The Philadelphia Eagles bared their talons and made up for years of frustration tonight, scratching and kicking to a 31-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys that was not assured until 61 seconds remained on the clock.
At that point, Eagle running back Wilbert Montgomery, on third and three, bounced off a hole inside, swept outside and ran 37 yards to a touchdown that assured the Eagles their first victory in Texas Stadium, broke a nine-game losing streak against Dallas and most importantly, kept them very much in the NFC East race.
With Ron Jaworski throwing two touchdown passes to Harold Carmichael, with reserve John Walton pitching a TD pass to Charles Smith and with Tony Franklin kicking a 59-yard field goal, second longest in NFL history, the Eagles improved to 7-4 and broke a three-game losing streak.
They now are tied with the Redskins for second place in the division, with Dallas a game ahead at 8-3. Washington plays the Cowboys Sunday at RFK Stadium, and Redskin scout Kirk Mee, watching in the press box clearly was delighted.
"Now for Dallas, the pressure is back on," he said. "They've got to play Philly again. They've got to play us twice, and they've still got Houston. I'm sure they'll also be ready to play us this week. But we'll be ready too."
The Eagles had help winning their first game in Dallas since 1965: three Cowboys turnovers and Philadelphia fumble that was not called early in the fourth quarter.
At that point, the Eagles had a comfortable 24-7 lead with third and 15 at their 20. Harvey Martin came roaring in on Jaworski and sacked him. As Jaworski headed for the turf, the ball popped loose and Cowboy tackle Bruce Thornton recovered.
Thornton stumbled into the end zone and began celebrating. Replays seemed to indicate he had every right to, but officials ruled Jaworski had been in the grasp of Martin and the Eagles kept possession.
Referee Gene Barsh said after the game "the quarterback was in the grasp of the first player (Martin). At that point, under the rule, the play is dead. You blow the whistle to protect the quarterback. I did not see the ball come loose until the second player (Thornton) hit him."
Cowboy Coach Tom Landry said he didn't see the play and said officials never explained their call. "I don't know how they ruled." he said, and shrugged.
Landry also said he declined on illegal motion call against the Eagles before Franklin's stunning second-quarter field goal because "we didn't believe he could make it from that far out. But he made it.
"It just took something out of us."
That kick climaxed a wild final two minutes of the first half when the Eagles used a recovered fumble and Franklin's bare foot to score 10 points in the last 63-seconds. That gave them a 17-7 lead they never relinquished.
The Ealges stretched that advantage to 24-7 when Jaworski fired high to the 6-foot-8 Carmichael in the right corner of the end zone, the ball going over 5-10 Aaron Kyle for a 13-yard touchdown midway in the third quarter.
That score seemingly spelled the end for the Cowboys, who had struck for a touchdown on their third play from scrimmage -- a 48-yard pass from stauhbach to Tony Hill -- but self-destructed for more than three periods thereafter.
The Staubach-to-Hill connection, which worked seven times for 213 yards, got the cowboys back into the game on a 75-yard pass-run that slimmed the Eagles' advantage to 24-14 with 5:56 remaining, in the game, enough time for a comeback for these Cardiac Cowboys.
It almost happened.
Dallas got the ball back with 2:48 to play and drove 72 yards in nine plays before Staubach found Billy Joe DuPree open in the end zone for a five-yard scoring pass with 1:19 left, cutting the lead to 24-21.
Everyone watching knew the Cowboys would try an onside kick, and they did not disappoint. However, they also did not recover. The kick travelled only nine yards and was smothered by the Eagles' Herman Edwards at the Dallas 44.
From there, Jaworski simply handed the ball off to Montgomery, who gained 127 yards in 25 carries. The last 37, though were the most important as he got to the outside and galloped to a touchdown with 1:01 left. That meant Doonsday for Dallas.
For the Eagles, through, it was staying alive time, and Coach Dick Vermeil, who was presented a game ball, was properly giddy.
"This is the most meaningful thing that ever happened to me," he said.
"We've been through some tough times the last few weeks but now I think you will see us getting better and better. I think realistically we are going for a wild-card spot (in the playoffs). We have five games left, and every one of them will be a dogfight."