The Philadephia Eagles let one get away today and their coach, Dick Vermeil, admitted they would probably spend a long time kicking themselves for it.
"Every game is tough in this league," Vermeil said after the Cleveland Browns scored two touchdowns in the last four minutes -- including Mike Pruitt's 24-yard run with 55 seconds remaining -- to beat his team, 24-19. "You can't afford to blow one. Especially not this team."
Especially when the loss dropped his team's record to 6-4, staying tied with the Redskins for second in the NFC East but now two games off the pace and the Eagles bound for next Monday night's date carrying a three-game losing streak into first-place Dallas.
For 56 minutes, it didn't look as if the Eagles could lose.
Wilbert Mongomery ran with abandon -- 197 yards' worth -- for the first time in three weeks. Harold Carmichael caught five passes while running his streak of at least one catch a game to 106, breaking the NFL record set by Danny Abramowicz. And with the Eagle defense muzzling Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe, it looked like Philadelphia's day.
In fact, as the clock wound under five minutes, many in the Veterans Stadium crowd of 69,019 decided to get out of the cold and headed for their cars.
Little did they suspect that Mongomery would ruin his productive day by fumbling twice as the Eagles tried to kill time.
Little did they figure that the game would end with the Eagles on the Cleveland 11-yard line, trying twice to get the ball into the end zone for the game winner.
First, Eagle quarterback Ron Jaworski, finding no one open in the end zone, threw to fullback Leroy Harris in the flat. He was tackled for no gain and the Eagles called time with one second left.
"That was a miraculous timeout," Brown Coach Sam Rutigliano said sarcastically. "I hope someday to be smart enough to call them that quickly." s
Rutigliano spoke academically. With Carmichael double-covered, Jaworski tried to hit Keith Krepfle breaking across the middle, at the one-yard line. Linebacker Charlie Hall cut in front of Krepfle as the tight end reached for the ball and intercepted it.
"I was thinking," said Cleveland defensive tackle Jerry Sherk, who hit Jaworski just after he releashed the ball, "that if we blew it with one second left after that comeback we'd get no sleep tonight. Now we'll sleep great . . . Although, we may be up late."
This game should not have come down to one play.
The teams traded long first-quarter scoring drives -- Jaworski hitting Carmichael from 19 yards to cap an 86-yard advance, Sipe finding Reggie Rucker for 21 yards to finish a 62-yard march.
The Browns led, 10-6, after a Don Cockroft field goal with 10:38 left in the half, but the next 2 1/2 quarters were all Philadelphia.
Montgomery put his team on top, 13-10, when he burst 62 yards off tackle with five minutes left in the half.
"I just followed Leroy's (Harris) block," Montgomery said. "I felt good all day. I was running kind of cautiously, though, to avoid fumbling." He had nine fumbles coming in.
Third-quarter interceptions by Reggie Wilkes and Herman Edwards each set up a Tony Franklin field goal, giving the Eagles a 19-10 edge.
When Edwards intercepted Sipe again with a little more than five minutes to play it appeared the Browns were finished.
But Montgomery fumbled on the Eagle 29 with 4:13 left while the crowd was calling for 200 yards.
Dino Hall, a 5-foot-7, 165-pound rookie from Glassboro State, ran 24 yards, to the five. On the next play Sipe found Ozzie Newsome in the end zone and it was 19-17 with 3:21 left. It was Sipe's 20th touchdown pass of the year; he has thrown 19 interceptions.
The Eagles again tried to run out the clock. Twice Montgomery was stopped for a total of three yards. Jaworski tried to pick up the first down with a quick pass to Carmichael. He was hit by Clarence Scott and dropped the ball.
Again the Browns quickly took advantage. Starting from his own 29, Sipe hit Rucker for 17 yards. Pruitt picked up six off tackle, the Sipe passed to Cleo Miller twice for 12 yards each and the Browns were in field goal range at the Eagle 24 with 1:04 left.
"They went for the blitz," Pruitt explained of the next play for the winning touchdown. "I know the coach was thinking field goal but when I hit the hole I knew it was six."