Cunningham goes down Eagles go on QB may be lost for season

Packers are beaten, 20-3

September 02, 1991|By Jack McCaffery | Jack McCaffery,Special to The Sun

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The scoreboard flashed one story, the medical report another.

The Philadelphia Eagles won a game yesterday, Rich Kotite's first as head coach, 20-3, over the Green Bay Packers.

But they lost a quarterback, Kotite's best, Randall Cunningham, who tore two ligaments in his left knee.

A preliminary diagnosis by team physician Vincent DiStefano revealed that Cunningham had torn the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments of the knee.

"At this point, the tears look complete," DiStefano said. "If that's the case, he'll be out for the year and require surgery."

A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test was to be taken as soon as possible, probably this morning in Philadelphia, to determine the extent of the injury and whether surgery is needed.

"I got hit pretty good, but I thought I was going to be able to get TC up," said Cunningham, who was on crutches in the locker room.

Kotite must have planned other ways to celebrate a perfect record as head coach. At least he might have expected some peace of mind.

"I don't know," Kotite said. "You know we all live in the real world. We are just going to go on. This team has a tremendous amount of character. You witnessed that today. They are as together a football team as I have ever been with. We are going to have a good season this year, and both the team and I feel that way."

Jim McMahon, signed more than a year ago to be used in such an emergency, was somewhere between outstanding and miraculous as Cunningham's backup.

McMahon was 17-for-25 for 257 yards, including a 75-yard fly-pattern touchdown pass to Fred Barnett delivered with in-stride precision.

McMahon, whose contribution was matched by an aggressive, Reggie White-powered defense, played five games last season -- just one, a playoff game, in anything other than a mop-up or replacement role.

Yesterday, at least, McMahon was every bit the effective quarterback who led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory in the 1985 season. Whether McMahon, with a history of injuries, is capable of maintaining that level of excellence through December is the question Kotite, his staff and the front office had to try to answer on the charter flight home last night.

"I've always had confidence in my ability," McMahon said. "As long as the people around me do their jobs, I'll do mine. A quarterback is only as good as the people around him. If the guys up front do their jobs, and the receivers and the backs do their jobs, then it makes it easy on me."

Though Kotite today will begin a search to find another veteran quarterback -- "It won't be a youngster," he said -- McMahon now has the opportunity to re-prove himself as a winner.

Cunningham's season may have ended on the first play of the second quarter.

Cunningham, who was starting his 62nd consecutive non-strike game, was in the pocket, following an incomplete pass to Barnett, when linebacker Bryce Paup hit him.

"When you get injured, normally I can jog off the field and I know I am all right," Cunningham said. "But I couldn't jog off, so I knew I finally had an injury that was finally going to put me out. It's unfortunate, but I know God is going to bless me and I'll be back out there."

The ease of the victory was a tribute to McMahon and the offense. But the 13-0 lead from which it was built was a tribute to White.

White, the perennial All-Pro who was coming off an average-by-his-standards season, had three sacks and three deflected passes, forced a Don Majkowski fumble and outclassed Green Bay offensive lineman Tony Mandarich.

With 37 seconds left in the first quarter, White broke through to tip a Majkowski pass that would deflect into the hands of Mike Golic. Golic returned it 13 yards to the Green Bay 29, leading to Roger Ruzek's 37-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

By then, Cunningham had been taken to the clubhouse -- but the Eagles' momentum did not go along for the ride.

On his second series, McMahon passed 34 yards over the middle to Keith Byars near the goal line. The ball first arrived, however, at the hands of Packers free safety Chuck Cecil, who collided with and floored Byars while reaching for the ball.

Cecil could not hang onto the ball, and it fell in the direction of Byars, who caught the unlikely touchdown pass in the prone position.

"I kept my eye on it the whole time," said Byars, who caught eight passes for 111 yards. "I never lost it."

Another typical White play helped the Eagles increase their lead to 13-0. White fairly strolled around Mandarich, jolting Majkowski from behind, causing a fumble. Clyde Simmons, signed last week after missing all of training camp, recovered at the Green Bay 39. Ruzek kicked a 40-yard field goal when the drive stalled at the 22.

"I don't have an explanation for this," Packers coach Lindy Infante said. "On offense, we got our butts handed to us today. I've never seen so many batted balls. We turned the ball over five times, and that's been our problem in the past when we don't win. So I don't have an explanation."

The Eagles harassed and hurried Majkoski into 16-for-42, 201-yard passing misery, sacking him four times and intercepting him three times.

Vai Sikahema gave the Packers their best chance to score with a 62-yard punt return to the Eagles 4 in the third quarter. The penetration ended when Jerome Brown batted down a pass, and the result was a 21-yard field goal by Chris Jacke.

When McMahon flipped the touchdown toss to Barnett with 6:51 to play, the Eagles had breathing room, if not reason to breathe easily, considering everything.

"Adversity hit us early in 1991," Kotite said. "But they responded tremendously to it. Hopefully, we are going to continue to do it."

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