SEAN McDERMOTT was fired up, even an hour after the game, almost giddy.

Much already has been made of the way the Eagles' defense stepped up Sunday, coming within a fluke final-play deflection of its first shutout in 13 years, but let's make just one more trip to the well.

The Eagles' previous three games, all played without weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan, they gave up a little more than 25 points a game. Even the inoffensive Redskins moved the ball and scored 24 points on the Birds, though Andy Reid primed the pump with that silly onside kick.

Coordinator McDermott's defense, which faces a much tougher test this week at the Giants, really needed this sort of performance. Yeah, a bunch of key Falcons were injured, and backup quarterback Chris Redman was awful. But the Eagles had only slightly fewer key players out. For the first time, you didn't really notice Jordan was missing.

McDermott said he wanted the shutout "for our players and the people of Philadelphia." He also acknowledged the team had "bigger fish to fry" in running its record to 8-4, pulling even in losses with the NFC East-leading Cowboys.

The Birds seem to have a good shot at getting Jordan back this week, and that will be important, but the confidence that Eagles defenders gained in Atlanta might be just as important.

"I don't think it can hurt, how they're feeling about themselves and each other," Reid said yesterday. He noted that "lots of times" when an opponent is missing key weapons, a defense will lose its edge. That wasn't the case with the Birds, who deflected passes, intercepted two (dropping at least two more), and shut down the run.

"I'm not sure we've had a game where we've had that many tipped balls," Reid said yesterday.

The defensive tackles were stout, ends Trent Cole and Juqua Parker were everywhere, Jeremiah Trotter looked rejuvenated, Sheldon Brown seemed healthy again, and Asante Samuel even made a big hit. This was the defense the Birds will need in the playoffs.

Developing story lines

* Brent Celek was not as big a part of the offense Sunday as you might have expected, with DeSean Jackson missing - two catches, 16 yards, the final touchdown on a pass from Michael Vick. Afterward, Celek said his quiet day wasn't really because of his injured thumb, but was just the way the game went. Obviously, fullback Leonard Weaver, involved in a lot of the same offensive packages as Celek, had a big day.

* Sean Jones is really settling in at free safety. That swooping pick Sunday was - dare I say it? - Dawkesque. Or maybe Dawkinsean. Jones, an Atlanta native and Georgia alum, was wearing a Braves cap in the locker room afterward. "I got my family and friends, teachers and coaches from high school, everybody was in the stands watching," Jones said. "It was good to come home and get a win . . . I grew up watching the Falcons, my whole life."

* Is Quintin Demps ever going to stop taking senseless personal-foul penalties?

* Yeah, I'm impressed that the Eagles have won three in a row, but I'm thinking of picking the Giants this week; that was an impressive effort they mounted to stay alive against the Cowboys. The Eagles, as I've mentioned before, are going to get a reality check sometime. The waltz into the playoffs just can't be this easy.

Obscure stat

The Eagles are 5-1 without Brian Westbrook this season, an especially relevant stat given the hints that emerged yesterday about Westbrook possibly taking part in practice this week. You don't have to look far to find people who think the Birds' offense is working better without BWest, or at least, without the version of BWest the Eagles have had in his occasional forays onto the field this season.

If Westbrook coming back means LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver rarely see the ball, then the Westbrook skeptics might have a point. But McCoy is coming off a game in which he carried six times for 2 yards. Luckily, Weaver fared better (five carries, 37 yards), and the Eagles really didn't need to grind out yards in a rout of Atlanta.

I still think Westbrook's poise and presence will be essential if the Birds are to aspire to a level playing field with the teams they are going to meet in the postseason - New Orleans, Minnesota, maybe even Arizona. And the Eagles need to have opposing defenses scheming to stop Westbrook, to open up other weapons.

Who knew?

That DeSean Jackson would sneak onto the field after all, wearing Leonard Weaver's jersey, for that 59-yard rip?

Extra point

You knew you weren't in Philadelphia when a Georgia Dome crowd that began the game vehemently booing Michael Vick turned heartily in his favor by the end of the third quarter. One theory is that many Falcons fans had left by the end of the third, when the "We want Vick!" chant rocked the dome. As usual, at least a few thousand Eagles fans were on hand, and as is their wont, they were loud.

But there were more than a few thousand people chanting. It really seemed like the remaining Falcons supporters basically said, "Ah, bleep it, we're done, let's just cheer for Michael." I even heard a woman interviewed on Atlanta TV say: "If somebody's going to score a touchdown against us, it might as well be Vick."

No way that ever happens in Philly, in the return of a local star whose departure was messy.

"Hey, the Phils are down 6-0; if somebody's going to hit a home run against us, it might as well be Scott Rolen."

"Well, so much for this game. If somebody's going to score a touchdown against us, it might as well be T.O."

"Ouch, what a rout. If somebody's going to notch a hat trick against us, it might as well be Lindros."

No. Really, really no.

Atlanta is a different place with a different mindset, different priorities. The front sports page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday trumpeted the college bowl selection picture. The Falcons' loss was played at the bottom of the page, way below the fold. If Vick's transgressions had, say, put the Georgia Bulldogs on NCAA probation for several years, he might have found less forgiveness.