(Originally published Monday, Sept. 26, 2005)
As stirring, heartwarming moments go, no question, this was Hallmark-worthy.
The Eagles' thrilling, 23-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders yesterday will be properly celebrated for the way David Akers kicked a 23-yard, game-winning field goal with the hamstring in his right leg held together by adhesive tape, and for the way Donovan McNabb led the Birds back in the second half, ignoring the pain from a groin injury apparently suffered a week earlier.
You had Akers crying on the sideline after hitting the winner with 9 seconds left, crying more from pain than happiness or relief, Akers said later. Players came over, individually, to honor Akers' grit; first there was Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, and then Raiders punter Shane Lechler, making the long journey over to the opponents' bench. Trailing a pack of photographers, Akers limped to the wall behind the bench and reached into the stands to take his 3-year-old son, Luke, onto his shoulders for a ride into the locker room.
You had McNabb completing 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half, after hitting just 11 of 24 for 99 yards, no TDs and a pick in the first half, which ended with the Eagles down, 10-6. At one point in the second quarter, McNabb limped off after taking a hit and backup Koy Detmer started warming up on the sideline; Andy Reid acknowledged later that he had considered making a switch. Former Eagle Derrick Burgess, now a Raiders defensive end, said McNabb "pulled a Superman and stayed out there," ultimately leading the Eagles 75 yards on 10 plays in the final 2 minutes, 17 seconds, setting up Akers' chip shot field goal.
"This is a type of game that when you talk about the Philadelphia Eagles and the struggle of getting to our goal, and that's the Super Bowl, this would be a great story," said McNabb, who explained that he started stepping into throws more in the second half, even though he knew it would hurt, because he had tried just throwing with his upper body in the first half, and it didn't work.
In a few days, though, these happy, vivid moments will fade, and there will be 13 games' worth of season to contemplate. They look a little more dicey right now for the 2-1 Eagles than they looked yesterday morning, when Akers' hamstring wasn't that big a deal and McNabb was just a bit banged up.
A story on FoxSports.com surfaced as the game was starting, analyst Jay Glazer reporting that the Eagles were concerned that McNabb's groin injury might be a sports hernia, which is a serious problem that apparently can't be resolved without surgery. Just about that same time, Akers grabbed his right hamstring on the opening kickoff – the first opening kickoff, the one on which the Eagles were offside because Akers came up lame and was late to the ball. It was followed by the second opening kickoff, on which Akers crumpled to the ground after hitting the ball, his teammates again beating him to the line and getting flagged for being offside. Mike Bartrum then had to kick off, from the Eagles' 20, getting an unsteady afternoon off to a bizarre start.
Akers had kicked all week in practice and said he was booming the ball in warmups yesterday, but now he definitely figures to miss some time, maybe several weeks, with last week's practice-squad addition, Todd France, likely to handle the Eagles' field goals and extra points.
McNabb seems headed for more tests.
"You just kind of want to make sure you get the right answer," McNabb said. "Not to knock any of our [medical staff], they do a wonderful job, but this is my job. This is what I love to do. If I can find a way to get healthy, be out there at 100 percent, that's my goal. "
He didn't say how plausible that goal seems right now.
Reid, asked if McNabb's injury might bother him all season, went all Donald Rumsfeld, asking hypothetical questions and answering them.
"I can't answer that. I don't know," Reid said. "Is it going to bug him here for a little bit? It probably will. Will the bye week help? It probably will. "
Officially, Reid said, "right now they are calling it an abdominal strain . . . That's what it is right now. "
The FoxSports.com report said the Eagles have sent the results of McNabb's tests to an eminent sports-hernia expert, Dr. William Meyers. Eagles punter Dirk Johnson missed the preseason after having surgery for a sports hernia just before training camp. Medical texts describe the injury as a "disruption of the inguinal canal without a clinically detectable hernia. "
McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith, said he and McNabb discussed the injury this past week but McNabb didn't seem to think it was all that serious. Smith said McNabb has not yet been diagnosed with a sports hernia, as far as he knows.
Reid said McNabb "was a little tight in the pelvis area. I think that was bothering him early. He battled through that thing like the warrior he is. He just came up with some huge throws in the second half. That basically tells you the whole story about Donovan McNabb right there. "
McNabb obviously was not cutting or digging hard when he had to pull the ball down and run yesterday; he finished with 8 yards on three carries. He wasn't even moving around in the pocket very well. But with the help of the Birds' offensive line, he was able to gut it out well enough as an immobile, pocket passer to win the game.
The Eagles won largely because they shut down the Raiders' running game (22 carries for 21 yards), did a great job maintaining coverage on Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and Co. even when Kerry Collins had plenty of time to throw (which was just about every down), and because the penalty-prone Raiders seemed totally flummoxed trying to track Brian Westbrook as a receiver.
Westbrook caught six passes for 140 yards and a shovel-pass touchdown. He also ran 13 times for 68 yards and a TD, underscoring, highlighting and italicizing his contention that he deserves as good a contract as the 0-3 Raiders gave free agent LaMont Jordan (5 years, $27 million) in the offseason. Jordan ran 16 times for 19 yards yesterday, looking like he had Jeremiah Trotter Velcroed to his jersey. He caught five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. Westbrook's 208 combined yards were a career high.
The Eagles' defense really shut down the Raiders after some early stumbles, partly attributable to Oakland's great field position. Cornerback Sheldon Brown, asked how the defense feels when it sees Akers and McNabb struggling with injury, said: "We want to put it on the defense's shoulders. More than anything we want to score on defense. We weren't able to do that, but we held on long enough so those guys could pick it up. They got in their rhythm and they did their thing. "
The Birds had a 20-13 lead and seemed ready to add to it when tight end L.J. Smith fumbled, the Raiders recovering at their 2. Later in the fourth quarter, Collins drove the Raiders for a touchdown, on a 27-yard pass to Doug Gabriel with just 2:17 left, tying the game. When it was 20-20, that extra point after the Birds' first touchdown that linebacker Mark Simoneau kicked into teammate Steve Spach instead of between the uprights looked pretty big – but in fairness, so did the 49- and 37-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal misses.
Akers returned, heavily taped, in the second half and hit two extra points before his field goal.
"We thought we had to get to the 12," on the final drive, Reid said. They got to the 12, on an illegal-contact call (one of 13 Raiders penalties for 94 yards, not including the ones that were declined), the play after a Terrell Owens catch at the 17. Then T.O. caught another, at the 5, with no timeouts left. McNabb hurried up to the line and spiked the ball for Akers' final, painful kick.
"When you go out there, you know it's only going to hurt for 1 second, and then the game can be over," Akers said.
Asked where he would rank it among his all-time highlights, Akers said: "I'm honestly proudest of this kick today. I can honestly say that."