big-screen video boards inside the Linc. "As a player, you just don't want to go out like that. You want to go out on top."

Almost before Barber could finish his thought, the Raiders cut into the Bucs' lead, and the fans who were streaming into the Linc hummed with anticipation. The video boards had stopped showing the game, so the fans followed along on the out-of-town scoreboard as the Eagles and Cowboys warmed up on the field.

"Well, it goes without saying it's a must-win game," Mayor Nutter said. "Obviously, the Eagles are in a situation where a lot of their fate and fortune are determined by what other people do.

"But no matter what, it's always good to beat Dallas."

And always better when something important, like the postseason, is at stake.

As the Cowboys ran off the field for the last time before the kickoff, fans seated nearby shouted at owner Jerry Jones, at coach Wade Phillips, at wide receiver Terrell Owens. "You suck, T.O.," one yelled to a stone-faced Owens.

Then, as the Bucs-Raiders score flashed on the board, the fans gasped. The Raiders had taken the lead.

Outside the Comcast SportsNet studio across the street, a crowd of about 20 fans stood watching a television in the lobby.

"This sheds new light on the season," 18-year-old Baahir Starkey of Sicklerville, Camden County, said as he watched the Raiders take control.

Inside, TV analyst Ray Didinger was stunned.

"I really didn't think there was a 20 percent chance that this could've happened," Didinger said. "I couldn't have imagined. It's still hard for me to believe that Tampa could lose with everything that was at stake with this game. But it's equally as hard for me to imagine what the reaction will be here if the Eagles don't close the deal."

Pessimism was prevalent.

"This might be the greatest day of my life," said 22-year-old Dan Bartleson of Langhorne, Bucks County.



It turned into just that, and quickly. Unlike the week before, the Eagles were psyched from the beginning. They took control of the game early and didn't let go.

When it was almost over, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and his wife, Christina, walked onto the sideline and hugged the players and coaches. Jeffrey Lurie found Brian Dawkins, then saw Quintin Mikell sitting on the bench, stuck out four fingers and said, "Four more games."

"I said, we've got it," Mikell said. "We're going to get it."

Back across the street for SportsNet's post-game show, a giddy Rendell was cautiously optimistic. Finally.