Eagles' 'D' sacks the Pack

September 19, 1994|By S. A. Paolantonio | S. A. Paolantonio,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- The rumbling, mind-numbing chorus of "Deeeee-fense, Deeeee-fense" rose from the east end of Veterans Stadium like a thunderstorm for the last stand of linebacker Byron Evans and the relentless Philadelphia Eagles defense.

Coach Rich Kotite, pleading with the crowd of 63,922 to turn up the volume, banged on his clipboard. Randall Cunningham, who had just fumbled to give the Green Bay Packers unexpected life, prayed.

Packers quarterback Brett Favre had three shots from the Eagles' 6 to win the game. He no longer could hear the sound of his own voice.

Favre tried all-world wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and missed. He missed tight end Jeff Wilner. Then, inexplicably, on fourth-and-five, he dumped the ball to halfback Edgar Bennett, who was corralled by Otis Smith 6 yards short of the goal line. There was 1:46 left.

Evans took off his helmet, faced a standing ovation in the end zone, and took a bow.

"What a way to finish it off," Evans said. "Four plays and out."

With the Eagles' offense sluggish and inconsistent, the defense -- which defined the team's personality for so many years -- took control, stuffing the Packers' running game and pounding their quarterback for six sacks to steal a 13-7 victory.

The dramatic win propelled the Eagles (2-1) into their bye week with a sense of confidence and unity that had eluded them for many months.

"I think we now know our togetherness is here," said Cunningham, who was 20 of 34 for 204 yards and threw one interception.

"It wasn't pretty, but it's a W," Kotite said. "This is how a team comes together. This is how a team rallies around itself. And this is how a defense, when a mistake is made, smothers the opponent."

The Eagles achieved a sense of identity by exorcising an old ghost. Reggie White, playing at Veterans Stadium for the first time since he signed a $17 million contract with the Packers last season, was held to three tackles and no sacks.

The Eagles double-teamed White. They triple-teamed him. Broderick Thompson, ticketed with three holding penalties, did everything he could to keep White out of Cunningham's face. The closest White got to Cunningham was when he visited him in the locker room after the game to exchange phone numbers.

"It was a collective war," Thompson said. "Teams win and lose. That's what makes an offensive line grow."

Preoccupied with White, the Eagles' offense -- brilliant against the Chicago Bears last Monday -- never got any rhythm, averaging just 3.7 yards per play from scrimmage.

Cunningham, unable to find his wide receivers for most of the game, threw no touchdown passes. And the running game -- 91 yards on 28 carries -- lacked confidence, especially in short-yardage situations.

Cunningham's 1-yard sneak early in the third quarter was the Eagles' only breach of the goal line -- and their first rushing touchdown of the season. Two field goals by the flawless Eddie Murray were the difference between winning and losing.

The Packers (1-2) were held to three first downs in the second half. And if the Eagles' running game struggled, the Packers' never showed up. Again, Philadelphia's front four -- led by William Fuller and William Perry -- shut off every running lane up the middle. The Packers gained just 37 yards on 14 carries.

Knowing that Green Bay's only weapon was the passing of Favre to Sharpe, the Eagles unloaded on the Packers' inexperienced offensive line.

"It's a good win," guard Antone Davis said. "We can't, by any means, live on it for the whole season. But we'll savor it and get back to business."

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