Through the looking glass, the Eagles stared down the Pittsburgh Steelers. Six days after getting involved in a shootout with the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles found themselves in a street fight instead, an entirely different kind of game.
Their star running back, Brian Westbrook, left in the first half with an ankle injury of unknown severity.
Their starting quarterback, Donovan McNabb, missed part of the third quarter with some kind of a chest injury sustained during a first-quarter sack, and struggled thereafter.
Wounded, though, the Eagles never wobbled. Their defense, which came across as a little bit passive against a Dallas offense that lit them up, was ferocious against the Steelers. Their defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, blitzed early, often and without mercy. The Eagles had nine sacks. It was a bludgeoning kind of game. But despite having a distinct advantage in yards gained, the Eagles hung on to only a 12-6 lead in the late stages of the fourth quarter.
Which is when Brian Dawkins happened.
He had objected to people wondering if he had lost a step in pass coverage -- objected strongly after getting beaten downfield a few times against the Cowboys. He had breathed fire into the press conference microphone on Wednesday. And then, in the day's dying light, he made the play that essentially sealed the outcome -- a tomahawk sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a sack and a fumble that he promptly fell on, giving the Eagles the ball and setting them up for the put-away field goal. The final score was 15-6 -- odd, and oddly satisfying.
It was a day -- nasty, ugly, physical and hard -- that seemed destined to be decided by a final savage act. And Dawkins provided it.