The Philadelphia Eagles overcame a case of the post-Dallas blahs today and beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 16-13, to tie for first place with the Cowboys and Redskins in the NFC East with an 8-4 record.
Although the 3-9 Cardinals played like the last-place team that they are most of the day, the Eagles contrived to keep things close -- most notably quarterback Ron Jaworksi.
"I don't believe in relief quarterbacks or changing up because a guy misses a few passes," Philadelphia Coach Dick Vermeil said: "And I have complete faith in Ronnie because he's such a super competitor. But I almost made the move today. He really tested me."
Jaworski completed three of 14 passes in the 6-6 first half and was treated to a cascade of boos when he missed a wide-open Keith Krepfle in the end zone nine minutes into the third quarter.
Tony Franklin kicked a 31-yard field goal on the next play for a 9-6 Philadelphia lead with 5:22 left. But after St. Louis quarterback Jim Hart took his team 73 yards on the next series, most of the 70,135 in attandance really let Jaworski have it when he trotted on after the kickoff.
"Damn right I heard them booing Ron," said Krepfle, "and it really ticked me off. Ron's one of the premier quarterbacks in football and probably the most valuable player on this team. He's gotten us where we are. He misses a few passes and the people boo him.
"I know it's the nature of the game, especially in Philadelphia, but I don't think it's right. I felt for Ron. I was glad when he shut them all up."
How Jaworski felt about the booing remained his secret because he was still in the Eagle training room an hour after the game ended. But he certainly quieted the boos.
Taking the ball at his 30, he quickly tossed to halfback Wilbert Montgomery, who totaled 118 yards rushing and five pass catches this day, for a first down at the Eagle 44. Then Jaworski, after scrambling away from the Cardinal rush, found Krepfle open in the middle for a gain of 14 to the St. Louis 42.
A two-yard Montgomery dive ended the third quarter.
Then came the play of the game. Jaworski took a straight drop from the 40 looking for Harold Carmicheal, but found him double-covered. Downfield, Krepfle, the tight end with catcher's mitts for hands, was one on one with safety Ken Greene. Jaworski let fly.
"I had him beat at first but he caught up with me and was right on my back as the ball got there," Krepfle said. "I thought Ron would look to me when Harold was covered and he did.
"If the ball had been underthrown at all, I couldn't have caught it. But it was perfect, he hit me right in stride and I caught it over my shoulder."
"That was the toughest touchdown pass Ron had to throw all day," Vermeil said. "The other two -- to Krepfle and to Carmichael in the second quarter -- that he missed were easier throws."
"Perfect play," Cardinal Coach Bud Wilkinson said. "Jaworski and Krepfle just made a perfect day, that's all."
The touchdown with 14:53 left put the Engles up, 16-13, and their defense kept it that way, muffling the Cardinal offense. It had to because this was not a day for Philadelphia offensive heroics.
Although there were no turnovers the entire game, both offenses looked sluggish -- the Cardinals, apparently deflated by their heartbreaking loss to the Redskins last week, the Eagles not back to earth from their Monday night win at Dallas.
In practice all week I could tell we weren't going to be real sharp today," Vermeil said. "We didn't have that edge in concentration. Any week after a Monday night is tough because it's a short week. This one was especially tough and I think it showed on us the first half."
The Eagles grabbed a 3-0 lead with 5:28 left in the first quarter on a 23-yard Franklin kick, set up by Montgomery's 52-yard burst off tackle.
Franklin made it 6-0 on a 47-yard kick midway through the second quarter. On the first play after the kickoff the Cardinals had their own brillant moment of this gorgeous fall afternoon.
Ottis Anderson swept right and faked a reverse to Mel Gray. The entire defense bought the fake and Anderson wasn't dragged down until 75 yards later at the Engle one Wayne Morris scored on the next play and it stayed 6-6 when Steve Little missed the conversation.
"We just never got it going except for that, couldn't make the plays," said Hart, 19 for 31 for 186 yards today. "We had one big play and one drive." Anderson netted only 37 yards in 16 other carries for a day's bag of 112.
The drive in the third quarter was capped by another one-yard Morris dive with 2:13 left. The Cards led, 13-9, and the boos flowed.
Less than an hour later the home crowd was hailing its team and quarterback -- tied for first but a bare step ahead of the eternal negative sounds of Philadelphia.