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Paul Domowitch: Eagles-Cowboys between the tackles

Maybe it's because he's not even supposed to be here. Because his career should have ended after the first major knee injury, or the second, or certainly after the third.

Eagles' running back Correll Buckhalter fights off a tackle by the Cowboys' Anthony Spencer.
Eagles' running back Correll Buckhalter fights off a tackle by the Cowboys' Anthony Spencer.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer

Maybe it's because he's not even supposed to be here. Because his career should have ended after the first major knee injury, or the second, or certainly after the third.

Whatever, the Eagles' running back never, ever has complained about his role as Brian Westbrook's understudy. Never, ever has gone into coach Andy Reid's office and asked him for a few more touches per game.

"Brian has to get his touches," Correll Buckhalter said. "He has to get in a groove. I understand that I'm not going to get 15-20 carries. I have no idea what I'm going to get from week to week. I just just know that when I get [touches], I want to make the most of them."

Buckhalter certainly did that yesterday in the Eagles' 44-6 win over the Cowboys that vaulted them into the playoffs for the seventh time in the last 9 years.

After getting just three touches in last week's 10-3 loss to the Redskins, Buckhalter had 122 rushing and receiving yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. Finished with 13 touches, which was his most since getting 25 (18 carries, seven receptions) against San Francisco in Week 6 when Westbrook was out with two fractured ribs.

Helped set up the Eagles' first points of the game - a 40-yard David Akers field goal - when he ran for 9 yards and a first down on a second-and-8 from the Philadelphia 48.

Helped set up the Eagles' first touchdown early in the second quarter when he took a short pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb and turned it into a 59-yard gain down to the Dallas 6. Put the Eagles up 17-3 later in the second quarter when he caught a 4-yard scoring pass from McNabb.

Buckhalter went into the game with 89 touches this season. But all but 30 of them came earlier this season when Westbrook was hurt. In his last six games, he had just 18 touches. And never, ever complained.

"I try to prepare myself through the week for whatever they ask me to do," Buckhalter said. "You just have to be ready. You never know when your number is going to be called. But if you're ready when it's called, you can make plays. That's the approach I take each and every week."

Buckhalter's 59-yard catch and run didn't come on a designed play. He lined up on the wing, behind right tackle Jon Runyan. His primary job on the third-and-7 play was to chip linebacker Greg Ellis. But when McNabb was flushed from the pocket, Buckhalter broke free and gave his quarterback a throwing option.

"I saw Donovan scrambling, so I just made a play," he said.

Made another big one later in the quarter. A 34-yard McNabb-to-DeSean-Jackson completion gave the Eagles a first-and-goal at the Dallas 3. Two runs by Westbrook resulted in a 1-yard loss and a third-and-goal at the 4.

On the next play, Westbrook lined up wide left. Buckhalter slipped out into the flat, caught a pass from McNabb and bulled his way into the end zone to put the Eagles up, 17-3.

"Whenever Brian is on the field, it opens up a lot of things for other people," Buckhalter said. "They were probably focused on him, which left me open."

Buckhalter is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 12.5 yards per catch this season. It would seem logical that Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would make sure he touches the ball at least a half-dozen times each game. But that doesn't always happen.

"That's what he's in there for," Runyan said. "He knows his role and does a very good job. And that's sometimes hard to do. Especially when you're not getting a lot of reps. He missed 2 weeks with a knee injury earlier this season. To be able to come back and make crucial plays for us like he made tonight, that's impressive."

Thumbs up

To Andy Reid for going with a quarterback sneak on third-and-goal from the 1 early in the second quarter after Donovan McNabb failed to get it in on the play before. The Eagles were 3-for-43 in the red zone against the Cowboys after converting just 2 of 12 in their previous three games.

By the numbers

-- The Eagles finished the regular season with 606 pass attempts and 427 rushing attempts. That's the second biggest run-pass disparity of the Andy Reid era. In 2005, they threw the ball 255 more times than they ran it.

-- With yesterday's win, the Eagles qualified for the playoffs for the seventh time in the last nine seasons.

-- The Eagles set a franchise record for scoring. They finished with 416 points. The previous record was 415, set in 2002.

-- DeSean Jackson broke Keith Jackson's record for rookie receiving yards in a season. With 46 yards on two receptions yesterday, Jackson finished the regular season with 912 receiving yards.

-- David Akers broke the Eagles' single-season scoring record. He finished the regular-season with 144 points.

-- Akers' 41-yard field goal miss early in the fourth quarter was his first unblocked miss in 28 attempts. He has had three kicks blocked. His last unblocked miss was in Week 5 against the Redskins, when he missed a 50-yard attempt.

-- The Eagles have held opponents to 77.9 rushing yards per game in the last seven games. Opposing rushers have averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in those seven games.

-- The defense finished with just 15 interceptions, including one against the Cowboys. That's the second fewest by the Eagles in the last 5 years.

-- With four sacks against the Cowboys, the Eagles finished the regular-season with 48, which is their highest total since 2002, when they had a league-high 56. Defensive linemen have notched 34 1/2 of those 48.

-- The Eagles held opposing quarterbacks to a .541 completion percentage this season, the best in Jim Johnson's 10 seasons as defensive coordinator.

-- The Eagles were 3-for-3 in the red zone against the Cowboys after converting just two of their previous 12 trips inside the 20 into touchdowns.

-- For the third straight year, the Eagles' offense finished with a third-down efficiency rate above 40 percent. They converted 91 of 225 third-down tries, or 41.3 percent. In their nine wins, they had a 52.3 percent success rate. In their six losses and tie, 31.2 percent.

-- Brian Westbrook's first-quarter fumble was his first lost fumble of the season and just the ninth of his career.

-- The Eagles had just three turnover-free games this season.

-- The Eagles averaged 3.97 yards per carry this season. That's the second lowest rushing average of the Reid era. They averaged just 3.92 yards per carry in 2005.

-- Eagles wide receivers had 197 receptions this season, which is the most in the Reid era. But their 11 touchdown catches are the fewest since 2003 (five).

Eagles-Cowboys report card

RUSHING OFFENSE: A week after calling just five run plays in the second half vs. Redskins, Andy Reid wisely went with a more balanced approach vs. Cowboys. Ran it 18 times in the first half for 58 yards, including 9- and 16-yard runs by Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook that set up the Eagles' first score. And, a QB sneak for a TD by Donovan McNabb.

Grade: B-plus

PASSING OFFENSE: Donovan McNabb's numbers were modest (12-for-21, 175 yards). But he managed the game well and threw two touchdowns, one to Buckhalter and another to tight end Brent Celek. No interceptions for the fourth time in the last five games.

Grade: B-plus

RUN DEFENSE: Eagles did another excellent job against the run, holding the Cowboys to 2.9 yards per carry in the first half when stopping the run still was still a priority. In their last seven games, they've held opponents to 3.1 yards per carry.

Grade: A

PASS DEFENSE: Tony Romo, who picked apart the Eagles in Week 2, completed just 21 of 39 passes and was sacked three times, two of which resulted in turnovers. Eagles were in his face most of the day. For the first time this season, he failed to throw a touchdown pass.

Grade: A-plus

SPECIAL TEAMS: DeSean Jackson's 21-yard first-quarter punt return kick-started the Eagles' first scoring drive. Eagles' kickoff coverage was a little bit shakey. They gave up 36- and 37-yard returns. David Akers hit three of four field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder at the end of the second quarter that pretty much made it game, set and match.

Grade: B-minus

OVERALL: Oakland and Houston gave the Eagles second life, and this time, they didn't blow it. Andy Reid came out with a well-thought-out, balanced offensive game plan, his quarterback managed the game well, and his defense held its fourth straight opponent to less than 15 points.

Grade: A