LANDOVER, Md. - L.J. Smith called it a classic, which was clearly an exaggerated account of what transpired today at FedEx Field.
The Eagles' 33-25 win over the Washington Redskins was a wildly entertaining game, including a sensational screen pass to Brian Westbrook that decided the outcome, but the teams combined for more than enough mistakes (16 penalties and four turnovers) to remind everyone that these are the bottom two teams in the NFC East.
"We had plenty" mistakes, coach Andy Reid confirmed after his team opened the second half of the season with a win it had to have. "Thank goodness they had one more."
It could be argued that the Redskins made an entire series of mistakes just when they had a chance to seal the outcome and extinguish any and all hope the Eagles had in their remaining seven games.
Now, at 4-5 and with a winless Miami Dolphins team scheduled to make an appearance at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, the Eagles can suddenly see their way to .500 for the first time this season and are just two games behind the leading New York Giants and Detroit Lions in the NFL wild-card race.
The Redskins slipped to 5-4.
"Everyone is feeling great," wide receiver Reggie Brown said after contributing his first touchdown of the season to the Eagles' victory. "It feels good to get a tough win and not have to go home with a tough loss. It's like a little high around here. We haven't had too much luck with these types of games this year. Maybe this could be the turnaround for the season. Maybe not, but right now everybody is feeling real good."
The Eagles had reason to feel good because with 8 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, they had endured a remarkable turn of events that had left them feeling as low as could be.
With the Redskins up by two and deep in Eagles territory, safety Quintin Mikell stripped running back Ladell Betts as he was falling to the ground and Joselio Hanson recovered at the 25-yard line. The Redskins challenged the ruling, but the review confirmed the call and Washington lost its third and final time-out.
The Eagles once again had hope, but it quickly disappeared when quarterback Donovan McNabb couldn't find an open receiver on first down and was sacked by defensive end Andre Carter. McNabb, for the second straight game, lost the football as he went to the ground and defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery recovered for the Redskins at the Eagles' 24.
"That was a rough turnaround," Brown said. "Getting the fumble and then reviewing it and still having possession of the ball and then we were thinking, 'We're going to go down here and score.' All the ups and downs, it can tear at you, but I don't think anyone got too down. It may have been a different story if they had scored."
The Redskins actually did score, but the fact they had to settle for a 21-yard Shaun Suisham field goal kept the Eagles within 25-20.
"That was the crucial point of the game," Brown said before astutely noting that a five-point deficit is a lot better than a nine-point deficit.
After Clinton Portis (30 carries for 137 yards) had reeled off runs of 9 and 8 yards, the Redskins had seven chances to score a touchdown from inside the Eagles' 8-yard line.
Washington even got a new set of downs when an anonymous Eagles defender was flagged for holding on a third-and-5 pass that fell incomplete. Portis got to the 1-yard line on first down, but then Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse teamed to stop him for a 1-yard loss on the next play.
A false-start penalty on tight end Chris Cooley proved to be the game's most costly mistake. It pushed the Redskins back to the 7-yard line and Washington remained more conservative than the most right-wing of Republicans, handing the ball to Portis one more time before settling for a field goal. The penalty on Cooley was one of 11 against the Redskins.
"You just want that opportunity to get back out there and win the game for your team," McNabb said after matching a season high with four touchdown passes. "Our defense did a wonderful job of stopping them. We got in the huddle and we said, 'Hey, this is where you make your money.' "
It didn't take the Eagles long to cash in. On a second-and-2 play from the 43, McNabb called for a screen pass to Westbrook.
"I just pointed out to Westbrook and Thomas [Tapeh] that [the Redskins] are blitzing" on the play, McNabb said.
Linebacker Randall Godfrey did blitz from the left side, but McNabb sidestepped him and dumped the ball to Westbrook, who appeared as if he might be tackled for a short gain by Rocky McIntosh before guard Shawn Andrews leveled the linebacker with a highlight-reel block. Tackle Jon Runyan did the same to defensive end Cornelius Griffin, leaving Westbrook with room to cut back to his left.
Fifty-seven yards later, the journey was over and the Eagles' five-point deficit had become a one-point lead.
"That screen was really a play that shows how much a team game this really is, and how much this team really wanted it," Westbrook said after he contributed three touchdowns and 183 total yards.
With 3:16 remaining, the Eagles' defense still had work to do, and it did it well. Juqua Thomas stopped Portis for a 3-yard loss on a first-down screen pass, and three plays later, defensive tackle Mike Patterson sacked quarterback Jason Campbell on fourth down. The Redskins, out of time-outs, opted not to play defense, clearing a path for Westbrook to score on a 10-yard touchdown run.
"They were smart what they did there by letting Brian Westbrook score that last TD," Reid said.
It meant the Redskins would have one last chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. They made the least of that opportunity and the Eagles got back on the train to 30th Street Station with a renewed sense of hope.
"From the sideline, it was a classic," Smith said in describing the game. "It was probably one of the better games I've seen. This was great for us and great for our morale. It gives something to the fans, and hopefully they can get back behind us when we get back home."