THE EAGLES' week took an unexpected turn around 4:30 p.m. yesterday, when ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that Tony Romo's season was over because of a back injury. (Dallas coach Jason Garrett later said no final decision has been made, but he confirmed his quarterback had an MRI, apparently for a herniated disk.)
"I don't believe that. Are you for sure?" Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said to co-host Anthony Gargano, when Gargano told the NFL's leading rusher the news, early in McCoy's 94WIP radio show.
Like many Eagles fans who expressed their misgivings on social media, McCoy did not exult.
"I would love to have Romo out there. You want your best. You want everybody" playing in the showdown for the NFC East title, McCoy said. "You wait this long and put everything into it? The hard training in the offseason, get the new coach . . . We're finally here at the last game . . . You put all your chips on the table . . . We're all in."
McCoy said this is the first game he has wished he could play right away, instead of waiting for the weekend.
McCoy noted that Dallas backup Kyle Orton has been an NFL starter - he defeated the Eagles, 24-20, for the Bears on Sept. 29, 2008 - though Orton last started a game for Kansas City in 2011. Orton, 31, has thrown only 15 passes over the past two seasons, completing 12, for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin, appearing on general manager Howie Roseman's 94WIP show, said the Eagles will prepare the same way, regardless.
Roseman said the team will "prepare for Tony, and we'll just see how this week goes. We'll keep our edge on. That's the most important thing here."
Roseman said that if Orton starts, "Kyle's had success in this league." Orton completed 18 of 34 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions, in that 2008 Bears victory. He lost to the Eagles the next season, 30-27, as the QB of the Denver Broncos, completing 27 of 41 passes for 189 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly addressed reporters earlier yesterday, when the latest Romo news was still how the quarterback broke his pattern of December disappointment by throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-goal from the 10 at Washington on Sunday.
"Fourth-and-, game on the line, scrambles, keeps the ball alive, hits the mark to Murray, and they win the game. I'm always on what you did last, and what he did last was pretty special," Kelly said, when asked about criticism of Romo. "The way he avoided the rush, kept drives alive, I think he's as talented a quarterback as there is in this league.
"He's one of the really, really, really good quarterbacks we've seen, and I said that the first time we played him. If you're a fan of just quarterback play, he's pretty special."
Romo has completed 63.9 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, compiling a 96.7 passer rating.
As many fans were quick to note, although Matt Cassel technically was the Vikings' starter when he decimated the Birds 48-30 a week ago Sunday, Cassel is a journeyman more or less on par with Orton. It might be harder for Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis - scheduled to address reporters today - to figure a game plan for Orton, who has appeared in only two games this season, throwing five passes.
Kelly noted that his young team has played together a lot longer now than it had when it lost to Dallas, 17-3, at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 20. That was the game that dropped the Birds to 3-5, the low-water mark of the season.
"Since we went 3-5, every game has been kind of our back is against the wall," Kelly said. "This game is no different. As I told those guys [after the Chicago game], and I'll say again, for us, the playoffs just started this week. If we're fortunate enough to win on Sunday, then we get an opportunity to play again. If we don't win on Sunday, then we're not playing again. It's very black-and-white to us."
Screens are a big part of the whole Chip Kelly approach, which as Al Michaels noted Sunday night, forces the defense to account for "almost the whole 53 1/3-yard-wide field. The screen game was a huge factor in blowing out the Bears. Kelly talked earlier this season on a 6ABC show about "setting up a sidewalk" for the ballcarrier, between the hashmark and the numbers.
"I just think it's a lot of things to go into it," Kelly said yesterday, when asked about screen success. "I think No. 1, we have a couple of very, very athletic offensive linemen that can get down the field and block in space. If you're going to choose to play us in man coverage, then if we can pick off the guy that's got the back man-to-man, and then you also have a back that's really good in open space - so there's a lot of combinations there, so it's kind of picking and choosing when you call them.
"The other thing it does, I think it stops the rush a little bit . . . if they're worried about the screen game, they're not worried about rushing the quarterback. So it kind of goes hand-in-hand. You tie your screen game in with your running game with your play-action game and with your dropback game, and I think if you're varied enough with that, then you're presenting some problems to the defenses that you're facing."
The Eagles noted they are on track to be the first team since the 1991 Bills to lead the NFL in rushing while finishing last in time of possession. The '91 Bills went to the Super Bowl . . . There was no update on safety Earl Wolff, who broke up a pass and tweaked the knee that had kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 10 . . . Chip Kelly said using starting corner Bradley Fletcher on kickoff coverage is "an emphasis of how important special teams are to us." Fletcher ripped the ball away from Bears returner Devin Hester, setting up a TD. Starting corner Cary Williams, who said he hadn't played on special teams since Sept. 29, recovered the fumble. Kelly said the team moved some people around because special-teamers Colt Anderson (knee) and Kurt Coleman (hamstring) were out.