As usual, Brian Westbrook was the best player on the football field yesterday.
Quite unusual, however, was the running back's third-quarter fumble that eventually resulted in the New York Giants' only touchdown in their 16-13 win over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
It was Westbrook's first fumble in 556 touches dating to his first carry and second touch in an Oct. 8 game against Dallas last season, and it bothered him immensely.
"As a leader on this team, you can't have that in that situation," Westbrook said. "I really hurt this ball club today with that fumble."
On a first-down play from the Eagles' 39-yard line, Westbrook was hit by Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and lost the ball, which was recovered by Giants cornerback Sam Madison at the 37.
The Giants cashed in for seven points when quarterback Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress for a 20-yard touchdown two plays later.
"Bad ball security," Westbrook said. "I didn't take care of the ball properly. I can't put our defense in that spot."
Without Westbrook, of course, the Eagles' offense might resemble that of the San Francisco 49ers, who went into Week 14 with a league-low 164 points. Although Westbrook's fumble was costly, he did account for 154 of the Eagles' 306 yards, running 20 times for 116 yards and catching three passes for 38, including an 18-yard touchdown reception on the team's opening drive.
Westbrook has 1,110 rushing yards for the season and is the first Eagles running back to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Duce Staley did it in 1998-99. He needs just 255 yards in the Eagles' final three games to surpass Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record of 2,006 yards from scrimmage established in 1979.
Tight end L.J. Smith's nightmarish season continued when he left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his right knee after being hit by cornerback Aaron Ross and linebacker Antonio Pierce following an 8-yard reception from quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Coach Andy Reid said Smith would undergo an MRI examination this morning, but it seems possible that he may have played his final snap in an Eagles uniform. Smith, who is eligible for free agency after the season, missed three games earlier this season with a nagging sports hernia injury that twice required surgery.
Smith had also left the game in the first quarter with bruised ribs, but he returned in the second quarter. His only catch came on the play in which he injured his knee. Smith was unavailable for comment after the game.
Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews suffered a sprained ligament in his right knee in the first quarter, but he returned and completed the game. He, too, will undergo an MRI examination today, but Andrews said he believes he'll be fine.
After suffering a back injury in practice Friday, safety Brian Dawkins started the game. He left briefly in the second half because of cramping, the Eagles said.
The Eagles honored running back Duce Staley at halftime. Staley, who played seven seasons with the Eagles, officially retired as a member of the team after spending his final two NFL seasons in Pittsburgh.
"I really enjoyed my career as a player and I'm fortunate to be here to retire as an Eagle," Staley said.
These days, the Eagles' former running back is working as a radio host in his hometown of Columbia, S.C., where he played high school and college football.
"You might not believe it, but I have my own radio show," said Staley, who was less than chatty during his playing days in Philadelphia. "I take notes, I listen, and I give my point of view on plays, games, people. You name it, I do it. I am enjoying that part of it."
Staley, slowed by an assortment of injuries during his seasons with Pittsburgh, said the decision to retire at age 32 was not a difficult one, especially after his younger brother Travis died suddenly after going into a diabetic coma in February.
"I enjoyed playing the game when my little brother would call me and was like, 'Man, what happened?' " Staley said. "He would call me after every game and say something - win, lose, it didn't matter. The day I actually realized I'd never get that phone call again, it was time for me to walk away from the game."
Nick Cole started in place of Todd Herremans at left guard, and it was apparently a disciplinary move by Reid. Herremans, who was back with the starters on the second offensive series, said he knew why he did not start, but he refused to discuss the reason. . . . If David Akers had connected on his 57-yard field-goal try with one second remaining, he not only would have matched the longest field goal of his career, he also would have set Bobby Walston's franchise record for career points. After scoring seven points yesterday, Akers trails Walston's career total of 881 points by one. Akers, who turned 33 yesterday, was gone from the locker room before it was opened to the media after the game. . . . The Eagles' goal-line stand early in the second quarter marked the fourth time in the last five games that the defense had kept an opponent from scoring a touchdown after it had a first-and-goal opportunity from inside the 5-yard line.