Not many people get to read their own obituary in the newspaper.
The Eagles did last week.
They got to see a vision of a future that now may never come to pass.
"Yeah, I feel kind of revived, I guess," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said yesterday at the end of a freakish day that saw his left-for-dead team rout the Dallas Cowboys, 44-6, at Lincoln Financial Field and claim the final wild-card playoff spot in the NFC.
It was a warm day in December, but this sequence of events went way beyond the unusual.
"I've never been part of anything like this," safety Brian Dawkins said. "For the guys to pull together the way they pulled together after a tough loss in which we were basically left for dead . . . it speaks volumes about this team's character."
Now the Eagles, who finished the regular season at 9-6-1, have an afterlife that begins Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in a wild-card playoff game against the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. The Cowboys, 9-7 and perhaps the NFL's most disappointing team, were left to deal with questions about next season.
"Exciting day," Andy Reid said.
And the Eagles' coach admitted missing most of it.
Reid said he could not watch a single play of the other games that controlled the fate of his team's season. He did not see the Oakland Raiders rally from a 10-point deficit to end the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season. He did not see the Houston Texans hold on for a seven-point win that crushed the Chicago Bears' playoff hopes. Both scores were 31-24.
"I didn't watch a snap," Reid said. "Those things, they rip your heart out when you watch them, so I let other people tell me, and I figured the fans would let us know once we got out there."
A loud roar at the Linc came just before the Eagles ran through the big green inflatable helmet. It was the sign Reid and his players were looking for. Fate and destiny had smiled upon them again. A sack of Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia had sealed the Bucs' loss to Oakland and, unlike a week ago at FedEx Field, the Eagles were not going to let another opportunity slip away.
"It was one of the wilder days," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "Watching all three games that meant something to us at 1 o'clock - and my eyes are like Ping-Pong balls going back and forth. There have been so many heart-wrenching losses by a yard, a foot . . . just an incredible number of games lost by one yard or less.
"The fortitude and resilience in this locker room - these are high-character guys that proved a lot. They came back from the depths of despair."
Thanks to big plays early by McNabb and underused running back Correll Buckhalter in the first half, and even bigger ones by Dawkins and the defense in the second half, the Eagles made sure that this would not be a game of inches or yards. In fact, it was the Eagles' most lopsided win over the Cowboys in franchise history.
"It was very special," running back Brian Westbrook said. "It's special that all those other things happened, but for us to go out there and put a defensive show on like we did. . . . Offensively, we did very well, but our defense ran the show today."
It was Buckhalter who got things going, and, fittingly, it was not a designed play.
With the game tied at 3-3 early in the second quarter, the Eagles were confronted with a third-and-7 play from their own 35-yard line. Unable to find his primary and secondary reads, McNabb started to scramble out of the pocket.
"Buck did an excellent job of just staying on the move," McNabb said. "I was able to get it over one of their defensive tackles, and Buck did an excellent job of finishing the play."
Buckhalter finished it by picking up 59 yards, down to the Dallas 6-yard line, and McNabb scored on a quarterback sneak on third-and-goal from the 1. It was the touchdown that put the Eagles ahead to stay.
"I just played football," Buckhalter said. "The play wasn't designed, but I saw my quarterback scrambling, so I tried to be his outlet. I was lined up right beside [Jon] Runyan. The play was designed to get chips on the defensive ends, Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware. . . . I just made a play."
Buckhalter made another huge third-down play just before the two-minute warning. After a 34-yard catch by DeSean Jackson gave the Eagles a first-and-goal from the 3, two runs by Westbrook left the Eagles just 1 yard closer to the end zone.
This time, McNabb dumped a pass to Buckhalter, and the running back fought his way into the end zone, giving the Eagles a 17-3 lead with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first half.
"Whenever Brian's on the field, it opens up a lot of things," Buckhalter said. "They probably focused on him, which left me open."
The next nine minutes of playing time were every bit as unbelievable as the serendipitous events that preceded the Eagles' rout of the Cowboys.
It started with a Sheldon Brown interception of a pitiful throw by quarterback Tony Romo. The cornerback returned the ball to the Dallas 42, and the Eagles turned the turnover into a touchdown when McNabb connected with tight end Brent Celek on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 13 seconds left.
A 24-3 lead would have looked really good going into halftime, but the Eagles' 27-3 lead looked even better.
Safety Quintin Demps forced an Adam Jones fumble on the ensuing kickoff and linebacker Omar Gaither recovered at the Cowboys' 31. David Akers came on to kick a 50-yard field goal.
The surreal continued into the second half.
Thanks to an odd 42-yard pass connection between those old friends, Jason Witten and Terrell Owens, it appeared as if Dallas might make things interesting by scoring on its opening possession of the second half. Instead, Dawkins sacked Romo and forced a fumble that Chris Clemons returned 73 yards for a touchdown. Eagles 34, Cowboys 3.
Then the Cowboys again marched down the field to the Eagles' 12, only to have their work go up in smoke when Dawkins forced a fumble by Marion Barber that was scooped up by Joselio Hanson and returned 96 yards for a touchdown. Eagles 41, Cowboys 3.
"You couldn't have drawn it up any better than it happened," Reid said. "It was awesome to see Lincoln Financial Field electric like that."
Especially when most of the people thought they were coming to a funeral.
25-1: The odds the Eagles beat
At high noon yesterday, the Eagles were 25-1 to make the playoffs, according to BetUs.com.
The Birds needed Tampa Bay, a 13-point favorite, to lose at home against the lowly Oakland Raiders.
They needed the Chicago Bears lo lose at Houston. (If the Bears had won, the Eagles needed the Minnesota Vikings to lose at home to the Giants).
Of course, the Eagles still had to beat the Cowboys in the "win and you're in" game.
Well, Tampa Bay blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter as the Raiders scored the last 17 points in a 31-24 win over the Bucs.
The Bears also lost by 31-24.
The Eagles blew out the Cowboys, 44-6.
Before starting the game, the Eagles were 80-1 to win the Super Bowl. The number will certainly be a lot different when playoff odds are posted.
Follow the Eagles all day on Bob Brookover's blog at http://go.philly.com/birdseyeEndText