PHILADELPHIA, DEC. 16 -- The athleticism and acrobatics of Randall Cunningham have landed the Eagles their third consecutive playoff berth under Buddy Ryan, with today's 31-0 rout of the Green Bay Packers giving Philadelphia the second of three NFC wild-card spots. The 9-5 Washington Redskins snatched the first and a first-round playoff meeting between the NFC East rivals seems likely.
Long after the Eagles (8-6) had thoroughly demoralized the Packers, knocking out quarterback Anthony Dilweg and all but knocking Green Bay from playoff contention, Cunningham displayed on one play his inordinate talent, completing a 17-yard run by hurdling several yards over cornerback Mark Lee for a touchdown and an insurmountable 24-0 lead.
It seems almost unreal that the Eagles, a sorry 1-3 after September and booed at home with regularity, had the 65,627 fans at Veterans Stadium rocking and dreaming Super Bowl.
"I knew we were going to make the playoffs," Ryan said. "I thought we had a good football team at 1-3. This is the best football team we've ever had."
Said Eagles owner Norman Braman: "I had all the confidence in the world we would make the playoffs. I really do sense a degree of momentum building for the team."
Philadelphia was assured its wild-card spot with losses today by both Minnesota and New Orleans. Both teams are now 6-8, as is Green Bay, and barely alive.
Next up for the Eagles is a Sunday date here with the hot Dallas Cowboys (7-7), winners of four straight and bearing down on that final wild-card berth. Should they make it, the NFC East would have four teams in the postseason.
But the Eagles are by far the most volatile of the wild-card teams, and privately some NFC coaches say no one wants to play them.
"I know we can win it all," said safety Andre Waters. "We're the most dangerous team out there. It's up for grabs. It's whoever wants it the most."
One of the things that makes them so uncanny is Cunningham, who started out with three straight incompletions but finished 13 of 27 for 241 yards and one touchdown. He scrambled four times for 56 yards, giving him 821 yards rushing this year. He could yet become the first quarterback to rush for 1,000. "I think it's possible . . . and I might shoot for it," he said.
About his sky-high long jump, Cunningham said: "You have to love and enjoy playing the game. I don't worry about getting hurt."
Basically, everything is coming together for the Eagles. They got their first shutout at home since Dec. 20, 1981, against the then St. Louis Cardinals. Nothing is going wrong. Even running back Keith Byars threw an eight-yard touchdown pass, his third lifetime in three attempts.
Like many teams, the Packers thought that Philadelphia was vulnerable in the secondary, especially to the short crossing pattern. The Miami Dolphins had great success with that play in their Dec. 9 win over the Eagles, with Dan Marino beating the NFL's 26th-ranked secondary for 351 yards.
But the difference with this game is that Philadelphia's front four put tremendous pressure on Dilweg, starting in place of Don Majkowski, who is out for the season after rotator cuff surgery last week.
After Byars tossed his left-handed throw to running back Anthony Toney -- a play the Eagles used in their season opener against the Giants -- the Packers went to a no-huddle offense. And it would soon be Dilweg's last no-huddle of the game.
With 5:56 left in the second quarter Dilweg was in a familiar first-half posture: running for his health, this time from Reggie White. Just as Dilweg tried to throw to wide receiver Jeff Query, White grabbed Dilweg's foot, sending him to the turf. Dilweg grabbed his knee and limped off, but the problem was later diagnosed as an arch injury.
In for the second week in a row came perennial reserve Blair Kiel, in his sixth year out of Notre Dame. He's listed at 6 feet, but at best is 5-11. Whatever his height the Packers' fortunes didn't improve, especially with Kiel's flair for the underthrown pass. He threw behind receivers. He threw over their heads. He threw into the turf three feet from his target.
The Eagles began to take control of the scoreboard after controlling Green Bay for a long while with little to show for it. Roger Ruzek, after missing a 22-yard field goal wide left, connected from 34 yards for a 10-0 lead with 3:07 left in the first period. Philadelphia had breathing room.
The Eagles would soon have more. After being dropped for a 10-yard loss, Cunningham hit tight end Keith Jackson for 18 yards down the left sideline. Jackson showed little ill effects from a bruised knee he received during pregame warm-ups after colliding with Waters.
Two rocket passes to wide receiver Fred Barnett and Cunningham was in position to throw another strike in the back of the end zone to Byars, who beat safety Mark Murphy. It was 17-0 and 44 seconds to go until halftime.
With the lead up to 24-0 four minutes into the last quarter, Jim McMahon relieved Cunningham and completed his first pass attempt of the season during a 64-yard touchdown drive. It was an eight-yarder to Thomas Sanders, McMahon's teammate with the Chicago Bears. Sanders rushed a yard for the final touchdown.