PHILADELPHIA -- Crush the quarterback is a simple game. The defensive line weighs 1,130 pounds. The quarterback weighs 218 pounds. When the two meet, violent things may occur.
"You never know," Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons said. "You might hit a guy 30 times and he'll stay in there. You might hit him once, and he's out. You don't try to injure anyone. But sometimes, it happens."
Six times in the past eight games, the Philadelphia Eagles have unleashed their snarling, swarming line and laid waste to an opposing quarterback. Yesterday, it was Troy Aikman's turn to face the charge. And it wasn't pretty.
Simmons separated Aikman's right shoulder in the first half and the Eagles finished off the Dallas Cowboys, 17-3, at Veterans Stadium. The victory gave the playoff-bound Eagles a 9-6 record and the inside track at securing a first-round home playoff game against the Washington Redskins (9-6). The Eagles, with a superior conference record, need only a win over Phoenix or a loss by the Redskins against the Buffalo Bills in the final week to clinch the home field.
The Cowboys, who could have received the final National Football Conference playoff berth with a victory, dropped to 7-8. But they still can qualify for the playoffs with either a win in their final game at Atlanta or a loss by New Orleans (7-8) against the Los Angeles Rams on New Year's Eve.
But the Cowboys are in trouble. Aikman is out for the season, and their quarterback is Babe Laufenberg, a journeyman who has somehow survived in the National Football League since 1983 with a weak arm and a strong will. Against the Eagles, Laufenberg completed 13 of 36 passes for 140 yards. He also was intercepted four times, including one returned 35 yards for a touchdown by Eric Allen.
"My role is to give the team a chance to win," Laufenberg said. "I didn't do that."
Goodness knows, the Cowboys had chances to record an upset. This is the NFL's nastiest rivalry, the one that includes obvious antagonism between coaches Buddy Ryan and Jimmy Johnson, past charges of bounty-hunting and a game marred by snowball throwing from the stands. The Eagles even played up their bad-boy image the past week, showing up for practice dressed in "Buddy's Bounty Hunters" T-shirts.
One day soon, the rivalry will be played on a level playing field. But for now, the only thing the Cowboys can match the Eagles in is outrageous pre-game quotes. After a week of verbal bashing and pro wrestling-style hype, the teams managed to play a dreadful game on a warm, wet afternoon.
The Eagles scored their only offensive touchdown on an 18-yard pass from running back Keith Byars to wide-out Calvin Williams, who went to Dunbar High. Quarterback Randall Cunningham managed to rush for 54 yards, but he was only 16 of 28 passing for 144 yards.
"We didn't play well at all," Ryan said. "There is no question
about that. Offensively, we played as sorry as I've seen us. Dallas played as good as I've seen them."
Johnson said his team fought hard, came close, but couldn't take advantage of its opportunities to push the Eagles. One potential scoring play was bobbled away when Kelvin Martin fumbled an end around from the Philadelphia 19, took a 14-yard loss, and forced the Cowboys to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Ken Wills. Another break was taken away late in the first half by the replay official who overruled a Cunningham fumble and Billy Bates recovery at the Philadelphia 10.
"That wasn't a pump fake [by Cunningham]," Johnson said. "He fumbled the football and the replay official blew it."
With that, Johnson stormed out of the interview room.
Aikman pleasantly answered questions about his injury, which occurred moments after he completed a 2-yard pass to running back Emmitt Smith in the first quarter.
"I just fell on the shoulder, and it took the brunt of the hit," Aikman said. "I couldn't break my fall. You see guys go down all the time. I guess I've been pretty lucky -- until now."
Ryan said simple math, not unnecessary roughness, is the reason behind the Eagles' success at knocking out quarterbacks.
"When you have 295-pound guys who can run and fall on you, it hurts," he said.
The rush also helped the defensive backs. With Laufenberg forced to rush his throws, the Eagles defensive backs ran wild. Allen had two interceptions and Ben Smith and William Frizzel had one each.
"When we saw Laufenberg in the game, I told Ben [Smith], 'let's get some picks. He's telegraphing his throws,' " Allen said.
Not even an S-O-S signal could have helped the Cowboys. The Eagles still own them.
"I love the hype," Ryan said. "I don't know what to do with the bounty T-shirts. Maybe we'll send them back to Dallas with Jimmy Johnson."
Dallas 0 3 0 0 -- 3
Philadelphia 7 3 0 7 -- 17
First quarter Phi--C. Williams 18 pass from Byars (Ruzek kick), 9:17.
Second quarter Dal--FG Willis 46, :47.
Phi--FG Ruzek 29, 7:24.
Fourth quarter Phi--Allen 35 interception return (Ruzek kick), 6:27.
First downs 11 16
Rushes-yards 17-74 36-178