'Old' Eagles scramble by Vikings Cunningham finds previous form, 28-17

December 07, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- In the stretch run of another promising -- but flawed -- season, the Philadelphia Eagles welcomed back a prodigal son yesterday, perhaps just in the nick of time.

Remember Randall Cunningham, the NFL's most dangerous quarterback?

Until yesterday's 28-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Cunningham had been a virtual impostor as the Eagles quarterback this season.

Through 10 starts and one benching, he showed only flashes of the skills that made him the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1990. Mostly, he showed the rust of his injury-induced absence in 1991.

When circumstance collided with opportunity, Cunningham once again was one of the NFL's most dangerous offensive weapons.

On a bitter, raw afternoon, he sidestepped a fierce Minnesota pass rush and gained a season-high 121 yards on ad-lib scrambles and a few designed bootlegs. He scored twice on quarterback dives and balanced it out with 164 passing yards.

Mainly, Cunningham was the inspirational force in a victory the Eagles (8-5) desperately needed to stay a step ahead of the Green Bay Packers in the sprint for the NFC's last wild-card playoff berth. Green Bay, which beat the Eagles earlier this season, routed Detroit, 38-10, yesterday to improve to 7-6.

Was Minnesota's hard-charging pass rush the catalyst for Cunningham's belated coming-out party at Veterans Stadium?

"It wasn't the Vikings or what they did," he said. "It was me, having the mind I had in '90."

Cunningham's mind-set was on "improvisational" this week, with coach Rich Kotite's blessing.

"Richie came to me early in the week and told me that these guys [the Vikings] are quick and strong and get up in their rush lanes," Cunningham said. "He said to make my three reads or whatever and then take off if they're not open, and that's what I did."

In a game in which the Eagles converted nine of 13 third-down situations, Kotite found no fault with anything his quarterback did.

"It was his best game since the beginning of the season," Kotite said. "I liked his decisiveness, not just running the ball, but throwing it.

"They are a stunting team, very aggressive up front. When he did run, his decisions were good. It discouraged them and helped throughout the game."

Cunningham's first-quarter fumble -- on a sack by Chris Doleman -- led to a 3-0 Minnesota lead. But on the Eagles' next possession, Cunningham set the tone for the rest of the day.

PD On third-and-15 from the Eagles 25, he peeled out of the pocket,

picked up a block from Keith Byars along the right sideline and scampered 30 yards into Vikings territory.

Four plays later, Cunningham ran left for 18 yards. There was more: an 8-yard run to the Vikings 5, a fourth-and-one dive to the 4.

And, finally, a 1-yard plunge for the Eagles' first touchdown. Thus, Cunningham accounted for 64 yards in a 70-yard drive -- 58 rushing, 6 passing.

It wasn't what Minnesota coach Dennis Green wanted to see.

"We were trying to do some things to force him to throw the ball," Green said. "We got some sacks earlier, but as long as he's got the ball in his hands, he can be a very dangerous football player. And that's where he hurt us."

At halftime, Cunningham had rushed for 87 yards and the Eagles led 14-10, thanks to a 1-yard run by Heath Sherman in the second period.

In the third quarter, Cunningham sliced and diced the Vikings defense with short, safe passes -- mainly to Sherman. Cunningham capped an 84-yard drive with another 1-yard touchdown dive that gave the Eagles a 21-10 lead. Victory was secured only when linebacker Seth Joyner returned an ill-advised Sean Salisbury swing pass 24 yards for a Philadelphia touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"[Cunningham] opened things up a whole lot for the offense," said Sherman, who accumulated 103 yards rushing and receiving.

"Randall was inspiring," said guard Mike Schad. "Just like he was before."

PD Sufficiently inspired, the Eagles offense produced three scoring

drives of 70 yards or longer. Tailback Herschel Walker extracted a measure of revenge against the team that released him last summer, rushing for 44 yards. But Walker, thrown back twice at the goal line in the second quarter before Sherman's score, fired no salvos at his old team.

"I was playing against my family," Walker said, referring to the Vikings. "Those are the guys I was with all the time last year. I was hanging out with those guys. . . . It was different for me."

This day belonged to Cunningham.

"I don't call him a scrambler," Byars said of Cunningham. "He's a runner. [John] Elway's a scrambler.

"When Randall is on, I don't think anybody can compete with him."

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