The biggest cliché in the NFL - a league that dearly likes its clichés - is that when players are injured or not performing, the next guy in line has to step up and make a play.

There is a lot of talk about stepping up in this league, and mostly it is just talk. Today, the Eagles did more than that, although they did chat about it afterward as well.

Donovan McNabb challenged the younger players on offense to help rescue another ugly game against the Washington Redskins. He looked around the sideline and he looked around the huddle and he told them it was time to get going.

Actually, it was past time to get going. By halftime, the Eagles had squandered opportunities in the red zone and held only a slight lead. That didn't appear to motivate them as the second half began, however.

They had the ball three times in the third quarter and went three plays and a punt each time, failing to get even a single first down. Their fourth drive of the half was ended quickly by an interception. Along the way, the Eagles lost big-play receiver DeSean Jackson to a concussion, thinning the odds even further.

"Donovan said, 'We've got to go. We've got to get going,' " Jeremy Maclin said after a 27-24 comeback win took the place of what would have been an awful loss. "Everything had been kind of dead, and we had to get the emotion back."

The first drive in the comeback went 90 yards and, including a tumbling, two-point conversion run by LeSean McCoy, it tied the game. The next drive went far enough for the game-winning field goal and it featured McCoy and Maclin, a pair of rookies who were not supposed to have to win games this quickly in their careers.

"I think it's a sign of the confidence they have in us," McCoy said. "We've been working hard these last couple of weeks, trying to get it together. They put faith in us and we showed up."

With Brian Westbrook on the shelf after two concussions, and with Jackson unavailable after he suffered a blow to the head midway through the third quarter, it wasn't as if the Eagles had many alternatives. McNabb used Jason Avant for two big completions in the tying drive, but it was just about all McCoy and Maclin in the winning drive.

"I tell them that I'm going to give them an opportunity to make a play. Then, you've got to make the play," McNabb said.

The biggest play on the winning drive was a deep sideline pass thrown perfectly to Maclin, who had gotten behind the press coverage of cornerback Carlos Rogers. With poise not usually found in a rookie, Maclin waited until the last moment - "late hands," as McNabb said - to reach for the ball and not tip off the defender. That play went for 35 yards and moved the Eagles into position for the game-winning field goal by David Akers.

"It couldn't have been thrown any better," Maclin said. "I had the easy part."

The hard part for a young player is gaining the trust of the quarterback in order to have the ball thrown to him in the first place. Maclin was asked why McNabb seems to place that trust in him.

"Well," he said, "you have to catch the ball."

Maclin catches the ball, McCoy continues to develop as an elusive running back, and the Eagles were able to survive today without two weapons - Westbrook and Jackson - considered vital when the season began.

It isn't the way the Eagles would have written the script, but it was decent improvisation once the story changed. If Jackson has to miss a week or more because of the concussion, Maclin looks capable of increasing his receiving load. If Westbrook's return continues to be delayed, McCoy seems ready to be a reasonable substitute.

Winning in the NFL isn't about everything going right. It is about enduring the circumstances when nearly everything goes wrong.

Washington, at 3-8, is a good example of the alternative. The Redskins have now lost five of their games by six points or less, including three in which they held fourth-quarter leads.

"I think the difference between us this season is that the Eagles have not been as injured as we have been," Washington tight end Fred Davis said. "I think we have to do a better job of stepping up and making big plays. Maclin is a young receiver, but he stepped up this game and it made a difference for them to get the win."

He's wrong about the first part. If you add up the losses of Stewart Bradley, Omar Gaither, Kevin Curtis, Westbrook, Akeem Jordan and Ellis Hobbs, among others, the Eagles have had plenty of injuries. As for the second part, that's where he's right.

"Some guys make plays for us. I'm going to give them opportunities to do that," McNabb said.

Not always, but sometimes it works out that way, all that talk about stepping up. Now they have to work on taking those steps sometime before the fourth quarter.