ARLINGTON, Texas - This could have been easier, definitely.
Michael Vick took a whole bunch of hits and seemed to get rocked into some bad decisions, throwing a pair of picks for the first time since he joined the Eagles. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley went down with an injury that could be devastating to the Birds' postseason dreams; Eagles coach Andy Reid said Bradley is unlikely to play again in the regular season. DeSean Jackson limped around the locker room on an injured right foot.
But Vick, as has been the case more than once lately, hung in there and brought the Birds back from a blown second-half lead to beat the Dallas Cowboys, 30-27, making them 9-4 this morning. Their best available playoff scenario - win the NFC East and you don't have to worry about being the 10-6 team that maybe misses the playoffs in the NFC - remains intact, with a visit to the Giants next week on tap, assuming the New Yorkers find their way back out of blizzard country by then.
The rest of this stuff, they'll just have to figure out as they go along.
Jackson and LeSean McCoy wiped out all the things that weren't so great last night. Jackson caught four passes for 210 yards and the 91-yard TD that turned the game around, his total the third-highest in franchise history. McCoy ran 16 times for a career-high 149 yards, blowing past defenders as the Birds churned out first downs late, keeping the Cowboys from a final shot at a porous Eagles D.
Reid noted that the Birds "played good, physical football down the stretch there" as they wrote a new page of their short history at the new Cowboys Stadium, where they were outscored 58-14 in a pair of losses last season. He seemed to make a point of not heaping praise on Jackson until he was specifically asked.
"I liked the 91," Reid offered, when asked about Jackson's touchdown and his subsequent celebration penalty. "The fall, I wish he wouldn't have – he goofed. That's a little bit of the Hollywood left in him."
Reid credited his team for "pushing through and making plays."
The Eagles started super-fast, 60 yards from Vick after a naked bootleg to Jackson on the first snap, the key play of a six-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that ended with Vick's seventh rushing touchdown of the season, a 1-yarder. It brought to mind the start of the Eagles-Redskins game Nov. 15, except that the Cowboys aren't the Redskins, as they quickly showed.
Ten plays, 77 yards, the final yard on a pass from Jon Kitna to Jason Witten that was made easier by Ernie Sims' inability to hit Witten at the line. The key play, though, came on third and 6 from the Dallas 45. Kitna threw a pass that was dropped by Roy Williams, setting up a punt, but Dimitri Patterson had grabbed Kevin Ogletree's facemask away from the play, and the drive stayed alive. The third-down stop that isn't a stop has become a specialty of this defense lately.
The 7-7 score held into the second quarter, when a bad situation got worse for the Eagles' D. On a third-and-6 incompletion, Bradley fell awkwardly on his right arm. The team announced he had suffered a dislocated elbow and would not return. Reid said Bradley will get an MRI today. He wore the arm in a sling as he left the locker room.
Because the Birds elected to activate both Riley Cooper and Chad Hall, instead of choosing one or the other, backup middle linebacker (and former starter) Omar Gaither was not active. This meant lots of action for seventh-round rookie Jamar Chaney, who has played mainly on special teams. Before he got hurt, Bradley, who has had his ups and downs this season, was playing an active, physical game. Chaney seemed paralyzed by indecision several times early, got better later.
Reid indicated that Chaney will be a part of whatever middle linebacking situation the team crafts going forward.
"I always prepare like I'm going to have to go in there and play, but when I saw him down, I said, 'Oh, Lord, here we go. Go get it,' " said Chaney, who could recall having played only two series in the defense previously, at the end of blowouts against the Jaguars and Redskins.
The Birds still managed to take a 14-7 lead with 5:49 left in the first half. Again their drive was supercharged by a long ball to Jackson, this time a 37-yarder, mostly a run after the catch, from the Dallas 39 to the 2. From there, Todd Herremans got to show off his hands on a tackle eligible, Herremans' second career TD catch.
Quintin Mikell picked off Kitna, but Vick gave that one right back on a long, deep ball to Celek he forced into coverage. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh intercepted, helping set up a 50-yard David Buehler field goal that made it 14-10 at halftime.
The Cowboys kept the ball forever after taking the second-half kickoff, even though they only managed a 43-yard Buehler field goal. The Birds were not getting significant pressure on Kitna, or covering well underneath.
Then Vick tried to muscle a ball to Jeremy Maclin while scrambling. The pass surprised Maclin, who was setting up to block. He volleyballed it high into the air, where linebacker Bradie James picked it off.
Felix Jones then went 36 yards with a screen, setting up a 3-yard Jones TD run and the Cowboys' first lead of the evening, 20-14, midway through the third.
McCoy's 56-yard burst on a rare Eagles rushing attempt set up a 39-yard David Akers field goal. Then Akers hit again, from 50, to tie it with 13:57 left.
The Eagles' defense started to look much better and then Jackson, who has had quite a few frustrating moments against the Cowboys, turned everything around. Vick hit him on a little hitch pass to the left sideline. Jackson made Mike Jenkins miss and suddenly he was out in front of everyone, cutting from left to right, all alone. So alone he stopped at the goal line and executed a backward dive into the end zone, which drew a flag for excessive celebration. You had to wonder why DJax wanted to make NBC haul out the video of him prematurely jettisoning the ball before crossing the goal line for a touchdown in his first visit to Dallas, Sept. 15, 2008.
"The ball kind of sailed a little bit to the sideline," said Jackson, who told reporters he'd injured his right foot ("bones and ligaments") on a third-quarter punt return, and wasn't sure he could make it down the field. "I slipped to the sideline. I saw a guy behind me. Playing on a 60 percent hurt ankle . . . I didn't think I was going to make it. I saw guys coming closer and closer. I think Orlando Scandrick dove at my ankle . . . I just tried to jump up."
And the celebration, which Reid said he spoke to Jackson about, and Vick said was unnecessary?
"I get caught up out there having too much fun,'' Jackson said. "That's one thing I'm not going to take away from my game. I like the energy, I like doing the things I do to get my team pumped up . . . You've just gotta be smart. Obviously, it was a bad time to get the penalty. Coach Reid had a couple words with me. I was just happy my team stepped up."
When Patterson stepped in front of Kitna's pass to Williams for a pick on the Cowboys' first play after the touchdown, the turnaround seemed complete. The Eagles missed a great chance to take a commanding lead when they had to settle for a 28-yard Akers field goal and a 30-20 lead with 8:17 left.
That loomed a little when Kitna found Witten for a 22-yard TD, but Reid ran the ball, of all things, definitely confounding the Cowboys, who thought they knew him, and keeping the ball for the final 4:22.
"LeSean I thought ran hard, explosive," Reid said. "There's a point where you need to [control the clock by running effectively]."
McCoy credited his beleagured blockers with dominating, given a chance to move forward instead of retreating to pass block.
He said he wasn't surprised when Jackson blazed down the field with the hitch.
"No. 10, he's always doing things like that," McCoy said. "It's a special talent. The kid's only 165 pounds. He plays with a big heart."
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