Westbrook, Manning display genius closing games
Posted: Tuesday December 18, 2007 1:21PM; Updated: Tuesday December 18, 2007 2:27PM
I got a tremendous e-mail from Frank Reich, the former quarterback now living in Charlotte, about one event I neglected in the early editions of Monday's column --Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook going down at the 1 so the Cowboys wouldn't get another chance to touch the ball in a 10-6 Eagles win -- and another event I neglected completely: Peyton Manning's headiness on the last play of the Colts' 21-14 win over the Raiders.
In Dallas, with 2:19 remaining and the Cowboys trailing 10-6 with no timeouts left, Westbrook took a handoff at the Dallas 25 and ran downfield for a certain touchdown. But he knelt at the 1 instead of running into the end zone, after being told by tackle Jon Runyan in the huddle that if you get deep in Cowboys' territory, make sure you don't score but stay inbounds and let the clock run. Runyan thought since Dallas had no timeouts left, all the Eagles had to do with two minutes left is kneel down three straight times to run out the clock. If Westbrook had scored, it would be possible (though, highly improbable) for Dallas to score quickly, recover an onside kick and score again. So Westbrook went down and Donovan McNabb took three knees and the game ended.
Westbrook told me something that, until now, no one knew. This play's roots stretch back to Sept. 28, 2003, when Philadelphia led Buffalo 16-13 with 2:19 left to play. Buffalo had no timeouts left. The Eagles had the ball on their 38-yard line, on second-and-8. Westbrook burst through the line and ran the length of the field for a touchdown. An insurance touchdown, everyone thought. But the real insurance, as Westbrook said last night, would have been to run as far as he could and go down, inbounds, at the Buffalo 1, even though Philadelphia won the game 23-13.
"Donovan told me then, 'Maybe you should have taken a knee,'" Westbrook said. "But if I'd taken a knee, it was the same situation as yesterday in Dallas.'' He's right -- the Eagles would have gotten to the two-minute warning, and McNabb would have done three straight kneel-downs, bled the clock, and the Eagles would have won. Instead, they gave the Bills the ball back with 2:04 left and Drew Bledsoe back there flinging it downfield.
"So this time, early in the drive, in the huddle, Jon Runyan reminded us, 'Hold onto the ball, don't go out of bounds, don't score.' As a running back, that goes against everything you've ever been taught. All your practice, all your training, is to fight as hard as you can, run as hard you can, and score. Now he's saying, 'If you get to the 1, take a knee.' It was hard, but we all know it was the right thing.
"I've said from the time I put on this uniform that my No. 1-goal is to win games. Not stats. Stats are nice, touchdowns are nice, but I want to win. And the only way we have a chance to lose in this case is if we fumble while taking a knee. And that's not happening. So really, it was the only decision to make. And do you know how gratifying it was to win at Dallas while taking a knee? It's the perfect way to win.''