JEROME McDOUGLE said he was at peace. There was nothing in his manner to suggest otherwise.
The defensive end the Eagles traded up to draft 15th overall in 2003 had just played every defensive snap of the preseason finale, a less-than-memorable 27-20 loss to the visiting New York Jets that closed the books on McDougle's best pro training camp.
Yet, nothing happened last night to ensure that McDougle would still be around when the roster gets trimmed from 75 to 53 today and tomorrow, assuming the Birds do not keep an extraordinary total of seven defensive ends.
In fact, all the options available going into the game seem to have dwindled to three: Carry seven d-ends, swallow $4 million in dead cap money by cutting injured free-agent signee Chris Clemons, or ax McDougle, despite everything he's done.
If you were thinking perennial underachiever Darren Howard might also be on the roster bubble, the coaching staff put that thought to rest by giving Howard the night off. Clearly, if they carry only four d-tackles, as expected, the Birds want to retain Howard's ability to move inside.
Raw third-round rookie defensive end Bryan Smith did not succumb to a mysterious injury that would have greased the skids for an injured-reserve year. In fact, Smith played virtually every snap, as well, recording 10 solo tackles. So much for trying to waive him and sneak him onto the practice squad.
It sure seems McDougle is on the griddle, despite his team-high 2 1/2 preseason sacks and what looked like nearly constant pass-rush pressure. How ironic would it be if McDougle finally became the player the Eagles thought they drafted, only he did it playing 90 miles up the road for the New York Giants, who need pass-rush help in the wake of the season-ending injury to Osi Umenyiora?
"I'm not really worried about what's going to go on," said McDougle, who recorded half a sack, a blocked pass and a hurry against the Jets. "The coaches, they have a lot of decisions to make, all around the board, not just me. Just put it in God's hands. I just played real hard, just left it all out on the field. That's been my whole attitude throughout the preseason."
McDougle said his religious faith helped him bounce back from all the injuries and the gunshot wound he suffered in 2005, helped him finally, this offseason, "stop worrying about a lot of things."
"It's good when you can just turn it over to God and go out there and play," McDougle said. "Take everything else out of it and just go out there - it's football. You grow up playing football your whole life and it's supposed to be fun. It's not supposed to be like eating dirt, or whatever . . . sometimes when you put a lot of pressure on yourself you take the fun out of it . . . I really feel like I've turned the corner."
Coach Andy Reid said McDougle had "done a heckuva job," which is Reid's all-purpose accolade.
"I saw some good things," Reid said. "Now we'll go back, evaluate the film and make the cuts. I thought there were some guys here who really showed well for themselves. There were other guys that didn't."
Reid indicated the evaluation process would commence overnight, and conclude when he meets with general manager Tom Heckert this morning, "When we're fresh. Or fresher."
The Eagles' starters looked as if they got some quality stretching in last night, standing there along the sideline, shifting from foot to foot. Same for the Jets' starters, who actually were required to exit the bus and enter the Lincoln Financial Field grounds. Quarterback Brett Favre watched the proceedings from a prime spot, seated atop a large Gatorade cooler.
The only real drama taking place in an NFL stadium last night was unfolding in Denver, which was why the Eagles' game started at 6:30, so Channel 6 would have the decks cleared in time for Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.
If you were wondering why starters don't play in these things, you got your answer with 3 minutes, 37 seconds left in the fourth, when the Birds' top offensive-line reserve, Max Jean-Gilles, left the field held up at each shoulder by Todd Herremans and Tra Thomas. Jean-Gilles' left leg dangled ominously, after he suffered what Reid called a knee sprain. An MRI exam was scheduled for today.
Earlier, Eagles second-year quarterback Kevin Kolb unfurled his most impressive outing of the preseason, driving for points on his first three possessions. Kolb donned the visor at halftime, having completed 13 of 21 passes for 138 yards, in what could be his last game action of 2008.
"It was huge," Kolb said. "It was my first start. Although it's just the preseason, and the starters weren't out there with me, it's still big for me. It breaks me in slowly, to hopefully what I am going to be one day."
The other most notable first-half development was when defensive tackle Dan Klecko - whom defensive coordinator Jim Johnson indicated this week was clearly part of the team's rotation - left the game with a wrist contusion. But Klecko returned later and recorded a sack.
Other highlights and lowlights:
* Reid said Tony Hunt got the first half at fullback, Jason Davis the second. From the press box, it was hard to say one was dramatically better than the other.
* A Winston Justice holding penalty ended up forcing the Eagles' first punt of the game with just 1:12 left in the first half. Would the Eagles cut a 2006 second-round pick? Probably not yet. Probably.
* Feeley's old bugaboo, the ball he shouldn't have thrown, made a third-quarter appearance. Fleeing pressure, Feeley tried to dump a pass to Jamal Jones and was picked off by safety Abram Elam. He later threw a 3-yard TD pass to Bam Childress. A fourth-quarter pick off a deflected pass wasn't Feeley's fault.
* Rookie safety Quintin Demps looked great on the kickoff returns but seriously muffed a punt, which was recovered by the Jets' Ahmad Carroll at the Birds' 17 with 7:54 left in a 20-20 game, leading to a 2-yard Jesse Chatman game-winning touchdown run. Might be a good idea to stick with DeSean Jackson on those punts.
* Jackson, by the way, might have been the first rookie of the Reid era held out of the final preseason game because he figures heavily in the offense. With Kevin Curtis down after sports-hernia surgery, Jackson surely can be no worse than the Birds' third wideout going into the opener, and he very well could start. *