Flying high now

Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook carries the ball against the New York Giants during the NFL wild card game in Philadelphia last Saturday.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

They lost their star quarterback and defensive end. They lost a game on a 62-yard field goal. They seemed to lose their way entirely.

Yet here are the Philadelphia Eagles, looking as good as any team in the NFC playoffs.

It is a testament to the Eagles' resilience that despite all sorts of setbacks, they are playing at New Orleans on Saturday night riding a six-game winning streak. Even if they haven't been overpowering, they've been good enough. In the NFC, that has been, well, good enough.

"I just like the attitude of everybody," said quarterback Jeff Garcia, a catalyst of the turnaround after starter Donovan McNabb injured his knee. "The attitude of not getting down when things aren't going right, being able to overcome adversity, being able to meet a challenge head on and fight through it."

Boy, have they fought.

The Eagles already had lost defensive end Jevon Kearse, their top sack threat, when they got to 4-1. Then they lost to the Saints 27-24, with New Orleans scoring the final 10 points and John Carney's 31-yard field goal as time expired winning it.

That was a run-of-the-mill defeat compared to the next week at Tampa. Philly rallied from a 17-0 hole, built mainly on Ronde Barber's two touchdown returns on interceptions of McNabb. The Eagles led 21-20 after McNabb threw his third touchdown pass — he even vomited following one of the scores — when Matt Bryant lined up for a 62-yard field goal, a yard short of the league record.

Stunningly, Bryant made it — only the fifth successful kick of 60 yards or more in NFL history.

"It was definitely disappointing to go up by a point with 33 seconds left and let a team get down to the 50 or so and be able to kick a field goal," said Brian Westbrook, who had a sensational afternoon with 101 yards rushing and seven receptions for 113 yards — a harbinger for after McNabb would get hurt.

"We were all excited about the comeback, but we've got to find a way as a team to finish games."

Instead, the Eagles appeared finished when they lost for the fourth time in five outings, to Tennessee, and also lost McNabb. They were routed the next week by the Colts and fell to 5-6.

Facing a home game against Carolina and three consecutive road games against division foes, the Eagles were counted out almost everywhere.

Except where it mattered.

Coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tinkered with their version of the West Coast offense, tailoring it more to Garcia's skills as a short passer and scrambler. Reid handed Mornhinweg the play-calling duties and they turned more to Westbrook, a wise stroke because he has been brilliant the last two months.

The defense, particularly a talented secondary that was underachieving, stepped up. So did the receiving corps.

Philly swept those three divisional road games, including a 23-7 manhandling of Dallas that catapulted the Eagles to the top of the NFC East.

Last week, they edged the Giants 23-20 on David Akers' last-second field goal to advance to New Orleans. Typically for this season, they also saw Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard dislocate his elbow in the victory.

"I think everybody's character, our leadership, our play and our coaching ability has been tested this year," said linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, one of the team's key leaders. "I think when it is all said and done, we will be able to look back and say we withstood all the trials, all the ups and downs, the bad media attention, and that is one thing that really makes a person, makes a team.

"This has been a season of uncertainty. You never know what you're going to get on any given Sunday. We just fought through all that and came together as a unit. We are a better team right now than we have been in the past because everyone has to do their job, do their part and has a role to play."

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