PHILADELPHIA -- For Eagles defensive tackle Kevin Johnson, it was an artistic display of grace and beauty. For his defensive teammates, it was the biggest play by a unit that made many big plays.
And for the St. Louis Rams, it was the moment that secured the Eagles' 20-9 win before a crowd of 62,172 at Veterans Stadium yesterday.
Johnson's fumble recovery for a 37-yard touchdown with 6:16 left in the game and a 36-yard field goal by Gary Anderson nearly three minutes earlier helped the Eagles (5-3) stay within striking distance of NFC East Division-leading Dallas (7-1), whom the Eagles face next Monday night, and increased the team's winning streak to four games.
"This is a big win for the organization and the players," said Eagles coach Ray Rhodes. "We're still struggling, but we're playing hard. It was a game where we had a lot of players step up and make big plays."
Eagles wide receiver Calvin Williams and quarterback Rodney Peete made a significant contribution when they teamed up for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 13 minutes left in the first half. Linebacker William Thomas had a key tackle on the Rams' two-point conversion attempt after a touchdown early in the fourth period. And Eagles strong safety Michael Zordich had a critical tackle early in the third quarter when he split two defenders and stopped running back Johnny Bailey for 2 yards on a throwback pass in the left flat that probably would have gone for a touchdown, but instead ended in a missed field-goal try.
But this day belonged to Eagles defensive linemen William Fuller and Johnson. It was Fuller, an end who simply destroyed Rams right tackle Darryl Ashmore all afternoon, who hit Chris Miller as he dropped back to pass. Johnson grabbed the ball, started to cut to his left, got a block from Fuller on Wayne Grandy at the 15, then cut back to his right for the touchdown.
"That put the dirt on the coffin, sort of," said Rams coach Rich Brooks.
Johnson, 6 feet 1, 306 pounds, said: "I watch our running backs in practice, so I knew how to dip that shoulder. At first, I thought it was a dead ball, then I saw Fuller start directing me. Now, the running backs will start watching me. It was a beauty, wasn't it?"
It was a great play in an otherwise ugly game. Dropped passes. Mediocre quarterbacks. Poor tackling. Blown coverages.
The only thing that kept it interesting was the trick plays Brooks called. The Rams (5-3) faked two punts for first downs, one that set up a 29-yard field goal from Steve McLaughlin with 2:26 left in the third period to cut the Eagles' lead to 10-3.
Then came "the swinging gate" conversion play after Isaac Bruce caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with 11:46 left in the game that got the Rams to within 10-9.
The Rams lined up in the regular extra-point kick formation. Then eight of them shifted to one side of the field. The center hiked the ball wide to linebacker Carlos Jenkins, who was supposed to run behind the wedge for two points. Instead, Thomas snuffed out the play and Jenkins.
"No, I wasn't shocked they ran the play," said Rhodes. "That's a time when I would expect a team to go for two points. I take my hat off to Coach Brooks. He made a lot of gutsy calls."
"I just felt it was something we worked on and we would be up by one point," said Brooks initially.
Then Brooks became defensive.
"This was the first time we tried it. The punt worked; the extra point didn't. Call me an idiot."
It changed the course of the game. Anderson kicked a 36-yard field goal on the Eagles' next possession to put Philadelphia ahead 13-9. So instead of playing for a possible field goal to tie, the Rams had to open up their offense and play for a touchdown with an immobile quarterback.
The Eagles, who had sacked Miller four times, turned up the pressure and sacked him twice more, the final one by Fuller setting up Johnson's touchdown run.
"I was a little surprised by the fake extra point, to tell you the truth," said Peete. "There was a lot of game left. I mean, no one was lighting up the scoreboard, and the game very well could have ended 10-9. They gave us a break. We'll take it. Things are going our way right now."