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Phil Sheridan: On winning drive, everything works

The makeover is happening right before our eyes.

Eagles fans were nervous during the Broncos' late rally, but David Akers' field goal sent them home full of cheer. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Eagles fans were nervous during the Broncos' late rally, but David Akers' field goal sent them home full of cheer. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

The makeover is happening right before our eyes.

Here were the Philadelphia Eagles in the kind of situation they've faced roughly 10,000 times during the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era. An easy win had become an uncomfortably close game, time was running low and momentum had been seized by the opponent.

In this case, it was the Denver Broncos who erased a 27-10 lead with three unanswered scores. The Eagles, who looked like the NFC's most playoff-ready in the first half, had fallen apart in the second. Their offense stopped running like a car with a hole in the oil pan.

You expected something bad to happen: an interception from McNabb, a crazy play call or head-scratching decision from Reid. You expected some kind of replay of all the memorable losses of the last decade.

But the genetic makeup of this team is being scrambled by the infusion of young blood. This team doesn't know its own history, so that history isn't a burden.

On third and 25 at his own 15, with the pocket collapsing, McNabb stepped up and looked for an open receiver. Then he just took off, picking up 27 desperate yards for a must-have first down.

"I knew somebody was behind me," McNabb said. "I just tried to get my knees up and get as much as I could."

That drive didn't lead to any points, but it helped flip the field. The Eagles, who seemed to be playing uphill from their own end during the second half, made it out to midfield before running into the next big moment.

Fourth and 1 at the Denver 49, three minutes left to play. The coach who went for fourth and 1 at his own 29 a week earlier must have been tempted.

"That was a tough one," Reid said. "I thought field position was crucial, expecially with three minutes left. It was a little bit over a yard to go. Midfield. I guess I wasn't feeling it. At that point, I thought we needed to change field position. We had terrible field position, our defense was playing well. Between our fans and our defense, we thought something good would happen."

Reid sent out the punt team. It was the right decision.

But so many right decisions can be made to look wrong by events. If the Eagles' defense allowed Denver to escape from inside its own 10 - even if the Broncos were only able to kill the clock and force overtime - Reid would have been second-guessed today.

But the defense made the stop. DeSean Jackson, who had a relatively quiet game, picked up 10 very important yards on the punt return. The Eagles took over at the Denver 42, picked up 2 yards on first down.

On second and 8, McNabb dropped back. He looked to his left and spotted rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had cut off his "go" route because of the coverage and broke toward the sideline. McNabb threw for Maclin's back shoulder.

If your mind immediately flashed on that fourth-down pass to Kevin Curtis in the NFC championship game last year, well, you weren't alone. Especially when the official along the sideline immediately waved his arms, signifying an incomplete pass. Maclin jumped to his feet and sprinted toward Reid.

"I wanted him to challenge it," Maclin said. "I forgot it was under two minutes [when only officials can call for video review]. I knew I was inbounds."

He was right. The replay showed Maclin dragged his feet. Just as important, he caught the ball cleanly, no bobbling or juggling, and held on when he hit the ground. Referee Mike Carey reviewed the call and reversed it. The Eagles had the ball at the Denver 13. It was just a matter of running the clock down and letting David Akers make the short field goal.

This team has been in a bunch of these situations over the years. This team has seldom executed every aspect of the endgame as perfectly. The Eagles have now won three games with fourth-quarter drives during their six-game, run-to-the-playoffs win streak.

Granted, the makeover will not be officially complete until these Eagles do this to win a conference championship or a Super Bowl. But they are going to get another shot next month and this time, they're going into it with a different energy.

"This type of game is what the playoffs are all about," Jackson said. "It's not going to always be easy. There's going to be times we're down and we have to fight to get back up. There's going to be times we're up and teams fight back to get up on us. It's good. We were tested today and we were able to pull through."

A nice, easy win would have been easier on your digestion. But this really was better. It was one more chance for this team to overcome adversity, one more step toward completing the makeover.