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NFL: Week 15

It was intentional grounding

Westbrook lauded for eschewing TD

Brian Westbrook chose to take a dive at the 1, enabling the Eagles to run out the clock in Dallas. Brian Westbrook chose to take a dive at the 1, enabling the Eagles to run out the clock in Dallas. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)
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Associated Press / December 18, 2007

With nothing between him and the goal line in the closing minutes of Sunday's win at Dallas, the only thing that could stop running back Brian Westbrook was the bellowing of teammate Jon Runyan.

The Eagles were clinging to a 10-6 lead over their hated rivals with just over two minutes left when Westbrook broke through the line and into the open field. But rather than scoring the touchdown that could have put an emphatic end to a big upset, Westbrook stopped at the 1-yard line and went to the ground, allowing the Eagles to run out the clock and end the Cowboys' seven-game winning streak.

All because he could hear his right tackle's earlier advice in his mind and urgent orders in his ear.

"I got a stern talking-to by Runyan right before that play," Westbrook said. "He said, 'Listen, if you're down to the 1, take a knee.' "

Westbrook didn't know if it was a good idea, but Runyan did.

"He was like, 'Take a knee, Westbrook, take a knee.' "

Runyan was so sure it would be better for the Eagles to run out the clock rather than score and risk a freak comeback, he pursued his running back downfield on the play, yelling the whole time.

"I looked back and I saw all 6-7 or 6-8 of him running toward me saying, 'Get down,' " Westbrook said. "So, I got down."

Eagles coach Andy Reid credited Westbrook's Villanova education for the decision to stop short of the goal line, but at least some credit should go to - in the words of Bo Schembechler - a Michigan Man.

"They were going to let us score to get the ball back, so I suggested this because then they won't get it back," Runyan said. "In a crazy game like this, you never know, you are a long kickoff return or a crazy play and an onside kick away from possibly losing the game."

Reid acknowledged yesterday that Runyan is "a smart guy," but said he was more impressed that Westbrook - who isn't really programmed to throttle down in the open field - was able to listen to his tackle's advice.

"Whether Jon Runyan was making the call or not, for a running back to execute it and understand what's being said when you're going in for a touchdown is something else," Reid said.

Dallas not deflated

The Cowboys' first loss in two months didn't exactly send the team into doomsday mode, but with two games left in the regular season before a home playoff game, Dallas obviously isn't playing its best football.

"It puts your nose back to the grindstone, it shows you you're not invincible," coach Wade Phillips said. "It's a different feeling for us, and we don't want to lose again."

At least Phillips knows quarterback Tony Romo is going to be "all right." Romo's throwing hand got banged against Philadelphia, but he didn't miss a play. He was diagnosed with a swollen thumb. Phillips also was encouraged with how center Andre Gurode was walking around on his injured left knee, and said defensive end Chris Canty's left knee was fine after both players left Sunday's game.

Since their last playoff victory following the 1996 season, the Cowboys haven't had a winning record for regular-season games played in December and early January. They are 16-29 in such games, plus four playoff losses.

"I wasn't even a history major in college, so I don't worry about that history stuff," Terrell Owens said. "There's no doubt in this locker room . . . There's no reason for a lack of confidence, not at this stage of the game, anyway."

Even when losing, the Cowboys clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs because Seattle lost. Dallas and Green Bay are tied for the NFC's best record at 12-2, but the Cowboys own the tiebreaker for beating the Packers last month. However, Dallas has struggled since the Nov. 29 showdown and in its two games since.

Players got yesterday off because the Cowboys play Saturday night at Carolina.

"The sky isn't falling because of one game," Phillips said.

The Cowboys will be without safety Roy Williams, who was suspended without pay for one game by the NFL after his third illegal "horse collar" tackle of the season.

Backward momentum

Sunday night's 22-10 loss to the Redskins was the Giants' third straight home defeat, and was especially costly because Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey was lost for the season with a broken left leg early in the second half.

New York still can clinch a playoff berth with a win at Buffalo next weekend, or against undefeated New England at home in the regular-season finale Dec. 29.

"It's just disappointing with everything on the line and everything that we had, win the game and we're in the playoffs, and in that situation to come out and play as poorly as we did," quarterback Eli Manning said.

Swirling winds made things difficult for both offenses, and Manning was horrible in the tough conditions. He was 18 of 52 for 184 yards, although his receivers dropped at least eight passes. Manning's 34 incompletions were the most in an NFL game since the Jets' Joe Namath had 36 against Denver in 1967. Manning's 52 passes marked the 18th time in Giants history they have attempted at least 50 passes. They are 0-18 in those games. Manning's career high for passes in a game is 53, in an overtime loss to Seattle in 2005.

Stuck in a rut

Mother Nature sure had it in for the Bills this weekend. Bad enough that a blizzard contributed to Buffalo's loss at Cleveland Sunday, ending the team's playoff chances. Then, following an unscheduled overnight stay because of bad weather, the Bills were forced to bus home yesterday after their charter plane got stuck in mud off a runway in Cleveland. The pilot of their charter plan took too wide a turn from one taxiway to another at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and the front wheel of the plane got stuck, airport spokeswoman Pat Smith said. The team was not on board the plane. At least they got home safely, the team arriving in Buffalo at around 12:30 p.m., some 14 hours later than expected . . . Determined to end an eight-game losing streak - the longest current skid in the NFL - Ravens coach Brian Billick intends to start Kyle Boller at quarterback Sunday against Seattle instead of promoting rookie backup Troy Smith, even though Boller left Sunday's loss to Miami with a mild concussion. "Kyle, clearly, in my opinion, gives us the best chance to win the game," Billick said . . . Jets coach Eric Mangini was noncommittal about his starting quarterback Sunday at Tennessee, saying he'll see how Kellen Clemens's injured rib feels this week before deciding on Clemens or Chad Pennington . . . An MRI confirmed that 1,000-yard rusher Justin Fargas of the Raiders has a sprained right MCL . . . Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh is out for the season - and possibly all of next season - after tearing both the ACL and MCL in his left knee . . . Rookie running back Chris Henry returned to the Titans after serving his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. . . Former offensive lineman Todd Burger was one of five men arrested over the weekend in Somerville, N.J., in a bust of an alleged Internet gambling operation.

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