Eagles' Maclin stays inbounds to set up Akers' game-winner

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David Akers celebrated after kicking the game-winning winning field goal from 28 yards with seven seconds left. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

ANDY REID wasn't quite sure, from his vantage point about 30 yards away.

Jeremy Maclin was certain. Afterward, Maclin said he knew his feet were down as he extended far past the sideline to catch the pass, at the Denver Broncos' 13-yard line, with 59 seconds left. When ref Mike Carey agreed after replay review, the Eagles had a 27-yard gain and more than enough field position to put the game in the hands of David Akers.

Akers' 28-yard field goal with 4 seconds left gave the Eagles their sixth victory in a row, 30-27. Dallas' 17-0 victory over the Redskins last night set up an Eagles-at-Cowboys showdown Sunday for the NFC East title. The NFL moved the game from 1 to 4:15 p.m. The Eagles can still be seeded second, third, fifth or sixth.

"Immediately, I got up and told coach Reid to challenge" the initial ruling of an incomplete pass, Maclin said. "I forgot it was under 2 minutes" and the review would be automatic.

Someone asked if Maclin watched the numerous big-screen replays. "Of course I did," he said.

"I felt like I got both feet in. I wasn't going to change my mind, regardless . . . If you catch the ball, they're going to make the right call; that's why they've got video replay."

The Eagles, you might have heard, depend a lot on their younger players, sometimes more than is ideal. One side of that coin was the 14-point swing almost entirely authored by rookie safety Macho Harris, who put the Broncos back in a game they were getting blown out of with a key penalty and a fumble that led to Denver touchdowns.

The other side of the coin was Maclin, who saved the day and then didn't seem to quite get what all the fuss was about.

"Great throw, it was a better catch. A phenomenal catch," Reid said. "You think you see both feet in, but [side judge Don Carlsen, who ruled the pass incomplete] had a good angle on it, too. It was tough, because one foot came down, the other foot came up, and then went back down. That's a tough, tough call there. But that's why we have the replay, so it all worked out."

Donovan McNabb, straining to revive an offense that was unstoppable in the first half and unstartable most of the second, said he didn't know the first-round rookie had made the grab, on second-and-8 from the Broncos' 40, until he saw the replay.

"It's truly a blessing when you've got guys who just continue to progress each week. We continue to progress together," McNabb said after the Eagles broke the franchise scoring record of 416 points set last season. "That's kind of how the league is now . . . You're asking a lot more from your rookies [these days] because you're paying them a lot more."

Denver coach Josh McDaniel, whose team dropped to 8-7 after a 6-0 start, said: "It was a great catch by the kid. I just go by what they tell me. They ruled it a catch, so we have to play defense."

The defender closest to Maclin was Broncos corner Andre Goodman.

"Yes, I think his feet were down," Goodman said. "I watched the replay, and it did appear his feet were down."

Maclin has been battling a plantar fascia injury that kept him out of last week's game, but he said both feet felt just great as they stretched for the soft Linc turf on the crucial play yesterday evening.

"To be honest, I thought the defense stepped up and made the [key] play, man," Maclin said. Birds defenders staved off calamity several times in the fourth quarter, and finally, they made Reid look like a genius when he elected to punt on fourth-and-a-long-1 from the Denver 49 with a little more than 3 minutes left and the score tied.

"I guess I wasn't feeling it," said Reid, who decided changing field position was crucial. He was right.

The Broncos then ended up punting from their 17, and DeSean Jackson's 10-yard runback gave the Birds the ball at Denver's 42 with 1:41 left.

"All we needed was [about 10 yards] to get in Akers' range; fortunately [the play] was a little bigger than that," Maclin said.

Maclin (six catches, 92 yards) said the offense "stayed positive" while not getting a first down between Jason Avant's touchdown catch that gave the Birds a 27-10 lead with 7:09 left in the third and the sequence that led to the fourth-and-1 punt about 20 minutes of playing time later. "We were just waiting for that little spark." The only first down of that possession came when McNabb took off on third-and-25, jetting 27 yards.

The first half, the offense seemed to do just about anything it wanted. The only big offensive glitch came with about 5 1/2 left in the first quarter, when center Jamaal Jackson went down with a left-knee injury. Jackson had been the only offensive starter to play every snap this season. Backup center Nick Cole has been starting at right guard, so Jackson's injury meant changes at two positions for an offensive line that only recently has gained a little stability. Cole moved over to center and Max Jean-Gilles took Cole's spot at right guard.

The running game seemed to get a little shakier after that, but the points kept coming, at least for a while.

The Eagles seemed ready to make the game a rout when, with a 27-10 third-quarter lead, Asante Samuel nabbed his ninth interception of the season and ran it back near midfield, giving Samuel the most picks by any Bird since Bill Bradley had nine in 1972. Bradley managed 11 the year before, which is the team record.

But there were two penalties on the play, after the pick, and the sequence ended with the Birds getting the ball on their 1. The key call was a 15-yarder on Harris, who blasted intended receiver Tony Scheffler after Samuel caught the ball, Harris leading with his shoulder. If you're wondering whether Harris was supposed to just watch Scheffler run after Samuel and tackle him, you're not alone, but the ruling was that Scheffler was a defenseless receiver, not a potential tackler, and it led to a pair of Denver touchdowns that changed everything.

"We all have our down days. Take this, run with it and learn from it," rookie Harris said after playing nearly every snap at free safety, Brian Dawkins' old position, on the day Dawk returned to the Linc. "My focus was to block the intended receiver. Those guys normally make the tackle. I was just thinking about making that block."

The Eagles gained nothing from their 1, and Sav Rocca's first punt of the game ended up at the Birds' 25, after yet another penalty call by ref Carey's crew, which seemed to enjoy standing around leisurely discussing its calls as much as it enjoyed making them. Five plays later, a 7-yard TD pass to former Eagle Jabar Gaffney made it 27-17.

Annoying, but not a disaster. The disaster came on the ensuing kickoff, when returner Harris didn't seem to see Darrell Reid until Reid blasted him, knocking the ball loose. Robert Ayers recovered for Denver at the Eagles' 16. Second play of that drive, Kyle Orton hit Knowshon Moreno and it was 27-24.

"They've got a great kickoff coverage team," said Harris, who said Denver got great hang time on its kicks and was on him almost as soon as he caught the ball.

An ugly Eagles three-and-out gave Denver the ball again near midfield, with a chance to take the lead, early in the fourth. But the Birds' defense put together an excellent sequence and forced a punt, Sheldon Brown knocking a third-down bomb away from Brandon Marshall.

It was a short respite. Three-and-out again, McNabb seemingly only looking at DeSean Jackson, and another penalty on the punt, 15-yard facemask on Tracy White. Broncos ball at their 47. Yet again, the defense forced a punt.

And yet again, the offense could do nothing, Reggie Brown catching a third-down pass short of the marker.

This time, Rocca shanked a 28-yard punt and it led to the tying field goal, a 46-yarder. Hard to fault the defense there.

Harris might have never lived it down if his fumble on the ensuing kickoff hadn't been pounced on by teammate Victor Abiamiri.

"I should have put the ball in my left hand, but I was going through traffic" and didn't want to make the transfer, Harris said. He said he wouldn't make that mistake again.

"Glad we came up with a win," Harris said. "I'll be better next time."

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.