ONE PLAY into Sunday's game, Clay Harbor suddenly was the Eagles' No. 1 tight end. Also their only tight end.
Starter Brent Celek took a hit from rookie Tampa linebacker Lavonte David after catching a Nick Foles checkdown, on the first snap. Celek had already been tackled by a cornerback, but as he went to the ground, David flew in low, to limit the lean forward. Celek's head bounced off the Raymond James Stadium turf.
Celek became the latest member of the Eagles' concussion club, and Harbor began the busiest day of his 3-year pro career. Thursday, Harbor is expected to get his first NFL start as a lone tight end, the team having already ruled Celek out of the visit from his hometown Cincinnati Bengals.
The good news was that Celek told reporters he felt fine Monday, that the short turnaround was the main reason he had no chance of playing. In fact, there was other good concussion news - the Eagles said both quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy have passed imPACT tests, and theoretically could practice Tuesday.
Neither Vick, nor McCoy, is likely to play Thursday. They haven't been evaluated by an independent neurologist, which must happen before they play, and the players and the coaching staff have to weigh the merits of Vick and McCoy taking the field again this season against the fact that the Eagles are eliminated from playoff contention. Vick, who went home Monday with an illness that was not concussion-related, the Eagles said, has been told that Nick Foles is the starter for the rest of the year.
Harbor, meanwhile, probably will be backed up by one of two players who would have to be elevated from the practice squad - either tight end Derek Carrier, who came to the Eagles after spending training camp with the Raiders, or fullback Emil Igwenagu, who has been here since the spring and got some tight end reps in the preseason.
"At first, I was a little - I got my feet wet a little bit. A couple protections, I needed to work on," Harbor said Monday. "Coach [Tom Melvin] called down [from the box], and I told him, 'Hey, I'm fine now, I'm in the game, the jitters are gone, I'm going to have a good game.' "
Harbor, a fourth-round pick in 2010, came in tagged as a pass-catcher, more receiver than tight end. The Eagles used a lot of two-tight-end formations in 2011, when McCoy became the focus of the offense, but they've done less of that in 2012. Although Harbor's 22 catches this season are a career high, this has been far short of a breakthrough season. But Sunday, he was targeted six times and caught six passes, for 52 yards and one very important touchdown, the one before the one at the very end.
"There's always things you improve on. I've got to get better in protection, the run game, even run some routes better, but Brent's helping me in the film room; he's still going to be a big part this week, as far as getting me prepared," Harbor said.
Harbor said his 51 offensive and 12 special-teams snaps Sunday "definitely" were the most he's ever played, he could say so "without even thinking hard."
Teammates were as awed as fans were by wideout Jason Avant's amazing one-handed, backward-leaning sideline catch Sunday that helped set up the game's first points.
The highlight video clip was everywhere Monday. Team director of football media services Derek Boyko tweeted a still photo of the catch that quickly got more than 250 retweets.
"It's a credit to his work ethic and how he does things," rookie right tackle Dennis Kelly said of Avant, whose fourth-down catch later gave the Birds the chance to win it at the end. "It's one of those plays that, if you're in the stands, you stand up just instinctively. It was very exciting to watch."