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By Joseph Santoliquito
MIAMI (CBS) — Just when you think their season is over, just when everything looks doomed and finished, the Eagles find a way to drag you back. The Eagles continued a season-long tease of how good they were supposed to be by thrashing the Miami Dolphins, 26-10, on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
The victory kept the Eagles faint hopes of reaching the playoffs still on life support, improving to 5-8 thanks to three Miami second-quarter turnovers that the Eagles turned into 17 points.
If the Eagles win out, going 3-0 the rest of the way, hosting the New York Jets next Sunday, a trip to Dallas and closing with Washington at home, Philadelphia could win the NFC East on a tiebreaker at 8-8. But the Eagles will need help — considerable help — for that scenario to salvage what has been a thoroughly disappointing year, needing Dallas to go 1-3 and the New York Giants go 2-2 in their last four games. Can that happen? Maybe.
The Miami victory marked the return of Michael Vick, who missed three games recovering from broken ribs. Vick was a pedestrian 15 of 30 for 208 yards, with a touchdown and interception. LeSean McCoy rushed 27 times for 38 yards and two touchdowns.
Throughout the game, chants of “E-A-G-L-E-S” could be heard repeatedly. The environment was much different from the last time the Eagles were at home, when an angry fanbase yelled for Eagles’ coach Andy Reid to be fired. Reid chose to have selective hearing that day and claimed to not hear the chorus. This time, Reid heard the supportive masses.
“The fans were unbelievable,” Reid said. “They were loud and aggressive. I was impressed. It was two teams that needed to win going against each other. The defense stepped up with nine sacks and three turnovers. The guys focused on the fundamentals and kept working. I think it was a good job by the defensive line and the linebackers filled in with penetration. We were able to score off turnovers when we needed.”
Can the Eagles hold on to this late magic? Is it possible — can the Eagles turn this season around at this belated stage?
Vick certainly believes it can.
“This team can do anything they want to do, it’s all about a mindset, and as long as our mindset is right, we can make it happen,” Vick said. “It feels good to win, especially after being off for three weeks. If we can continue playing this way, we have a chance of winning the next three games. We’ve been through a lot. We started out slow and lost a lot of games we were supposed to win and we didn’t finish. The guys have rallied around each other.”
For a rare time this year, the defense made an appearance. The Eagles had a season-high nine sacks for minus-60 yards against the Miami quarterback combo of Matt Moore and then J.P. Losman, who came in to replace the injured Moore late in the third quarter. They handled Miami, which had won four of its last five games.
The Eagles held Miami to 204 yards of total offense, which translated into 3.2 yards per play.
“We took advantage of the opportunities that we got,” Vick said. ”I was in a lot of pain. The only thing I wanted to do is finish and play the game. I got hit a lot and it wore me down, but that’s football and that’s the way it is. I think this showed my dedication and my will to win. I want to be accountable and I want to be able to hold my weight. I tried to hang in there and make any excuses. That’s how games are won in this league. Teams that get turnovers usually win. We’re very proud of our defense and how they made this game.”
Things looked, well, embarrassing for the Birds in the opening quarter. Miami’s Brandon Marshall snared a 16-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone from Moore, right over Nnamdi Asomugha. The score was made possible by a blocked punt. Three plays later, Moore found Marshall.
The Eagles had trouble moving the ball, and spent most of the quarter in the shadow of their end zone. But the second quarter turned into one of the most productive 15 minutes of the season.
It was kick-started by a questionable move by Dolphins’ coach Tony Sparano, who chose to try a 55-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter late in the first quarter. Carpenter’s longest field goal this season was a 48-yarder last week against Oakland. His 55-yard attempt fell woefully short and to the left—giving the Eagles great field position at the Eagles’ 46.
The Eagles proceeded to pound through Miami for McCoy’s first touchdown, a two-yard score early in the second quarter.
The missed field goal seemed to spell the end for the Dolphins, because on their following possession, Kurt Coleman intercepted Moore, which led to McCoy’s second score, a one-yard run. Then two following Dolphin possessions resulted in an Asante Samuel fumble recovery, that led to Alex Henery’s 40-yard field goal and Jason Babin’s sack and fumble recovery that set up Vick’s 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide open DeSean Jackson on a blown Miami coverage.
In a seven-minute span, the Eagles took control of the game and possibly saved their postseason hopes for at least another week. The 24 points is the most the Eagles scored in a quarter this season, and it was enough to buoy the rest of the game. And maybe the season.
RB LeSean McCoy currently leads the NFL with a career-high 17 total touchdowns after picking up two more rushing scores on the day. His 1,172 rushing yards on the season ranks 9th all time in Eagles history, and his touchdowns are second behind Steve Van Buren’s 18 in 1945. His 14 rushing touchdowns are second behind Van Buren’s 15 in 1945 … McCoy has scored a touchdown in 12 of 13 games in 2011 … It was McCoy’s fifth multi-touchdown game of the year … The Eagles defense accumulated nine sacks on the day, their highest total since registering 9 on 9/21/08 vs. Pittsburgh. According to Stats Inc., it tied for the third-most in team history … LBs Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews each notched their first-career quarterback takedown. It was just the second time in team history that the Eagles had two rookies with a full sack in the same game (Randall Mitchell and Matt Battaglia on 10/4/87 vs. Chicago) … First-year DE Phillip Hunt also notched his first-career sack, which resulted in a safety … The Eagles have had 13 different players register at least a half sack this season … DE Jason Babin tied a single-game career high with three sacks and now has a career-high 15 on the season, which is the most since Hugh Douglas had 15 in 2000, and the seventh-highest single-season total in team history. Babin also forced a fumble which was recovered by DT Mike Patterson. It was Babin’s 11th multi-sack game and his fifth of 2011 … DE Trent Cole also registered three sacks and now has nine on the season. It was his 16th-career multi-sack game … The only other time in franchise history that the Eagles featured two players with three or more sacks in the same game was on 11/22/92 at NYG (Clyde Simmons – 3.0; Reggie White – 3.5) … The defense allowed just three first-half first downs and 11 overall … They held the Dolphins to 3-15 (20.0%) on third down and 0-3 on fourth down … The Eagles surrendered just 95 net passing yards and 204 total net yards, while forcing three turnovers … The Eagles scored 26 points against a Dolphins team that had allowed just 10.4 points per game over their previous five contests, and had not allowed more than two offensive touchdowns in a game since the season-opener against New England … WR DeSean Jackson caught a 34-yard touchdown, his third score of the season. Of Jackson’s 29 career touchdowns (including playoffs), 21 have covered 30-plus yards … WR Jason Avant set a career-high with 602 receiving yards so far this season … S Kurt Coleman intercepted his fourth pass of the season, racing it all the way down to the one-yard line and leading to a touchdown. The last Eagles safety with four or more interceptions in a season was Brian Dawkins, who had four in 2006 … CB Asante Samuel forced and recovered a fumble … Andy Reid improved his record to 3-1 all time against the Dolphins. He also upped his career December record to 36-15 (.706) … K Alex Henery has connected on 11 consecutive field goal attempts … P Chas Henry had a career-best 46.6-yard gross punting average on nine punts, including four that landed inside the 20-yard line.