ATLANTA - Sheldon Brown knows what it's like for a defense to watch its offense fail to punch it in near the goal line.
Last month in San Diego, the Eagles cornerback stood on the sideline as his offense failed one, two, three times to score from the 1-yard line. The Eagles settled for a field goal and eventually lost, 31-23.
Yesterday against Atlanta, after the offense had squandered a few opportunities to pad a lead, the Falcons drove down to the Eagles' 1 just before the end of the first half. A touchdown would have trimmed the Eagles' lead to 13-7. But the defense came up with its biggest stop of the season, and what could have been a competitive second half turned into a 34-7 laugher.
"To me, that was the tone-setter," Brown said. "Because I know when we have games, and our offense is on the 1, and the [other] team stops them, we know that if we can't score from the 1 we're in for a long game."
The Falcons got off to a fine start on first and goal from the 7 when Jason Snelling forged ahead 6 yards to the 1. On second down, Atlanta tried a little trickery with a direct snap to Snelling, but the Eagles were ready and stopped the running back for no gain.
Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said that his players had seen the Falcons run the Wildcat before, and that linebacker Will Witherspoon and defensive tackle Mike Patterson were prepared.
On third down, Snelling got the call again for his third straight run up the middle. But rookie Antonio Dixon, who has come up with big stops when the defense has needed them most, dropped Snelling for a 1-yard loss. The Falcons decided to go for it on fourth down.
"I was little surprised," said McDermott, who called a time-out just before the play.
"The guys came to the sideline, and I told them that we were going to stay with our goal-line package, and they were fired up," McDermott said. "You could see the look in their eyes."
The Eagles were reading run, and McDermott called for linebacker Jeremiah Trotter to do his thing, which means busting up the middle. With Snelling getting his fourth straight carry, Trotter got enough penetration - as did several other Eagles, including Witherspoon - and the running back bobbed back and forth instead of running ahead. When he finally got north-south, safety Quintin Mikell stuffed Snelling a yard shy of the goal line.
The normally reserved McDermott was so excited, he ran 10 yards onto the field and chest-bumped safety Sean Jones.
"I try to keep my emotions in check," McDermott said, "but you've got a goal-line stand like that, in an away game at someone else's house, I'll get fired up like anybody else."
If that play reversed Atlanta's momentum, a third-quarter stop on fourth down by the Eagles' defense drove the Falcons into submission. Trailing by 20-0, Atlanta faced fourth and 5 on the Eagles' 22. Quarterback Chris Redman tried to hit receiver Marty Booker on a quick out. But the pass was underthrown and Brown stepped in front and intercepted it.
Brown, who has been hobbled by a hamstring strain, ran 83 effortless yards for the touchdown. It was the eight-year veteran's fifth interception of the season.
"If you focus on my game and think it's all about [interceptions], then you don't know me as a player and what I bring to the table," Brown said. "For me, I want to be the complete cornerback. I don't care about that other stuff."