ON THE EAGLES' sideline, Michael Vick was mulling how "any time [Peyton Manning] is out on the field, you think he's going to score a touchdown."

That's certainly how it has seemed, whenever the Eagles have played the Indianapolis Colts, but that wasn't how it was yesterday.

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While Vick and the rest of Eagles nation fretted, trying to will those pesky final seconds off the clock, Asante Samuel told safety Quintin Mikell to line up in Samuel's corner spot for what turned out to be the Colts' final snap. Samuel wanted to play centerfield, on third-and-10 from the Colts' 41, with 18 seconds remaining.

Manning was pressured and lofted a pass that might as well have been thrown to Samuel, the Pro Bowl corner's second pick of the day, and the answer to why the Eagles overlook Samuel's hit-and-miss approach to tackling.

Samuel ran around with the ball, on parade, eventually backtracking, braids flowing, before finally coming to rest. One Vick kneeldown later, game over, Eagles 26, Colts 24.

"I told him to go to the corner and let me go to safety and read Peyton a little bit. So I read [Manning]'s eyes, and when I caught the pick, I was going to try to score, but then I saw 85 [Pierre Garcon] coming up fast on my tail, so I said, 'Let me play around with it a little bit,' " Samuel said after the Eagles hit the midway point at 5-3, overcoming an unfortunate festival of yellow flags to nail down their most impressive victory of the season. "We fought like champions today."

There were questions afterward about a "defining win" or "signature win," the kind of thing that usually only becomes clear weeks later, in retrospect. But this was big for Vick, who returned to the big-play level he had established before suffering his rib-cartilage injury Oct. 3. It was big for DeSean Jackson, who returned from his Oct. 17 concussion with seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, and three rushes for 20 yards, including a pair of late-game end-arounds that helped keep Manning on the sideline a little longer. It was big for Eagles coach Andy Reid, now 12-0 in the game following the bye. It was even big for David Akers, who has hit nine successive field goals since that little slump against Atlanta.

But the victory was biggest for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and his players, who have self-destructed in the fourth quarter three times this season, most memorably 2 weeks earlier at Tennessee, in the 37-19 loss that sent the Birds reeling into the bye.

"Those type of losses can rip your heart out, stifle you a little bit, and that didn't happen," said Reid, who specifically congratulated McDermott and his staff.

"This is sweet, sweet," said McDermott, who was at the late Jim Johnson's side through those losses to Manning in 1999, 2002 and '06, in which the Colts outscored the Eagles by 124-51 and were never held under 35 points. "I know Jim always wanted to get him. He's a great player. Our players got him. We got him today. That was a hard-fought game.

"Our players came in at halftime, a couple of drives didn't go as well as we'd like, some of it out of our control, but they came back and hung in there. Mental toughness, I thought, showed up at the end."

Manning finished the day 31-for-52 for 294 yards and one touchdown, but was sacked three times and intercepted those two times by Samuel, leaving Manning with a 65.7 passer rating, significantly below Vick's 93.8.

"We threw the kitchen sink at him," McDermott said. "We just tried to give him different looks. Our players, my hat goes off to them, because they had to execute all those different looks. It was a little bit unorthodox at times, but there's not a lot of people that beat this guy. You've got to do some things out of the ordinary."

Without a couple of very big borderline calls, Manning's stats wouldn't have been even that good, and the game wouldn't have been that close.

The Eagles had 10 points on the board before fans at the Linc even figured out which of these guys in the funny dark-blue vintage helmets and white jerseys was Manning. First play from scrimmage, LeSean McCoy cut back to the middle, 62 yards, setting up a 9-yard TD pass from Vick to Jackson.

Then, Colts' second play, Manning felt pressure and threw a balloon into the middle of the field, where Samuel picked it off and ran it back to the Indianapolis 9. This time the Eagles settled for an Akers field goal, the first of three times in a row that would happen, which kept the Colts in the game.

It was 13-0 at the end of the first quarter, quite different from any previous Eagles-Colts game of the Reid (or the Manning) era, and not just because of the funky 1955 throwback unis the Colts were wearing. Indianapolis drove for a touchdown, the Eagles answered with a field goal, then it really got strange.

On an Indianapolis second-and-6 from the Colts' 40, Manning hit Austin Collie over the middle. Collie caught the ball, then lost it when buffeted between Eagles safeties Kurt Coleman and Mikell. Replays seemed to show both hits were shoulder-to-shoulder, with secondary contact between Coleman's helmet and Collie's, after their shoulders hit. There seemed to be nothing Coleman could have done to avoid the helmets banging.

Collie flopped to the turf, as did a yellow penalty flag for unnecessary roughness on Coleman. Collie lay on the field several minutes, his neck being stabilized, before he was taken off on a stretcher. The Linc crowd, which had been booing the call, politely applauded as Collie was rolled away, nothing like the kind of ugliness that occurred in 1999 when Michael Irvin went down at the Vet. The halftime update was that Collie had a concussion but was alert and moving.

The penalty and a subsequent facemask on Mikell set up a 6-yard Javarris James run that brought Indianapolis within 16-14. Then, after an awful Eagles sequence, an 18-yard Sav Rocca punt set up Manning at midfield for the inevitable field goal that gave the Colts a 17-16 halftime lead.

Ref Carl Cheffers and back judge Todd Prukop told a pool reporter after the game that because the pass was incomplete, Collie had to be considered a defenseless receiver, and Coleman, Cheffers said, "makes contact with the shoulder to the back of the helmet of the receiver."

Cheffers didn't explain how the contact could have been avoided.

Coleman, playing because Nate Allen had suffered what Reid said was a neck strain in the first quarter, said his recollection was that he and Mikell ran into each other and knocked Collie down.

"I never lead with my head, just because it protects myself and the other players," said Coleman, who collided with Ohio State teammate Tyson Gentry in spring practice in 2006. Gentry fell awkwardly and remains paralyzed from the waist down.

"I really don't know. I think it was just a bang-bang play, and once they review it, they'll see nothing really happened," Coleman said.

"He kind of braced himself. I hit him, and the ball was on the ground. I thought it was a fumble, really; I saw him catch it," Mikell said. "To me, it was a football play. If it is [a fine], I'm going to have to deal with that.

"It's really confusing right now . . . Right now it seems like it's a subjective call that the ref's making. It's tough, man, it's tough. It's football. Stuff's going to happen. We have a helmet on for a reason. As a defensive player, what do you guys want from us, man? Hopefully, we'll get an answer."

"Football is a physical game," McDermott said. "I wouldn't expect our players to play any other way."

The Birds' defenders regrouped at halftime. They forced four successive Colts punts while Vick and the offense punched out 10 points and a 26-17 lead.

"We knew we had to keep Peyton off the field," Vick said. "We were in the red zone so many times and didn't score [touchdowns], and that was very deflating at times, but we stayed patient and persistent."

When Manning fumbled the ball away while being sacked by Trent Cole on fourth-and-18 from the Eagles' 41 with 3:36 remaining, it looked like time to celebrate.

But no. Hanky time again. Replays showed that as Cole went for the strip, his hand grazed Manning's helmet. Unneccessary roughness, first down, Colts alive. Six plays later, it was a two-point game.

"The fourth quarter has kind of been our Achilles' heel," Mikell acknowledged. "We knew no matter what the situation was after three quarters, the fourth quarter was going to be important to us because they have Peyton Manning over there. I am really proud of our defense, I'm really proud of our whole team and how we played together. We didn't let up and we finished the game. That was big."

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