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McLane: Brandon Brooks comes up a winner

BALTIMORE - Brandon Brooks didn't vomit. This was odd, but good. "Every game day, sick or not, I throw up," Brooks said. "It's just a habit. How it's always been. But I didn't throw up at all today."

BALTIMORE - Brandon Brooks didn't vomit. This was odd, but good.

"Every game day, sick or not, I throw up," Brooks said. "It's just a habit. How it's always been. But I didn't throw up at all today."

If habits are hard to break, then how difficult must it have been to stop vomiting, sometimes uncontrollably to the point of exhaustion, because of anxiety, and after you publicly admitted four days earlier that the condition is what has kept you from playing football in two of your last three games?

But that's what Brooks was able to do - or not do - on Sunday. And then he played. And he played well. The Eagles lost, 27-26, to the Ravens, and most of the postgame questions were on topics related to how they were defeated.

But Brooks won a personal battle - one he wages in his mind before every game, before every play. Few know what he experiences as an NFL player, but millions of Americans every day face a similar internal struggle with anxiety. Sometimes they get better. Sometimes they don't.

And sometimes they just learn to live with it.

"I don't know if it ever goes away," Brooks said in the visitors' locker room at M&T Bank Stadium. "You're always trying to be perfect on every play. But even during the game, before I go out for a drive, my mind starts wondering, and I start thinking, 'This could happen. That could happen.' "

Brooks has been on medication sometime since he was first diagnosed three weeks ago following the Packers game. He got through the next game at Cincinnati, but last week before the Redskins game, early-morning nausea led to spells of vomiting and the Eagles had to scratch him just hours before kickoff.

Brooks said he slept well this Saturday night. He said he went to bed about 9:30-10 p.m., after the Eagles drove to Maryland earlier in the afternoon, and got up about 7 a.m.

"I took one of the pills to help me sleep at night, too," Brooks said.

That doesn't mean there weren't moments of nervousness. Brooks had said that an unhealthy obsession with being precise has been his chief nemesis. But any time those thoughts crept into his head Sunday, he said he repeated the same mantra over and over.

"Any time I felt like I had some anxiety, or my mind started wandering and I'm thinking I need to be perfect," Brooks said, "I just tied to tell myself, 'It's just a game. Have fun. It's just a game. Have fun.' "

Brooks' pregame bouts with vomiting have put the Eagles in a pickle. On both previous occasions, rookie Isaac Seumalo learned only a few hours before game time that he was to start at right guard. Players were frustrated. How could they not be?

"Of course they were," Eagles tackle Jason Peters said. "Guys got to move around. But I just told [Brooks] I've got his back."

If there's anyone in the locker room who you want on your side, it's the Hall of Fame-caliber tackle. Brooks has gone to the veteran for advice on many subjects since he first arrived in Philadelphia this offseason, but after he stood up in front his fellow offensive linemen last week and divulged his condition, Peters came to him.

"He's new to Philly and when he first got here I told him, 'Hey, man, anything you do, it's watched here in Philly,' " Peters said. "So when he kept getting anxiety the day of the game and people started coming down on him hard, I just felt like it was good for me to go talk to him."

Peters has been by Brooks' side ever since.

"He's just one of those guys," Brooks said, "open ears with no judgment."

Brooks said that he has received positive feedback from outside the NovaCare Complex, despite the stigma that anxiety isn't a real medical illness. He said that after he went public with his condition, someone from his apartment building slid a card under his door.

"It said, 'Don't worry about being perfect. Our imperfections are what make us who we are,' " Brooks said. "That stuck with me. I don't know who sent that. But I appreciated that."

NFL locker rooms are about as macho as environments get, but center Jason Kelce said that many Eagles were impressed with Brooks' willingness to address his anxiety on a public stage.

"I don't think anybody feels like this is something that he controls, first of all," Kelce said. "Who knows what's caused it, what's led to it. I think everybody hopes that he can just get better as a human being."

But the NFL is still a bottom-line business. The Eagles need Brooks, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract, to perform. And when he's out there, he has played at a consistent level. It's hard to say how Brooks played individually without watching Sunday's film, but the Eagles put up 159 yards against the league's No. 1-rated running defense and Carson Wentz was sacked only once.

"I'm always going to say I did some good things, did some bad things," Brooks said. "We were imposing our will up front. But it didn't end the way we wanted it to."

The Eagles lost yet another close game, but they took a small step toward becoming a team that may eventually win nail-biters with regularity. Brooks knows that Sunday was just an incremental movement forward in his plight.

Keeping his food down could mean he's headed in the right direction.

"Maybe I'm just chilling more," Brooks said. "Hopefully, that's a good sign."