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NFL Week 17: A strange and wonderful afternoon

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Consider this a live blog, except that it isn’t live. Perhaps at some point I'll try that, but not today. And since it's so long, I hope someone reads all the way to the end and enjoys it just a little.

Starting the day, the Eagles need a loss by Tampa Bay and a loss by either Minnesota or Chicago just to have a chance to make the playoffs when they face the Dallas Cowboys at 4:15. Considering how they’ve played this year, the Eagles don’t deserve a playoff berth. However, the NFL is full of strange doings nowadays, so it almost wouldn’t be a surprise if they actually made it.

Since CBS is giving me Oakland-Tampa Bay and Fox has NY Giants-Minnesota at 1 pm, I’m going to be switching back and forth keeping tabs on both. Since I’m not online as I write this, I’ll have to rely on the networks to keep me up to date on Chicago-Houston. The Miami Dolphins-NY Jets showdown for the AFC East title is on at 4:15 at the same time as the Eagles-Cowboys matchup.

12:56 pm - Fox has Dick Stockton and Brian Baldinger working the Giants-Vikings. CBS has Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon in Tampa for the Buccaneers-Raiders. Stockton is wayyyyyyy past his prime, but at least he’s not paired with Tony Siragusa like he used to be. Any game Siragusa works is a game I watch with the sound turned down.

1:02 - Jon Gruden is just 57-54 as Tampa Bay head coach. If he didn’t have a Super Bowl win handed to him (first by the Eagles’ choke job in the NFC title game, then by the pathetic Raiders) would he still have a job?

Oakland gets the ball first at midfield. One play and there’s an injury timeout. Click.

1:04 - The Vikings punt on their first possession after Tarvaris Jackson fails to complete a pass. Eli Manning completes a pass to Domenik Hixon for 6 yards on a slant. The Giants, at least to begin, are using their regulars even though they have nothing to play for -- they’ve clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

1:08 - Oakland’s first possession ends with a punt. The Bucs start at their own 10. Jeff Garcia is at quarterback. He led the Eagles to their last playoff spot in 2006, after Donovan McNabb was lost for the year. That team was 5-6 but rolled to the NFC Eastern Division title by sweeping their final 5, including road wins in consecutive weeks against the other 3 NFC East teams, capped off by a memorable Christmas Day win at Dallas. Would an Eagles playoff berth this year be even more shocking?

1:13 - Both games are in commercial breaks at the same time after punts. That happens so often it can’t be a coincidence, can it?

1:18 - Fox has a Game Break: Kyle Orton throws a TD pass to put the Bears up 7-0 against Houston.

1:27 - With 5 minutes or less in the first quarter in both games, no team has been able to move the ball very much. Maybe they should throw the ball more? Andy Reid seems to think that works. Andy Reid, Super Genius.

1:30 - Timing is everything. On the very next play after Baldinger explains how Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson has to correct his ball-handling technique to prevent fumbling, Peterson has the ball stripped by a Giant player. Fortunately for Peterson the Vikings recovered.

1:33 - Another Fox Game Break: a field goal after a turnover gives the Bears a 10-0 lead.

First quarter ends in Minnesota with no score. The Giants have 18 rushing yards to 20 for the Vikings. Maybe they should throw the ball more? Andy Reid seems to think it works…

1:35 - End of the first quarter in Tampa, no score.

1:37 - Ryan Longwell’s 48-yard field goal gives the Vikings a 3-0 lead over the Giants. So far, nothing is going the way the Eagles need...

1:46 - ...but now something is. A 31-yard punt return by Johnnie Lee Higgins gives the Raiders the ball in Tampa territory, and the Raiders take advantage, with Michael Bush scoring from 4 yards out. Oakland 7-0.

1:48 - Adrian Peterson runs 67 yards for a TD to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead.

Of the teams needing to lose to help the Eagles‘ cause, the Bucs seemed to be the team least likely to lose, and so far they’re the only one losing.

1:56 - John Carney boots a 51-yard FG to get the Giants on the board, but they still trail 10-3.

1:57 - Cadillac Williams runs for a 9-yard TD to cap off an 80-yard drive, and the Bucs tie the game at 7. As a result, for at least the third time today, both games are in commercial breaks simultaneously. It’s not a coincidence, I’m telling you!

2:01 - Tiger Woods is on the sidelines in Tampa. It seems he’s become good friends with Jon Gruden. Why do famous people become friends with other famous people? Why don’t any of them become friends with someone who’s not famous, like me?

2:04 - A Fox update: the Texans scored a touchdown, and on the following kickoff recoverd a fumble and are in Bears territory again.

2:19 - Interrupted by a phone call. Don’t you hate when that happens? But Kurt is a good friend, so I'm always happy to talk to him. During the call, things take an upward turn for the Eagles: Oakland leads Tampa Bay 14-7 with 30 seconds left in the half, and Houston has moved ahead of Chicago 14-10. If these results hold up, the Eagles-Cowboys game takes the same status of the Broncos-Chargers game later: the winner is in, the loser hits the golf course.

2:21 - The Bucs are getting some boos as they run just one innocuous handoff and let the clock run out on the first half, trailing the Raiders 14-7.

2:23 - A Giants drive stalls and they settle for another Carney field goal. Minnesota still leads 10-6 with 1:03 left in the first half.

2:29 - The Vikes had 3rd-and-1 near the Giants 40 but two runs lose yards in the last 30 seconds of the half. The Giants get the ball on downs and Manning hits two passes to Hixon. On the second Hixon gets out of bounds to stop the clock with 4 seconds left to get the Giants into field goal range, and Carney’s third FG makes it 10-9 at the half.

2:34 - Timing is everything, part 2: the second half is about to start in Tampa, so I avoided both halftime shows. They’re pretty painful to watch, especially the Fox crew. I get my highlights on NBC -- they’ve reunited Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick on their “Football Night In America“ show. It brings back fond memories of the days when ESPN's Sportscenter was still watchable.

2:44 - There’s one other game I have some interest in. Green Bay leads Detroit at the half. The Lions must lose. They have to go 0-16 so that they’ll go down in history. If they win, they’re just another crappy team. The Lions HAVE to lose.

2:47 - Oakland’s Tom Cable throws the red flag. The officials ruled “incomplete pass” on a play that the Raiders think was intercepted. Wasn’t there a rule that replay reviews had to be done within 90 seconds or something? Now they go to commercial, then there’s often a long delay before the review is completed.

2:51 - The Giants have the ball to start the second half, and the subs are in. David Carr is at quarterback. Ugh. Meanwhile, Houston now leads 21-10 over Chicago in the third quarter.

2:54 - The Bucs tied the game at 14 on a TD pass from Garcia to Michael Clayton.

3:01 - Once again, both games are in commercial breaks. I swear, this is the sixth or seventh time now.

3:03 - Surprise! David Carr throws a TD pass! The Giants take a 16-10 lead on the score by Hixon. Meanwhile, the Bears have scored but still trail the Texans 21-17.

3:09 - The Bucs are moving down the field much too easily. The third quarter ends with Tampa Bay in the red zone and likely to take the lead.

3:13 - The Bucs’ drive stalls but Matt Bryant’s field goal puts Tampa Bay up 17-14. Meanwhile, Detroit has tied Green Bay. How embarrassing would it be for the Packers to lose at home to the 0-15 Lions?

3:23 - The Raiders -- and Eagles -- seemingly get a huge break as a facemask penalty on Tampa Bay wipes a JaMarcus Russell interception off the board. On the very next play, though, Russell is intercepted again and Tampa Bay’s Sabby Piscitelli returns the ball from the Tampa 5 all the way to Oakland’s 11. Cadillac Williams runs it in two plays later to give the Bucs a 24-14 lead with 11:27 left. Things look bleakfor the Eagles.

3:24 - The third quarter is ending at the Metrodome, with the Giants still up 16-10. But with the Bucs ahead, it won’t matter to the Eagles.

3:30 - Quick, someone check with Alanis Morissette to see if this is ironic: on Piscitelli’s interception return he was shaken up. On the Raiders’ next possession he was replaced by Will Allen. Allen’s pass interference penalty sets up an Oakland touchdown, bringing the Raiders back to within 3 of the Bucs.

3:32 - Carney connects again, giving the Giants a 19-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Houston is up 24-17 over Chicago. And the Packers now have a 17-14 lead over the hapless Lions.

3:35 - The Tennessee-Indianapolis game is final. They played a full game in just about 2 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, some of the college bowl games this week will go past 4 hours, thanks to long halftime shows and the NCAA’s more liberal clock-stopping rules.

3:40 - A Tarvaris Jackson TD pass to Bernard Berrian gets Minnesota back to within 19-17.

3:43 - On 4th-and-4 at the Oakland 33 the Bucs decide to try for the first down. Garcia’s pass is incomplete and the Raiders take over with under 7 1/2 minutes left. Michael Bush then runs 67 yards for a score. The Raiders regain the lead, and once again there’s life for the Eagles.

3:49 - Garcia hangs a throw down the left sideline which is intercepted. Now it’s the Raiders who are moving the ball well -- by running and wearing down the Tampa Bay defense. This isn’t supposed to work. Just ask Andy Reid. Under 4 1/2 minutes left.

3:53 - Green Bay 24-21 over Detroit, under 8 minutes to go. Can the Lions achieve “perfection?”

3:55 - The Vikings are in Giants territory with 1:55 left, still trailing 19-17.

3:58 - Michael Bush -- who IS this guy? He's shredding Tampa Bay’s defense! At the 2-minute warning the Raiders are inside the Tampa 5. And with 2 minutes left Houston is up 31-17 over Chicago.

4:01 - The Vikings just wasted about 20 seconds after a play before calling their final timeout with 9 seconds left. They either have to try for a TD or attempt a 50-yard field goal. Bad clock management -- is this Andy Reid coaching? No, it’s Brad Childress, a former assistant coach under Reid. It runs in the “family,” I guess.

4:02 - The Raiders end up with a field goal with 1:10 left and lead Tampa Bay by 7. Meanwhile, the Vikings try a quick play on offense that uses 4 seconds, while the Giants have their FG defense unit on the field, but a Jackson pass is out of bounds.

4:04 - Ryan Longwell wins the NFC North for the Vikings with a 50-yard FG as time runs out.

4:06 - The Bears scored a late touchdown to get with 7 with 1:31 left. They’re going to try an onside kick.

4:07 - The Bucs convert on 4th down and get the ball to midfield. They have to score a touchdown in 23 seconds and have no timeouts.

4:09 - Jeff Garcia is sacked on the final play of the game. Oakland stuns Tampa Bay. The Bucs were 9-3 and have now finished off an epic collapse. And the Texans recover the onside kick and run out the clock, hanging on to beat the Bears. Both finals are 31-24.

So an Eagles team that was dead in the water a month ago, resuscitated by a Tampa Bay loss last week and then died again in a hideous offensive display at Washington, can make the playoffs with a win.

What words can I use? Astounding? Incomprehensible? Inexplicable?

4:15 - It’s in the mid-60s at the Linc. How is it 25 degrees warmer now than it was at the end of Game 5 of the World Series two months ago?

The opening kickoff goes out of bounds to give the Eagles the ball at the 40 to start the game. The first 3 Eagles plays from scrimmage? Of course. Pass. Pass. Pass. Fortunately one of them was complete for a first down.

4:20 - A low Donovan McNabb throw is barely caught by Brian Westbrook, who turns and is stripped of the ball, which is recovered by Dallas at their 25.

4:21 - Dallas goes three-and-out on their first possession. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions did it! 0-16. They’ll go down in history after all.

4:23 - After the Dallas punt it’s time for a commercial. I switch to CBS to check out the Dolphins-Jets game for the AFC East. Not only is that game in a commercial break, but the two networks are showing the same Southwest Airlines ad.

4:30 - The Eagles start their next drive with four straight…runs! The drive stalls but they gain enough yards to take a 3-0 lead on a David Akers field goal.

4:32 - At the Meadowlands, Brett Favre makes an ill-advised throw that is picked off. Where have we heard that before?

4:45 - A Dallas drive from their own 20 stalls, and the Cowboys settle for a Nick Folk field goal. 3-3 with 35 seconds left in the quarter. And as they go to commercial I switch to the Dolphins-Jets, and what a surprise -- they’re in a commercial break too.

4:48 - Joe Buck is wearing a pink tie.

4:51 - Fun fact I learned while waiting for the second quarter to begin: the Detroit Lions were 4-0 in the preseason. That tells you everything you need to know about how meaningful those exhibition games are.

4:58 - Jimmy Rollins is in the house. Can the good fortune of the 2008 World Series Champion Phillies rub off on the Eagles? Maybe. A Correll Buckhalter catch-and-run goes for 59 yards to the Dallas 6. A Westbrook run takes it to the 1. McNabb sneaks but is stopped a half-yard short, then sneaks again and scores. Clearly the good Andy Reid, who understands that a balanced attack wins, has shown up so far today. Eagles 10, Cowboys 3. The winner goes to Minnesota next week. Arizona will host Atlanta despite the Falcons having a better record, and the Giants and Panthers have the week off.

5:00 - Still no score between Miami and the Jets. If the Jets don’t win, after all the Favre hype and the early-season success…

5:09 - The Baltimore Ravens are in the playoffs with a win, and they’re leading Jacksonville 10-7 at the moment. The Ravens, Dolphins and Falcons made amazing turnarounds this year. This should give hope to long-suffering Detroit Lions fans, shouldn’t it? Hmmm...the way things have gone for the Lions in recent years, it probably shouldn’t.

5:13 - The Cowboys have had four possessions, and on 3 of the 4 they went three-and-out. And Fox just showed Terrell Owens, as Joe Buck put it, “getting chatty” on the sidelines.

5:19 - A Favre TD pass to Laveraneus Coles gives the Jets a lead. The snap on the PAT is botched, though, and the lead is only 6-0.

5:23 - The Eagles knock on the door again thanks to a nice throw from McNabb to DeSean Jackson, who dropped a couple of key passes last week. Two rushes go for nothing, but on 3rd-and-goal at the 4 a McNabb swing pass to Buckhalter results in a TD. It’s now 17-3 Eagles.

5:28 - A TD pass from ex-Jet Chad Pennington to Ted Ginn Jr., along with the point-after, gives the Dolphins a 7-6 lead.

5:29 - Dallas tight end Jason Witten just dragged an Eagle for 4 or 5 yards after making a catch to force a first down. He nearly got out of bounds to stop the clock as well. I'd love to see him in an Eagles uniform. That great effort went for naught because Tony Romo just threw an interception to Sheldon Brown. The Eagles are at the Dallas 42 with 1:05 left in the half.

5:33 - Favre is 4-14 for just 56 yards, and his second interception puts the Dolphins up 14-6. Meanwhile, a stupid late hit by Pacman Jones after Reggie Brown got out of bounds moves the Eagles to the Dallas 14.

5:39 - A pass interference call in the end zone gives the Eagles the ball at the Dallas 1 with 18 seconds left. On play-action McNabb completes a TD pass to Brent Celek. The Eagles are up 24-3.

5:42 - With 5 seconds left the Eagles recover a fumble on the kickoff. Akers is sent out for a 50-yard field goal attempt and he hits a line drive that sneaks through the uprights. It is 27-3 at the half. I’m still trying to find appropriate words. Amazing? Mind-boggling? Stupefying? Bizarre?

5:57 - Halftime came at the right time. I needed some food.

6:04 - The second half begins with the Cowboys moving the ball some. On 3rd-and-inches from about the 45 Romo threw a ball to the ground trying to connect with Owens. Wade Phillips sent out the punt team, but Romo waved them off. So who exactly is in charge in Dallas? Phillips? Romo? Jerry Jones? Anyone?

The Cowboys got the first down on a Romo sneak, and then came a wacky play. Romo barely escaped a blitz, ran left, under more pressure threw a backwards pass to Witten, who then lofted it downfield and found Owens open. The net result was a 42-yard gain to the Eagles’ 14.

6:06 - Romo is hit by Brian Dawkins and fumbles, and Chris Clemons recovers it and takes it 73 yards into the end zone. It is now 34-3.

6:15 - With Dallas driving again, Marion Barber is hit by Brian Dawkins and fumbles. Joselio Hanson recovered it and ran 96 yards for the touchdown. 41-3 Eagles.

I still have some rum left over from the night the Phillies won the World Series. The bottle will be empty before the night is done.

6:19 - Checking in on the other game, the Dolphins have regained the lead after falling behind the Jets 17-14. Chad Pennington threw a TD pass to Anthony Fasano. Redemption for Pennington, who was dumped by the Jets in favor of Favre?

6:23 - Chris Clemons forces a Romo fumble, which is recovered by Trevor Laws. Laws, clearly a slacker, did not run it back for a touchdown. Another field goal from Akers makes it 44-3.

6:29 - With a little over 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, on 4th down the Cowboys send out the punt team and this time Romo doesn’t wave them off. They’ve officially given up.

With a 41-point lead, why is Donovan McNabb still in the game? Did Andy Reid not see Ben Roethlisberger carried off on a stretcher earlier today, in a game that was meaningless to the Steelers?

6:33 - Why the hell is Brian Westbrook back in the game? This is insane! Does it have to be the 4th quarter before they take out their key players? Fortunately, the third quarter is finally over.

6:39 - For that matter, why is Tony Romo still in the game? Nothing he does in the 4th quarter is going to make him feel better about this game or this season.

6:43 - With the Patriots having already won and Baltimore up by 20 in the 4th quarter, the Jets are in trouble, still trailing by 4. Meanwhile, Donovan McNabb is still in the game. Again, why?

6:48 - Miami has tacked on a field goal, and they’re talking about how the crowd at the Meadowlands has thinned out. There’s still a lot of time and it’s a 7-point game. That’s a sad display by Jets fans if they’re leaving already.

6:52 - The Cowboys will finish 9-7. The Eagles will finish 9-6-1. That tie against Cincinnati -- The Tie Heard 'Round The World -- is why the Eagles are in the playoffs. Who would've thought this?

6:54 - Dallas gets a Folk field goal to make it 44-6. Meanwhile, the Jets have the ball at midfield, just over 6 minutes left, still down 24-17.

6:58 - Kevin Kolb finally takes over for Donovan McNabb with 7:35 left.

6:59 - Another interception by Favre may have just killed the Jets’ season. The Dolphins looked a little disorganized lining up and Favre was trying to take advantage. It didn’t work.

7:02 - Brooks Bollinger is finally in for Tony Romo...and calls a timeout on his first play.

7:03 - With 2:30 left, the Dolphins convert on 4th and inches at the Jets’ 39. It looks like the Dolphins will win the AFC East.

7:11 - Baltimore has won and clinched a Wild Card. They’ll face the Dolphins, unless the Jets can go 99 yards in 17 seconds with no timeouts after being buried at the 1 after a punt. I'm not holding my breath.

7:11 - The Eagles have won, 44-6. The Dallas Cowboys team that was awarded the Super Bowl, or at least the NFC championship, by almost every "expert," finish third in the NFC East and fail to make the playoffs. Once again, those "experts" prove their "brilliance."

7:19 - After a booth review on the punt, the Jets finally go on offense and, needless to say, lose to the Dolphins. All the Wild Card Weekend matchups are set, except for one. Indianapolis will travel to either Denver or San Diego. The AFC West winner will be determined tonight. I’ll watch the game, but this little(?) report is done.

I’m still left with finding a word to sum up this day. Unfathomable? Improbable? Ridiculous? Sure. All of the above. But there’s one word that always applies when the Eagles beat the Cowboys, and it especially applies when they not only eliminate Dallas from the playoffs, but get in themselves against all odds:

Priceless.

P.S. I just heard this (at 8:41 pm, as I'm finishing the transfer of this onto this site from my laptop) on the Comcast Sportsnet post-game show: the Eagles had no penalties the entire game. Not one single penalty! The way this day went, I guess it makes sense...