EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eric Allen's 94-yard interception return for a touchdown not only led his Philadelphia Eagles teammates to one of the season's best comebacks, but also persuaded one of the franchise's best players to forget about retirement.
Cornerback Allen's swirling, twirling run to greatness with 8:43 remaining proved to be the winning touchdown as the Eagles stunned the New York Jets, 35-30, yesterday before 72,593 at Giants Stadium to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East at 4-0.
Allen finished the run by high-stepping the final 10 yards to the end zone, and then handing the ball to injured Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, who was standing in the stadium tunnel on crutches.
"He said, 'This one is for you,' and that's when I decided I was going to come back, because that is what it's all about," said Cunningham.
Cunningham said he contemplated retirement after he fractured his left fibula with 3:02 left in the second quarter. On first-and-10 from the Jets' 40, Cunningham dropped back, felt pressure, moved to his right, but was sandwiched between Jets defensive linemen Marvin Washington and Scott Mersereau.
Cunningham tried to throw, but his left leg got planted underneath him on the way down. Cunningham hopped off the field before he was taken from the sidelines by stretcher for X-rays.
Eagles team doctor Joseph Torg has recommended surgery and said Cunningham will miss eight to 10 weeks. Cunningham said he will fly to California this morning to meet with doctor Clarence Shields for a second opinion.
Shields has operated on Cunningham twice before, including reconstructive surgery on his right knee two years ago after Cunningham went down in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.
"At first, I was more worried about my knee," said Cunningham. "But then I felt this pain in the bone, and it felt like it was broke in half. That's when I thought about retiring.
"It's not because of the violence, but because it leaves you, particularly quarterbacks, in vulnerable positions," he said. "But once Eric gave me the ball, it was like I could either cry or be mature, and help the guys over this."
Cunningham's injury wasn't the only one for the Eagles. Starting wide receiver Fred Barnett played about 10 minutes before suffering a torn ligament in his right knee. He is expected to miss three months. Top special teams performer Jeff Sydner is out for the season with tendon damage to his knee.
"Somebody had to step forward," said Allen. "Somebody had to come up with the big play."
Backup quarterback Bubby Brister came up with a few, completing 11 of 16 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. " He directed two touchdown drives, as the Eagles recovered from a 21-0, second-quarter deficit.
The Philadelphia defense played well in the second half, especially linebacker Byron Evans, who crunched Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason along the left sidelines at the Eagles' 28 for only a 5-yard gain on fourth-and-nine with 1:09 left in the game.
But Allen made the play that Eagles fans will talk about for quite some time.
Esiason threw behind wide receiver Chris Burkett and Allen intercepted at the Eagles' 6. He started to the right sideline, then darted back to his left. He did a 180-degree turn at the 20, went back to the right, then broke free down the left sideline. A great block by cornerback Ben Smith sprung him at the Jets' 35, and then it was showtime.
"When I first caught it, I was just thinking, 'Get out of bounds,' " said Allen. "Then I could see some of the Jets just walking off the field. I got my guys screaming at me, 'Let's go,' and then I wanted to make something happen because nothing else had gone right all day.
"It was like the fox being in the chicken coop. I got the chicken, now I needed to get out. All I was thinking about was just staying alive, man, staying alive," he said.
Esiason completed 19 of 27 passes for 297 yards, but had two interceptions in the fourth period that stopped drives.
"If we don't have two turnovers in their red zone, we win going away. I take full responsibility. The wrong team won today. Take nothing away from the Eagles. Bubby played a fantastic game," said Esiason.
Brister finished what Cunningham had started late in the second quarter. He finished the remaining six plays of the 12-play, 65-yard drive with a 10-yard pass to Mark Bavaro in the right flat for the score with 41 seconds remaining in the half to cut the Jets' lead to 21-14 at the half.
Esiason hooked up with Johnny Mitchell for a 65-yard touchdown just 1:44 into the second half to get the lead back to 14, but Brister wasn't done. After the Eagles recovered a fumble at the Jets' 17, he needed just three plays to find wide receiver Calvin Williams (Dunbar) for an 11-yard slant for a touchdown with 9:52 left in the third quarter.
He then completed passes of 9, 5, 27, 5 and 16 yards in a 13-play, 87-yard drive that ended with running back Vaughn Hebron (Cardinal Gibbons) scoring on a 1-yard run around left end with 13:41 remaining, tying the game at 28.
The Jets went ahead 30-28 when Brister was called for a safety nearly two minutes later, but this time the Eagles' defense had the answer.
"I think that drive we scored on late in the second quarter really picked us up," said Brister, acquired in the off-season from the Pittsburgh Steelers. "It feels good to get beat up, get some turf burns, because at least you're playing. We just tried to make things simple for me out there because I haven't gotten a lot of snaps in practice."
"We beat a pretty good football team in a hostile stadium," said Eagles coach Rich Kotite. "We had a lot of injuries and I felt bad for Randall. But this team is tough and a great finisher."