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Whew!!!: Eagles Outlast Winless Dolphins
PHILADELPHIA — I was at cold and rainy Lincoln Financial Field to experience the Eagles trying to get to a .500 record. Plus the Birds were also trying to avoid the “Classic Letdown Game” against the winless Miami Dolphins.
Pregame Notes: The winless (0-9) Miami Dolphins come to town in a game the inconsistent Philadelphia Eagles are expected to win. The Birds have not strung together consecutive wins thus far this season, but they have a chance to get the .500 mark after a comeback win last week in Washington DC. The Eagles were saved in the Redskins game by Brian Westbrook, who had 183 total yards of offense and 3 touchdowns including a 57-yard catch and run that may have saved their season. The Dolphins have played tough in many of the games that they lost this season including last week losing at home to the Buffalo Bills 13-10. An interesting subplot of the game is that Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron has decided to give BYU rookie quarterback John Beck his first NFL start.
The game also marks the one-year anniversary of Donovan McNabb injuring his knee (torn ACL) versus Tennessee. Miami leads the all-time series 7 to 4, but the Eagles have won two of the last three games. The last meeting was December of 2003 with the Eagles winning 34-27 in Miami and the Birds matched franchise record with 9th consecutive victory. For the Dolphins watch for explosive free agent pickup LB Joey Porter and first round speedster WR Tedd Ginn Jr. For the home team Eagles, running back Brian Westbrook (701 yards rushing with 5 TDs and 54 catches for 518 yards w/ 4 TDs) — bidding to be the NFL’s first 1,000 yard rusher and receiver in the same season since Marshall Faulk in 1999 — is a key player along with Trent Cole (NFC leading 9 sacks).
First Quarter: Dolphins 0 – Eagles 0 – This quarter was pretty much uneventful as there were only six first downs and three punts. What I noticed was Donovan McNabb may have come out a little tight in at the beginning of the game. He was high on a throw to LJ Smith and later threw an interception to Jason Allen. Speaking of Smith, he had probably the worst quarter of any Eagle dropping a pass on his numbers and getting called for a holding penalty that took points off the board.
The Eagles did show on their second drive that they wanted to get to .500 with McNabb scrambling for 26 yards and a beautiful flea-flicker pass from McNabb to Curtis for an apparent touchdown that was nullified by the aforementioned Smith holding call. For the Dolphins you could see the explosiveness of first round pick Tedd Ginn as he had 3 catches for 49 yards with a long of 23 yards.
Second Quarter: Dolphins 7 – Eagles 3 – The quarter opened with the Eagles having the ball in a drive that stalled at their own forty-one. The failed drive opened the door for the most explosive play of the game as Tedd Ginn Jr circled under a Sav Rocca punt at his own 13-yard line. The mercurial returner after an initial miss by Eagles LB Akeem Jordan made his way down the Birds sideline untouched sporting his world class speed giving the Dolphins a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, McNabb still seemed in a funk throwing a bad interception to Jason Allen when Kevin Curtis was double covered at the Dolphins two-yard line. After another bad punt by Dolphins young punter Brandon Fields, the Eagles finally set off to get on the scoreboard driving from the Dolphins thirty-six to their sixteen where a David Akers’ 34 yard field goal got them on the board.
On the play before the field goal, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was chased then hit by Joey Porter causing him to leave the game with an ankle sprain. AJ Feeley entered the game and threw an interception in his first series seemingly throwing the ball right to Dolphins DB Andre Goodman. A series of punts afterwards left the score 7-3 at the half with the Philly faithful voicing their displeasure. For the half the Eagles had three interceptions, three penalties, six first downs, 164 yards on offense led by a running game built around Brian Westbrook’s 68 yards on 12 carries (5.7 ypc). Their passing numbers were nothing to write home about with McNabb throwing for 3-11, 34 yards, and two interceptions before exiting.
Third Quarter: Dolphins 7 – Eagles 10 — The good news was that McNabb’s x-rays were negative, but the Eagles were trailing a winless team at home. Someone (later learned Brian Dawkins) lit a fire under the Eagles at halftime as they came out of the locker-room. The Birds drove sixty-two yards on seven plays ending with an 8-yard Correll Buckhalter touchdown run. In the 3:51 minute drive, Feely was efficient finding Kevin Curtis for 14 yards and then an additional 17 yards.
However, Feeley dodged a huge bullet when DB Will Allen sacked him causing a fumble that Vonnie Holiday recovered, but Allen was ruled offsides ruining the Dolphins game-changing play. The quarter ended with the Eagles and Dolphins trading punts wrapped around runs by Dolphins rookie RB Jesse Chatman and Westbrook. The Eagles dominated with 9:23 minutes of possession (Dolphins 5.37), third down conversions (2 of 3 to the Dolphins none), and penalties (Eagles zero to the Dolphins one). Westbrook definitely looked like a player on a mission ending the third quarter with 22 rushes for 123 yards with a 5.6 yards per carry average.
Fourth Quarter: After a stirring third quarter both teams seemed to understand that the game still was not over. The winless Dolphins showed heart by fighting to the end and the Eagles knew they still had a dangerous foe in front of them. The Eagles starting the quarter with the ball rode the Westbrook express into Dolphins territory where Feeley looking comfortable threw a nice low 4-yard touchdown pass between defenders that Jason Avant snared in the end-zone for basically the game ending score at 17-7 Eagles. On the touchdown play LJ Smith continued his tough afternoon by picking up an unsportsmanlike player penalty for yapping at an opposing player.
The field position and penalty seemed to fire up the Dolphins as rookies John Beck and Jesse Chatman took turn making plays moving the flippers down to the Eagles one yard line. From there the Eagles decided enough is enough as they toed the line not allowing the Dolphins to score in a goal line stand that will surely be one of their highlights for the season. On first down Chatman was stuffed by Trent Cole for negative one yards — second down produced an incompletion on a pass defended by Takeo Spikes — third down it was Spikes again as he ripped Chatman down for a one yard gain — after a Philly timeout, on fourth down the Dolphins desperately wanting a win went for it and the Eagles were ready as Juqua Thomas harassed then took down Chatman for a 13 yard loss on a pitch play. After the goal line stand the fans and Eagles sideline erupted as they knew their first home win since September 23rd against the Lions was preserved.
Final Analysis: Eagles 17 – Dolphins 7, The game may not have been their greatest effort, but the Eagles pulled together to win a game against a foe everyone expected them to beat on a cold rainy day. They evened their slate at 5-5 after a roller coaster first ten games and Andy Reid said of the feeling of finally being at .500, “It’s a lot better than being 4-6″. They did not take the Dolphins for granted and it was the play of surefire Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook, who had a career day finishing with 148 yards on 32 carries (4.6 ypc).
Westbrook’s 32 carries should finally quiet the critics that always say he is too fragile or injury prone. On the career day Westbrook said, “It feels good. We didn’t play a perfect football game, but we continued to fight”. Eagles’ backup quarterback AJ Feeley stepped in and performed well after McNabb went down. Feeley was excited after the game as he was able to exact revenge against a Dolphins team that had given up on him in the summer of ’06. The former Dolphins starter in ’05 said of the win, “You never want to get your chance to play because of an injury to someone else. But it felt good to get in their and beat those guys due to our history”.
Final numbers for the Eagles showed 20 first downs, 8-of-16 on 3rd downs, 352 yards rushing with an incredible bad weather ground churning 202 yards on the ground that produced 34:49 minutes of possession. Those are the good stats, but the Eagles need a healthy McNabb and need to do a better job on game-changing plays on defense (no interceptions and no sacks against a rookie quarterback) to move up the ranks of the NFC East. Other than the goal line stand the game was a win that had few highlights that the Birds have probably already forgotten as they prepare for their own “Mission Impossible” as they travel to New England to face the might Patriots.
– Where was Jevon Kearse ?? – The Eagles for whatever reason (benching for poor play or a knee problem) decided that their ’04 center piece should be inactive for the game. This is a move I clearly anticipated as the “Freak” is not the same player and I suspect this maybe his last year in green.
– Eagles WR Reggie Brown had more tackles (1) than catches (zero) in the game.
– I wonder if perennial yapper Dolphins LB Joey Porter wishes he was still on the 7-3 Steelers rather than the 0-10 Dolphins. Porter definitely wanted the money, but was it worth the discomfort of playing for a such a non-winner. For the game Porter contributed four tackles and plenty of talk.