IRVING, Tex. - Lito Sheppard got the call from defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson early in the week. The message was succinct: you've got T.O. Be ready to run.
Those were words Sheppard was ready to hear. Slowed all season by a series of injuries that have made him less than his Pro Bowl self, and far less than 100 percent coming into today's game with the Cowboys, Sheppard nonetheless was the best the Eagles' secondary had against Terrell Owens. And Sheppard responded to the challenge with one of the best games of his career.
Sheppard intercepted one pass by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and almost pitched a shutout on Owens, not allowing Owens a catch until early in the fourth quarter. Owens finished with just two catches for 37 yards, and Sheppard and the Eagles' defense kept one of the league's most prolific offenses out of the end zone in a 10-6 upset victory that kept Philadelphia's faint playoff hopes alive.
Johnson "presented the challenge," Sheppard said. "I'm glad he gave me a head's up. I got a chance to get my mind right early and do what I had to do throughout the week to prepare."
Able to zero in on Owens, Sheppard was able to watch extra film on his former teammate. All week, Sheppard got a look on what the Cowboys would do with Owens in practice, with Eagles practice squad receiver Michael Gasperson playing the role of the 6-3 Owens.
"We felt that it was going to be a good challenge for Lito," Johnson said. "I think he looked forward to the challenge. I think he was fired up about it. He's had just a so-so kind of year, and it was a thing where [we said] 'you can run with T.O.' ... that was a great, focused job."
The preparation paid off in the second quarter when Sheppard anticipated that Romo would go to Owens on a rollout to his right. Sheppard jumped the route, picked off Romo's pass and returned it into Dallas territory, setting up the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.
It was Sheppard's eighth interception in his last eight games against the Cowboys.
"I wanted to get a good jam, and we just worked on getting [Owens] inside," Sheppard said. "When he outside releases on you, it makes it hard for the safety to get over the top."
To be sure, Sheppard and his teammates benefited from Romo having one of the worst games of his career (13 of 36, 214 yards and three interceptions).
"We didn't get the ball to our best player," Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips said. "That concerns me."
The Eagles don't normally "flop" their cornerbacks to match one up against a specific receiver. But Johnson, wary of how Owens has run roughshod this season and how he embarrassed the Eagles earlier this season, opted to take a chance with his best corner.
Sheppard felt like he was recovering from his various hurts in New England, but said he had a setback two weeks ago against Seattle. He's still working his way back physically, though he's not likely to be completely healthy the rest of the season.
"He looked pretty good today," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He looked like he was back today."