HOUSTON -- Two touchdowns and this team can beat anybody.
Last night, all it needed was one. The Philadelphia Eagles' brutal, swarming, unbending defense eclipsed Warren Moon and the dazzling aerial offense of the Houston Oilers with a smothering ,, 13-6 win inside a packed and powerfully disappointed Astrodome.
The Eagles won without being able to mount more than an approximation of an offense, but it was enough. With a defense that kept teeing up the offense deep in Houston territory, it took ++ just the faintest oomph of attack (and the steady foot of Roger Ruzek) to seize victory.
It pushed the Eagles' record to 8-5. It was their fifth straight and enabled them to keep pace with Dallas in the race for a wild-card playoff berth. And, just as important, the win over a tough opponent gave the team an important psychological boost in the final stretch of its marathon push for the playoffs.
Quarterback Jim McMahon took himself out of the game early in the third quarter with a hyperextended right elbow, but Jeff Kemp stepped in confidently. The veteran backup, seeing his first extended action in an Eagles uniform, accomplished what McMahon could not, passing the team to a go-ahead touchdown.
Outside linebacker Seth Joyner played like some demon dervish, leading a punishing attack on Moon and the Oilers. Pushing himself to new levels of mayhem, he forced one fumble, recovered two, made two sacks and seemed to be part of virtually every defensive play.
Rookie James Joseph continued to flirt with that most elusive of Eagles offensive phenomena, the breakaway run, and tight end Keith Jackson continued to pop up with the ball in the end zone, catching a 21-yard scoring pass from Kemp in the third quarter.
And the defense just kept pounding, right up until the final minutes of the game, when defensive back Otis Smith blasted Oilers receiver Drew Hill, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Eagles' 41 to halt a Houston threat.
That was the fifth turnover of the game forced by the Eagles, the 12th forced by them in their last two games. With each passing week, it becomes clear that this is one of the finest defensive units ever to play the game.
"We've been getting stronger and stronger and we create turnover after turnover," said Joyner, an underrated linebacker. "It makes people nervous out there."
That nervousness translated into 10 of Philadelphia's 13 points in a span of 90 seconds last night.
After Ruzek's field goal, Moon got happy feet, throwing three straight incomplete passes, forcing Greg Montgomery to punt.
Joseph circled left end for 24 yards, the longest run from %J scrimmage for the Eagles this year. Then Joseph ran for 3 yards before Kemp, under pressure from a blitzing defense, found Jackson in the end zone.
"I felt the pressure and knew Keith would have single coverage down the middle," said Kemp. "I had faith he would catch it."
He did and it was 10-3, an insurmountable lead in a game dominated by defense.
The Oilers' run-and-shoot moved to the Eagles' 24 in the last seconds but advanced no farther. It was fitting that Moon's final pass was knocked away by Joyner. That made the Eagles the first team to hold Moon without a touchdown pass since Nov. 29, 1989.
"What can you say?" asked Oilers coach Jack Pardee. "They're No. 1 on defense, No. 1 vs. the rush and No. 1 vs. the pass. They didn't hurt their stats any tonight."
The Eagles' defense held Moon to 262 yards passing on 24 completions in 46 attempts. It sacked him four times for 36 yards in losses. Houston could not move the ball at all on the ground, where it produced a pathetic total of 21 yards.
The Eagles finished with just 284 yards of total offense. Kemp and McMahon each managed 84 yards passing.
"It was a great win under probably the most difficult circumstances I've ever seen," Eagles coach Rich Kotite said. "They've got a great, noisy, knowledgeable crowd, and they were after it right from the start.
"We played with tremendous in tensity. I never saw a defense do what ours did today. Offensively, when we had to make big plays, we did. I'm very proud of Jeff Kemp. He hung in there on that TD pass, and he made key plays when we needed."