The Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles held a nostalgia party today. In front of 68,535 witnesses in Veterans Stadium they brought back dominant defensive football, taking turns stuffing each other's offenses almost the entire day.
In the end, the superiority of Eagle kicker Tony Franklin was the difference. Each offense came up with one big fourth-quarter play but Franklin's 51-yard, third-quarter field goal turned out to be decisive as Philadelphia held on for a bruising 10-7 victory.
The Eagles now are 11-1, in control of the NFC East, and have clinched at least a wild-card spot in the NFC, having won eight straight games. The Raiders had a six-game winning streak stopped and are tied with the San Diego Chargers for first place in the AFC West with an 8-4 record.
"That's about the best I've seen our defense," said Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil, clearly drained by the experience. "We had to be that good, though. vThey got one big play, we got one big play and that was it. The rest was defense."
It was not until there were less than six minutes left that the Eagles got their big play. Franklin's field goal with 7.06 left in the third quarter had given Philadelphia a 3-0 lead. It had lasted into the fourth quarter.
Then, taking over on his 14, Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett sent his main home run threat, Cliff Branch, down the right sideline -- after sending Bob Chandler into the area.
Chandler broke deeper than Branch and the defense went with him. Plunkett threw a strike to Branch, who hauled in the ball at the Eagle 37, avoided Roynell Young, ducked the tackle of Bernard Wilson and was gone, 86 yards.
Suddenly, with 12-23 left, the Raiders were on top, 7-3.
The crowd suddenly seemed to feel the chill in the air on a cool, overcast day and the stadium was quiet for the first time all day. Quickly, though, the Eagles looked ready to come back.
Quarterback Ron Jaworski hit fullback Leroy Harris on a screen pass to get from his 16 to the 43. Then he passed to tight end Keith Krepfle for 13 more and Wilbert Montgomery for 12.
With second and 10 on the Oakland 27, Jaworski hit back-up tight end John Spagnola cutting over the middle at the 20. But just after he made the catch, Spagnola was creamed by linebacker Rod Martin, who more or less said, "The ball or your life."
Spagnola gave up the ball and Mike Davis came up with it for the Raiders. Now, the ever patient Philadelphia fans began booing the team that has not lost in this stadium since last December.
"We weren't really worried," Eagle linebacker Frank LeMaster said. "We knew we were going to stop them and sooner or later the offense would get it going."
Vermeil wasn't so sure. "We made things tough on ourselves," he said. "We dropped passes, made mistakes. I was getting worried."
The Raiders didn't move after the fumble recovery and Ray Guy punted to the Eagle 29. The clock was winding under six minutes. Panic was in the air. The Eagles had to have a big play.
Jaworski dropped back, the rush came. He scrambled. "When Ron started scrambling, the linebacker moved up a little," fullback Harris said later. "I just drifted deeper."
Jaworski (14 of 32 for 181 yards) spotted the rotund fullback drifting down the right sideline. Harris gathered the ball in at midfield and didn't stop until he reached the Oakland 28.
"We let Jaworski loose," defensive end John Matuszak said. "You can't do that.Most of the day, we made him drop and throw right away. Give him time, he finds people."
Montgomery, who finished with 76 yards on 22 carries, immediately got 12 on two carries for a first down at the 16. But then he lost two and Jaworski missed Harold Carmichael. Third and 12, time out.
"In that situation," Jaworski said, "you go to the big guy."
Carmichael. The 6-foot-8 all-pro was not having a great day, already having dropped three passes. This time, Jaworski hit him on the numbers at the six and he held on, just getting the first down.
On second down from the three, Montgomery started off left guard, saw no hole, swept wide, fought off Burgess Owens and dove to the flag just before Matt Millen got to him. With 2:56 left, the Eagles finally had the only touchdown they needed and a 10-7 lead.
"Once we got that big play, it was in the hands of the defense," Vermeil said. "And we just . . . dominated them."
The Raiders got as far as the Eagle 48 on their next series, but Plunkett was sacked for an 11-yard loss -- the Eagles' eighth sack of the day -- and three incomplete passes later the Eagles took over. The Raiders got one more chance, at their 20, with 38 seconds left, but it was futile.
"They did a great job all day," said Plunkett, 10 of 36 for 237 yards and two interceptions. "I thought, eventually, we'd get it going. Usually we do. Normally in this league, you score points sooner or later."
But this was not a normal NFL game. Not when two teams averaging better than 25 points a game each combine for 17. Not when the two teams total 207 yards rushing. Not when there are 11 sacks and 17 punts.
"It was about as physical a game as you're going to see," LeMaster said. "I don't think any of us, on either team, would like to go through that every week."