For team of destiny, the rout to the playoffs

Last week during NBC's Sunday Night Football game, Bob Costas scoffed at those who say teams control their own "destiny" or "fate." According to Costas, they can only control what they can achieve.

But after the way the planets aligned themselves yesterday, with two-touchdown underdog Oakland knocking off Tampa Bay and the Chicago Bears losing to Houston, what other word could you use describing the Eagles' road to a wild-card berth than destiny?

The Eagles had it all in their own hands when they ran onto the field at the Linc. Then again, they had it all in their own hands last week in Washington, and laid a colossal egg. What followed was an anticipated three-plus hours of nervousness for devoted Bird watchers, that turned into a no-doubter after one half.

FIRST QUARTER

EAGLES: Nick Folk hooked the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving the Eagles the ball at their own 40. McNabb's 20-yard pass to Brent Celek (What? L.J. Smith didn't get a chance to say goodbye?) moved them into Dallas territory but three plays later, McNabb threw a low pass to Brian Westbrook, who turned, was hit by Bradie James and fumbled. Terence Newman recovered for the Cowboys.

Drive: 2 minutes, 6 seconds, 5 plays, 29 yards, fumble.

COWBOYS: Tight end Jason Witten caught his first pass for minimal yards, with everyone watching to see which of his injuries - a sprained ankle, a tender rib - would force him to the sideline. Dallas ran three plays and punted, with DeSean Jackson returning the punt 21 yards to his own 46.

Drive: 1:03, 3 plays, 5 yards, punt.

EAGLES: The Eagles ran the ball on their first four (count 'em, four) plays, with Correll Buckhalter gaining nine on one play and Westbrook getting sprung on Jon Runyan's block for 16 more. But McNabb threw behind Westbrook on a second-down play and then scrambled for three yards, bringing on David Akers, who kicked a 40-yard field goal, his club record 31st of the season.

Drive: 3:01, 7 plays, 32 yards, 40-yard field goal.

Eagles, 3-0

COWBOYS: The visitors decided to test the Birds' run defense with Tashard Choice and Marion Barber, who got his first two carries of the game. Dallas converted three third downs during the long drive, including a 17-yard pass from Romo to Witten that moved the ball to the Eagles' 24. But on a third-and-1 play, Romo made a puzzling decision to throw to Roy Williams in the left flat. Shadowed by Joselio Hanson, Williams went down after the catch for a 4-yard loss and Folk kicked the tying field goal.

Drive: 8:15, 15 plays, 61 yards, 37-yard field goal.

Tie, 3-3

SECOND QUARTER

EAGLES: The Eagles drove 68 yards for their first touchdown, 59 coming on a simple check-down from McNabb that Buckhalter turned into a big play, running 52 yards after making the catch. That gave the Eagles a first-and-goal from the Dallas 6, and Westbrook gained five to the 1, moving the Birds into "oh-oh" territory. But after failing to cross the plane on his first quarterback sneak, McNabb got in on the second, even if the line judge and head linesman were late in putting up a signal with McNabb in the end zone from the waist up.

Drive: 3:19, 6 plays, 68 yards, 1-yard run.

Eagles, 10-3

COWBOYS: Three passes by Romo, two incompletions, one completion for minus-1 yard, Trent Cole and Chris Clemons taking turns leaving marks on Romo's body.

Drive: 1:07, 3 plays, minus-1 yard, punt.

EAGLES: The Eagles have their most inefficient series of the half, going three and out, with McNabb getting sacked by James on a third-and-2 play.

Drive: 1:57, 3 plays, minus-1 yard, punt.

COWBOYS: The Cowboys again run three plays without gaining a yard. It seems as if Romo and Williams just met. This unfamiliarity will hurt them later.

Drive: 1:42, 3 plays, minus-1 yard, punt.

EAGLES: The drive gets off to a bad start when McNabb nails the umpire with a pass on the first play. But he goes 4-for-5 on the rest of the drive with two key third-down plays - a 15-yard pass to Kevin Curtis and a 34-yard strike to Jackson, who appeared to be running side-by-side with Curtis on the pattern. The second big play moves the Birds to the Dallas 3 and, after two plays lose a yard, McNabb finds Buckhalter in the flat, and Buckhalter bulls over the goal line in the clutches of Anthony Henry.

Drive: 5:19, 11 plays, 71 yards, 4-yard touchdown pass.

Eagles, 17-3

COWBOYS: Witten carries Eagles linebacker Akeem Jordan for a first down, showing an unbelievable obliviousness to the pain he must be feeling. But the Cowboys feel pain two plays later when Romo puts up a pass to Williams down the left sideline and Williams never turns around. Sheldon Brown sees it, intercepts it and returns the football to the Cowboys 42, his first pick of the season.

Drive: 59 seconds, 4 plays, 12 yards, interception.

EAGLES: Again, McNabb throws an incompletion on the first play but shrugs it off. After he hits Reggie Brown for a first down, Dallas' Adam "Pacman" Jones tackles Brown out of bounds for a penalty that moves the ball to the 'Boys' 14. On third down, McNabb tries to find Jackson in the end zone but Newman face-guards him, with the pass interference penalty giving the Birds the ball at the 1. With 18 seconds left and no time-outs, McNabb makes a pretty fake and hits Celek in the deep right corner of the end zone.

Drive: 51 seconds, 6 plays, 42 yards, 1-yard touchdown pass.

Eagles, 24-3

COWBOYS: Jones shows Jerry Jones what a brilliant personnel man he is by fumbling the kickoff, and linebacker Omar Gaither recovers for the Eagles at the Cowboys' 32.

Drive: 10 seconds, no plays run, fumble.

EAGLES: Akers comes out, lines up a 50-yard field goal, and drills it through, giving the Eagles a 24-point quarter. It's destiny, remember?

Drive: 3 seconds, 1 play, field goal.

Eagles, 27-3

HALFTIME MUSINGS: It's fitting that Joe Buck is calling the game for Fox, because one can only think of his father's famous line, "I can't believe what I just saw," after an injured Kirk Gibson hit the game-winning home run for the Dodgers in the 1989 World Series. The Eagles are 6 of 9 on third-down conversions, outgained the Cowboys by 215-80 and scored 17 points in the final 2:03 of the first half.

But there's one more half to play. You measure the Eagles' first half against the fact the Cowboys don't win big December games and you figure everything is going to be OK, but you never know. . . .

THIRD QUARTER

COWBOYS: Dallas converts a fourth down after Romo waves the punt team off the field. Romo then starts the strangest play of the day, avoiding a sack attempt by Cole and throwing a lateral to Witten, who then passes to a wide-open Owens for 42 yards. But Brian Dawkins then makes a play, forcing a fumble by Romo that Clemons scoops up in stride and returns 73 yards for a touchdown, stiff-arming Choice to negotiate the final 10 yards.

Drive: 3:37, 9 plays, 56 yards, fumble returned 73 yards for touchdown.

Eagles, 34-3

COWBOYS: Showing their desperation, the 'Pokes try a lateral on the kickoff, but the ploy fails and Dallas starts from its 11. Romo marches the visitors downfield, with a 22-yard pass to Patrick Crayton and a 35-yard strike to Owens getting them to the Eagles 12. Romo completes a pass to Barber on the next play, but Dawkins - who else? - strips him of the ball. Joselio Hanson plucks it off the Linc grass and dashes 96 yards down the right sideline. Romo decides to stop running at the 20, and can you blame him?

Drive: 3:12, 8 plays, 85 yards, fumble returned 96 yards for touchdown.

Eagles, 41-3

COWBOYS: In full give-up mode, the Cowboys lose the ball via fumble for the third straight possession. This time, Romo doesn't see Clemons coming from behind and watches the football get poked out of his hands, and Trevor Laws recovers for the Eagles at the Dallas 33.

Drive: 19 seconds, 2 play, 0 yards, fumble.

EAGLES: The Eagles, who waited more than seven minutes to run an offensive play in the quarter, go for it all on the first play but McNabb can't connect with Brown, who is double-covered. Buckhalter gains nine on second down but nothing on the next play so Akers comes on for a 41-yard field goal.

Drive: 1:48, 4 plays, 9 yards, 41-yard field goal.

Eagles, 44-3

COWBOYS: Three and out. Jerry Jones keeps moving back deeper into the shadows of his box to avoid the TV cameras.

Drive: 57 seconds, 3 plays, 7 yards, punt.

EAGLES: The hits keep coming. This time, Buckhalter carries 33 yards to move the football into Dallas territory once again. After letting the quarter run out, Akers attempts a 40-yard field goal but the kick goes wide left, the worst thing that's happened since the Westbrook fumble on the game's first possession.

Drive: 5:11, 8 plays, 57 yards, missed field goal.

COWBOYS: Three and out. Start the bus.

Drive: 1:04, 3 plays, 8 yards, punt.

EAGLES: McNabb is still in the game, not a good sign. But the Eagles run three handoffs and have to punt for only the second time.

Drive: 1:40, 3 plays, 3 yards, punt.

COWBOYS: A miracle. The Cowboys get into the red zone and do not fumble. But an intentional grounding penalty against Romo puts them in a third-and-27 situation and they gain enough to have Folk kick a 42-yard field goal, and now the 'Pokes trail by only five possessions.

Drive: 4:29, 10 plays, 49 yards, field goal.

EAGLES: Kevin Kolb takes over at quarterback. His Cincinnati appearance in relief of McNabb seems like so many light-years ago.

Drive: 2:24, 3 plays, 2 yards, punt.

COWBOYS: Romo finally goes to the bench in favor of Brooks Bollinger and prepares to make vacation plans with Jessica Simpson.

Drive: 2:07, 3 plays, 0 yards, punt.

EAGLES: Owner Jeffrey Lurie finds the sideline and hugs McNabb. No farewell tour, yet. Eagles run out the clock. See you at the Homerdome.

Drive: 3:12, 6 plays, 18 yards, time expires.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano

at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.