The end result is what matters and the Eagles wound up soundly convincing the Houston Texas to once again “wait until next year.” Make no mistake, the Houston Texas are a team with a lot of talent – despite their 5-7 record. Gary Kubiak is rumored to be on the hot seat but if Houston management has any sense, they will leave the Texans architecht right where he is for 2011… that is… assuming there is football in 2011. Collective bargaining agreement or not, the Eagles and Houston played three solid quarters of VERY competitive football last Thursday Night. The national TV audience was treated to two formidable comebacks, which have become very common in NFL2010: The League of Parity.
They all looked at Michael Vick, and no matter what the scoreboard said, none of them had any doubt the Eagles were going to win. The Texans had rallied from 14 points down to take a four-point lead over the Eagles late in the third quarter Thursday night at the Linc. Nothing was going right for the Eagles. They couldn’t stop the Texans’ offense, which had scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions. Their offense was sputtering, with four consecutive drives resulting in nothing but field goals. Then they looked at Vick… and they knew the Texans didn’t have a chance.
Down 24-20 Vick entered the Eagles huddle with excitement, confidence and bravado – characteristics of a franchise quarterback who wants to lead his team. Vick looked his teammates in the eye and proclaimed “We’re going to score, we going to win.” One might have thought the Eagles quarterback was working with a 10-point lead, which was eventually what they would have. Confidence matters.
Vick reached down into his seemingly bottomless bag of magic Thursday night and rallied the Eagles to a 34-24 win over the Texans with two spectacular fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
“I love games like this,” Vick said. “You find out a lot about yourself playing this game. And at times when you think you can’t do it, something’s always in the back of your mind saying, ‘Yes you can,’ and that’s what drives me, that’s what motivates me, and the opportunity to achieve greatness is what I strive for.”
Playing just four days after a disappointing loss to the Bears in Chicago, the Eagles improved to 8-4 this year and 4-2 at home and finished 3-1 against the AFC. They maintained control of the NFC East, which they lead by half a game over the Giants. The Texans fell to 5-7 after a 4-2 start and have now lost four straight road games. They fell to 0-3 all-time against the Eagles and have been outscored 59-27 in those games.
Vick fashioned yet another nationally televised masterpiece Thursday, improving to 6-2 as a starter this year and 6-1 when he plays the entire game. He was 3-for-3 for 51 yards on the first TD drive, giving the Eagles the lead for good with a two-yard TD run with 13 minutes left. And then he was 3-for-4 for 64 yards on the next drive, giving the Eagles a two-possession lead with a five-yard touchdown pass to fullback Owen Schmitt with 4:23 left.
The Eagles opened the game with two quick touchdown drives and led 17-3 early in the second quarter before the Texans and their high-powered offense got going. Over the next 23 minutes, Houston outscored the Eagles 21-3 and outgained them 297-53 for a 24-20 lead on NFL total offense leader Arian Foster’s second TD of the third quarter. Vick’s response led the Eagles on a six-play 60-yard drive keyed by a 33-yard strike to DeSean Jackson down to the Houston 11-yard-line and finished off by Vick’s sixth rushing TD of the year and 29th of his career. That gave the Eagles the lead for good at 27-24 with 13 minutes left in the game. Against the Texans’ powerful offense, they needed more. After the defense finally held after allowing two long third-quarter TD drives, Vick went back to work, marching the Eagles 72 yards on eight plays for another TD.
Key play on the clinching TD drive was Brent Celek’s extra-effort catch-and-run to convert a 3rd-and-19 into a first down. Celek was initially ruled down shy of the first-down marker, but Reid challenged and won. Two plays later, Vick threw his second TD pass of the game, a five-yarder to Schmitt, whose second career TD and first since he was with the Seahawks last year extended the lead to 10 points.
The Eagles improved to 6-2 when Vick starts and 6-1 when he plays the entire game. Last time the Eagles scored at least 14 fourth-quarter points in a game while shutting out the opposition in the same fourth quarter was in a 2004 win over the Redskins. The Eagles were playing just 96 hours after Reid blasted them with a post-game locker-room speech after the loss in Chicago. LeSean McCoy, who netted 129 yards of offense, said Reid’s tirade woke the team up.
“As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never seen coach Reid like that,” LeSean McCoy said. “We are a team and nothing is bigger than this team. I think we had a swagger and instead of going out and proving it every Sunday, we kind of let the people tell us this and tell us that. That is what he let us know. … Andy got on us a bit to get our focus back.” Jeremy Maclin contributed five catches for 68 yards for the Eagles, and Celek – who has struggled for much of the year – had four receptions for a season-high 55 yards.
The Eagles, the third-most penalized team in the NFL, continued to hurt themselves with penalties. They were called 11 times for 85 yards, which gives them 91 penalties for 825 yards in 12 games. Texans RB Arian Foster ran 22 times for 83 yards, 29 of them on a meaningless run as the second quarter expired. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who owns the ninth-highest passer rating in NFL history, was 22-for-36 for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Schaub was picked off by Trevor Laws, whose first career interception set up a field goal just before halftime. He also lost a fumble in the final minutes of the fourth quarter when he was sacked by rookie safety Nate Allen.
Houston WR Andre Johnson, allowed to play by the NFL despite his on-field fight last week with Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan, caught six passes for 149 yards – the most by a visiting player against the Eagles since Terrell Owens had 174 yards in 2007.
The Texans fell to 5-7 after a 4-2 start and have now lost four straight road games. They fell to 0-3 all-time against the Eagles 59-27. The Eagles are now 39-16-1 since 2000 the week after a loss, including a 4-0 mark this year.
Vick continued to add to his MVP candidacy, completing 22 of 33 passes for 302 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 103.3 passer rating – his fifth rating over 100 this year. He now has 15 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions this year. Playing just four days after a disappointing loss to the Bears in Chicago and playing a fourth game in 18 days for the first time in 71 years, the Eagles improved to 8-4 this year and 4-2 at home after an o-2 start and finished 3-1 against the AFC.
Philadelphia maintained control of the NFC East, which they lead by half a game over the Giants, who they’ve already beaten and face the Redskins on Sunday. Moving onto this week, the Eagles will face longtime division rival Dallas Cowboys in part two of their Texas two step. As of Sunday night’s kickoff, Philadelphia will have rested for 11 days having taken whole days off before resuming practice on Wednesday. Facing the Cowboys is never easy but the Eagles will need to resist the urge to look past Dallas to their showdown with the New York Giants the following week. That game should determine the winner of the NFC East, and likely will be the division’s sole representative in the playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, Eagles fans may think back to the 2009 postseason and not fondly. If there was one symbol that best summarizes the Eagles’ 2009 late-season collapse, it was Donovan McNabb coming out of the tunnel at Cowboys Stadium and awkwardly playing air guitar for the TV cameras before the wild-card game in Dallas – a mere one week after Dallas manhandled the Eagles in the season finale. It would be the last game McNabb ever played for the Eagles. The final scores were 24-0 and 34-14. Same stadium. Six days apart.
On Jan. 3, the Cowboys beat the Eagles to snag the division title, and less than a week later, they hammered the Eagles again to end their season. In a rivalry that goes back 50 years, they were two of the most lopsided wins the Cowboys ever had against the Eagles. The 24-0 loss on the final day of the regular season was the Eagles’ worst loss in North Texas since 1983 and fourth-worst ever. The 34-14 wild-card loss was the Eagles’ second-worst postseason loss in franchise history. Despite that, it wasn’t Tony Romo’s touchdown passes or Miles Austin’s catches or Felix Jones’ runs that Eagles fans remember about the twin losses to the Eagles’ most bitter rival. It was the quarterback playing air guitar and playing horribly in both games in his Eagles finale. Those weren’t just losses. They were two crushing statements that something was deeply wrong with this team. The Cowboys jumped on top in both games, and the Eagles didn’t fight back. They couldn’t fight back. They were physically beaten, meantally exhausted and emotionally deflated.
So Eagles head coach and soon-to-be General Manager Howie Roseman tore apart the roster. They dumped McNabb in the Easter Day “Jesus Trade” with Washington. They traded or released ineffective or disinterested veterans like Darren Howard, Jason Babin, Will Witherspoon, Chris Clemons, Sean Jones, Kevin Curtis, Chris Gocong and Reggie Brown. They cut ties with Brian Westbrook, Jeremiah Trotter and Sheldon Brown – three of the team’s best players of the past generation. They got rid of half the team. Some 29 players who spent time on the roster last year are no longer with the organization – 13 of them were starters at some point in 2009. They reinvented the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It showed that nobody’s above getting traded, nobody’s above getting released, and it showed that obviously we were heading in a different direction,” said Mikell, currently the longest-tenured position player on the roster. “It was an exciting time, because I felt like there was going to be so much going on that everybody was going to get a chance to really show what they can do, and it was really going to become more of a team atmosphere instead of just relying on just one guy or just one guy there. That’s really what happened this year.” Head coach Andy Reid won’t go so far as to say there was a cause and effect between the Dallas losses and the roster overhaul but I will. There was a direct correlation between the two Dallas losses and the roster overhaul – plus the roster was aging and the Eagles generally don’t like to invest in players over 30 years of age.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Reid said. “I would be slamming the guys that were here, and I wouldn’t do that.” Before those games, the Eagles were 11-4, had won six games in a row, and were one win away from a first-round bye and home playoff game. Without those Dallas losses? Who knows? Maybe McNabb is still here. Maybe a lot is different. Maybe the Eagles advance to the NFC Championship game again and lose – again? Why not? It has happened four times in the Reid-McNabb Era, what’s one more? Safe to say the locker room would not have been quite so much gutted had the Eagles continued to win and also safe to say this 2010 team would be much older and probably less effective.
“We were a little bit older football team, and we wanted to make sure that we brought in some youth through the draft,” Reid said. “We created some trades, but we had this good nucleus of (draft) picks that, if we did it right, we felt like we could bring in some young guys to add to the roster. I thought we needed that, Howie thought we needed that, and that’s kind of the direction we went there.”
Today, the Eagles are in the exact same position as they were a year ago – 8-4 with four games left. They return to Dallas Sunday for the first time since the back-to-back debacles last January, and they return with a drastically different team. It’s not easy to take a competitive, playoff-caliber team, tear it apart and build it back up during the offseason, and return immediately with another competitive, playoff-caliber team. That’s exactly what the Eagles have done.
The Eagles have lost three straight games in Dallas and four of their last six. They’ve also lost three straight overall to the Cowboys and seven of the last 11. This game is really more a matter of pride for the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry…as far as Dallas is concerned. For the Eagles, this is a chance to keep pace with the Giants. New York plays the Vikings and are favored. Philadelphia has to hope that they go into next week’s rematch with the Giants with even records. If that is the case, the winner will most likely make the playoffs as the NFC East champions. The loser will likely watch the playoffs on TV.
“We’ve been at the top and we’ve been at the bottom before,” Mikell said. “The year before, we destroyed them (44-6 to reach the playoffs). It happens. I think you’re not going to see what happened last time happen this time. I’m looking forward to it, because when you’re sitting on your butt in the playoffs, and you see a team that just destroyed you two times in a row, it’s sickening. So I definitely have this one circled.”
Critics picked the Eagles to go 8-8 or 9-6 in 2010 and this is their chance to possibly secure a playoff berth. Backs against the wall. Grudge match rivalry. Dallas vs. Eagles on Sunday Night Football. You wanna see two teams that just plain don’t like each other? One is playing for pride, the other for revenge. Get ready for a battle! How ’bout them Cowboys? Cowboys are going down. Revenge of Gang Green.
EAGLES 37 COWBOYS 23
INJURY GAME NOTES
Neither cornerback Asante Samuel nor tackle Winston Justice will play Sunday night when the Eagles face Dallas at Cowboys Stadium. Both have been ruled out with knee injuries, and neither made the trip to Dallas. The Eagles once again will be forced to go with Joselio Hanson and Trevard Lindley. They’ve already lost their other opening-day starting cornerback, Ellis Hobbs, with a season-ending and potentially career-ending neck injury.
This will be the third straight game Samuel has missed since spraining his MCL against the Giants while attempting to recover his own fumble. He did not practice all week; he warmed up briefly Friday before leaving practice. The Eagles are 2-1 this season without the three-time Pro Bowler. Samuel also missed the San Francisco game with a concussion. He still leads the league in interceptions with seven and needs one more to reach 50 for his career.In three games without Samuel this year, the Eagles have allowed 9 passing TD and 277 passing yards per game. In nine games with him, they’ve given up 15 TD passes and 231 passing yards per game.
Like Samuel, Winston Justice also was unable to practice this week. He hadn’t missed a game since becoming the Eagles’ starting right tackle on opening day 2009. King Dunlap will replace Justice and make his third NFL start – and first at right tackle. He started two games at left tackle earlier this season when Jason Peters had arthroscopic knee surgery. The Eagles believe Dunlap, now in his third season, is one of the most improved players on the roster.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org