PHILADELPHIA -- Back in September, the Philadelphia Eagles' offense couldn't see the light of day, much less the light at the end of the tunnel.
Back in September, the Eagles traveled on a shaky wing and an unanswered prayer. Which is to say they only traveled short, safe distances.
Things got so bad that enraged Eagles fans actually took up a chorus for golden oldie Jim McMahon to replace the fast-fading Randall Cunningham at quarterback. And when that plea fell on deaf ears, those same fans began chanting for Buddy Ryan's coaching head.
So look who was trashing the once-invincible New York Giants' defense yesterday to the absurd tune of 31-13 before a raucous Veterans Stadium crowd of 66,706.
And then consider the case of Calvin Williams, the rookie wide receiver who symbolized the Eagles' work ethic with a 6-yard touchdown catch of a twice-deflected Cunningham pass.
Williams, who came to the Eagles by way of Baltimore's Dunbar High and Purdue University, was in the right place at the right time. The Eagles were nursing a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when Cunningham was chased from the passing pocket at the Giants' 6-yard line. Running to his left, Cunningham spotted receiver Fred Barnett in the end zone.
His pass, however, was tipped by a Giants defender, clattered off Barnett's shoulder . . . and settled into the leaping Williams' hands as he wrestled it away from safety Myron Guyton.
It was the most important rebound the one-time Dunbar basketball player ever pulled down. It was also a sign of the times.
"When you work hard and keep your focus, good things happen," Williams said. "That's what creates luck."
As surprising as it would have seemed last September, good things are happening to the suddenly lucky Eagles. Yesterday's victory was their fifth straight.
With just five regular-season games left, they can't reasonably expect to catch the Giants, who need only one more win to clinch the NFC East title. But at 7-4, the Eagles are in commanding position to nail down a wild-card berth. What's more, they got a measure of satisfaction by shattering New York's bid for a perfect season and tainting next Monday night's dream game with the San Francisco 49ers. What was expected to be a delightful matchup of 11-0 teams now is a still-intriguing clash of 10-1s.
What made it even sweeter for the Eagles was the way their once-AWOL offense made the Giants' No. 2-ranked defense look like a turkey carcass. Cunningham threw for two touchdowns and ran for another while accounting for 295 of the team's 405 total yards.
It was enough to earn a game ball for offensive coordinator Rich Kotite, who finally found the pilot light for his motion offense.
"We're playing Eagle football now," said Williams, whose sixth touchdown of the season gave him the team lead. "We're in a groove and our defense is tremendous. When our offense is clicking like it is, I don't think anyone can stop us."
The Eagles made that abundantly clear in the first half. In going 10-0, the Giants had not allowed a first-half point in three games, a first-half touchdown in four, or a touchdown by a wide receiver all season. All of those streaks fell when Barnett beat cornerback Everson Walls for a 49-yard scoring strike to tie the game at 7 in the first quarter.
"We heard all their noise about not allowing a touchdown by a wide receiver," Barnett said. "That was a challenge to me and Calvin."
Said Williams, "We talked about it. There were certain plays where we wanted to challenge them deep. Me and Fred weren't intimidated by their defense. The whole team wasn't intimidated."
It was a day of big plays for the Eagles. And long scoring drives. Their two other touchdown drives consumed 9:22 (ending in a 1-yard Cunningham dive) and 8:48 (culminating with Williams' catch).
How about the hit heard 'round the NFL? In the middle of the 9:22 march, Keith Byars, the Eagles' pass-catching back, put his one-time Ohio State roommate Pepper Johnson in the spin cycle with a hellacious block. He delivered it at the New York 20 just as the unsuspecting Johnson was tracking down Cunningham along the Giants sideline. Johnson was knocked into the air and somersaulted to the turf, but fortunately was unhurt.
"Awesome," said Eagles tackle Ron Heller. "One of the biggest hits I ever saw in my life. Keith almost went out of his shoes to hit him. That got us fired up."
It also cost the Eagles a timeout when they watched the repeated replays on the stadium Panavision.
Ironically, Johnson had stripped Byars on a first-quarter fumble. Presumably, neither the fumble nor the ferocious hit canceled the dinner meeting the two close friends were to have at Byars' house after the game.
Then there was the big play delivered by Eagles middle linebacker Byron Evans just 22 seconds after Williams had pushed the lead to 24-13. The Giants faced second-and-10 at their own 31 when defensive end Clyde Simmons deflected a Phil Simms pass into the hands of Evans at the Giants' 22. Evans raced untouched to the end zone with the play that broke the Giants' back. Was it luck? Or the residue of hard work? Calvin Williams had a ready answer.
"When you work hard," he said, "you get lucky."