It was a Brian Dawkins type of hit, from the guy playing Dawkins' old spot in the Eagles' secondary.
First, corner Asante Samuel did what he does, reaching up and plucking a deep Kyle Orton pass headed for tight end Tony Scheffler. A beat later, as Samuel turned upfield, free safety Macho Harris plowed Scheffler with a shoulder, the tight end still standing with his shoulders open, in pass-catching mode. Scheffler took several seconds to struggle to his feet.
Samuel ran his ninth interception of the season back to the Eagles' 48, and given that the Birds held a 27-10 lead with 4 minutes and 37 seconds left in the third quarter, that should have been that. But yellow flags were fluttering.
The delay call on Samuel for not handing the ball to an official was trifling. However, there was another call, back inside the Eagles' 10, where Samuel caught the ball. There's a new emphasis this season on protecting "defenseless" receivers. So Harris, who technically was blocking a guy who could have tackled the ballcarrier, was assessed a 15-yard penalty.
By the time ref Mike Carey's crew finished marking off yardage, the Eagles had the ball on their 1. A short punt out and another penalty, on Tracy White, set Denver up on the Birds' 25. Five plays later, it was 27-17.
Then Harris, also the Eagles' kick returner with Quintin Demps unable to play because of an ankle sprain, got blasted by Darrell Reid on the Denver kickoff and fumbled the ball away. Oops. Two plays later, 27-24, from rout to nailbiter in less than 4 minutes.
Ultimately, the Broncos would tie it before a clutch Jeremy Maclin catch set David Akers up for the game-winning field goal, Maclin and Akers preventing Harris from becoming one of the biggest goats in the history of Philadelphia sports.
"My focus was to block the intended receiver. Those guys normally make the tackle. I was just thinking about making that block," Harris said. He said he didn't see a replay of the penalty.
Eagles coach Andy Reid left the impression he disagreed with the call, but wouldn't discuss it. Reid said Harris got tired near the end of the game, playing so much on defense and returning kicks.
"Demps needs to get healthy and play," said Reid, whose other kick return option, Maclin, was just coming back from a plantar fascia injury.
Harris said kicker Matt Prater was getting a lot of air under the ball, and that Denver's aggressive coverage team was on him as soon as he caught it.
"Rookie,'' Harris said, when asked to describe his day. "I made quite a few mistakes. Learn from it and get better.''
Harris said he wouldn't be haunted by the screwups.
"It's over," he said. "We're not on the field anymore; it's over. We can start fresh [when practice resumes] on Wednesday."
Harris has had tougher days. Five years ago Christmas night, his mother, Maritza, died of a brain aneurysm, Harris' senior year in high school. He went on to star at corner for Viriginia Tech.
"Bad plays are going to happen," he said. "That's part of the game. It isn't what you do when they occur, it's how you respond afterward."
Harris said he "definitely thought about" the fact that he was in Dawkins' spot, on the day Dawk returned to the Linc, somersaulting and handstanding through his introduction from the unfamiliar visitors' tunnel.
"I've never met him, but just seeing him out there and seeing his energy, he kind of showed me how it was done," Harris said.
Almost a milestone
Dimitri Patterson very briefly had his first NFL touchdown, on the Broncos' third snap, when Kyle Orton's incompletion to Daniel Graham was ruled not to have been a backward pass. Patterson scooped up the ball and ran it in.
The Broncos challenged, and their view - that Orton had indeed thrown the ball forward - carried the day.
"It was a gray area," Patterson said. He said watching the replay afterward, "I couldn't tell."
Andy Reid said center Jamaal Jackson (knee) will undergo an MRI today . . . The shuffled o-line gave up four sacks, two to NFL sacks leader Elvis Dumervil (17), who had no tackles otherwise . . . With Jeremy Maclin returning, wide receiver Kevin Curtis was inactive . . . Kind of looked like the Eagles could have used Brian Westbrook more in the passing game, in his return from two concussions, especially after the Broncos figured out they needed to cover Brent Celek (four catches, 121 yards, all in the first half, including a 47-yard TD pass that was the longest catch of Celek's career) . . . Ref Mike Carey's crew whistled 18 penalties, nine on each team, and a few times seemed to throw the flag just for the fun of it, explaining afterward that no foul had occurred . . . The Eagles converted just one of their final seven third downs . . . Trent Cole's sack gave him 12 1/2, matching his career high from 2007.