Somebody derived benefit from playing in that regular-season-ending loss to the Cowboys, after all.

Eagles coach Andy Reid affirmed yesterday what he first said on his radio show Monday night - that Dimitri Patterson remains the Eagles' right cornerback.

Patterson was benched in favor of Joselio Hanson in the third quarter of the Dec. 28 loss to Minnesota. But Patterson played a strong, assertive game against the Cowboys, particularly as a blitzer, as one of the few starters to see extensive action. He said yesterday that was the most he had ever blitzed; Patterson notched his first career sack, against Stephen McGee.

"My thing is just coming out and being confident, aggressive, just what I've been since I got here, to be honest, since I got an opportunity," said Patterson, a 5-year NFL vet who played almost exclusively on special teams before this season. He took over for starter Ellis Hobbs following the Oct. 24 loss at Tennessee. "I wanted to be aggressive on the ball, whether it's the run or the pass. That's always been my goal."

Patterson took a special-teams penalty against the Cowboys. Penalties have been a bugaboo, something that is often a byproduct of his aggressiveness. He was yanked from the Minnesota game after being called for pass interference while still managing to give up a 46-yard completion to Percy Harvin.

"Penalties are part of the game," Patterson said yesterday. "You just don't want to be a repeat-mistake offender. When they happen, you just want to move forward."

One factor in keeping Patterson where he is might be that Hanson, the only veteran option at corner, said yesterday he prefers to remain in his inside/nickel role. Hanson agreed that the Eagles figure to be in nickel quite a bit against the Packers, making him a virtual starter.

Asante ascending

Meanwhile, on the other corner, Asante Samuel, the only player in NFL history with four interception returns for touchdowns in the postseason, practiced fully and said his sprained knee is fine.

Samuel, with 18 playoff games to his credit with the Patriots and Eagles, has seven overall postseason picks.

"I think it's just understanding the situation and what's at stake," Samuel said yesterday. "It's playoff time . . . everybody's going to raise their level, and you've got to match it."

Samuel led the NFL in interceptions, with seven, when he sprained his MCL Nov. 21 against the Giants. Samuel missed three games, then came back for two before sitting out Sunday's meaningless loss to Dallas.

He did not intercept another pass, and ended up tied for second in the league behind Baltimore's Ed Reed, with eight.

"It was a little frustrating . . . Missed a couple games, set me back a little bit, but it was all for the better," Samuel said.

Return engagement

Gerard Lawson ran back two kicks for a 24.0-yard average Sunday against the Cowboys, in his Eagles debut. That was enough to win Lawson the job for this week's playoff contest, Andy Reid said yesterday.

Lawson, 26, is a former Cleveland Brown who had been playing in the United Football League before the Eagles signed him on Christmas Eve. He has had to learn the Eagles' return setup on the fly.

"You've got to know what everyone's doing, you've got to anticipate blocks," Lawson said. "It's hard to just come in and do it. I tried to make it easy, but it really wasn't easy, I had to put a lot of time into it."

Lawson didn't make the playoffs in 2 years with the Browns, so this role is especially welcome. He said he learned he had the job when he looked at the depth chart yesterday.

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