On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Eagles announced their intent to sign former running back Brian Westbrook to a one-day contract to retire as a member of the team.
Westbrook played eight seasons in Philadelphia, the final seven as a starter, where he established himself as arguably the most explosive Eagles running back since the late great Steve Van Buren.
Westbrook provided a million memories during his tenure in Philly, but this list narrows it down to the top ten.
Honorable Mention: 64-yard punt return against Seattle
I put this one down as an honorable mention only because the Eagles ended up still losing. You could not have scripted a more heartbreaking ending. Following a 31-28 loss to the eventual 16-0 New England Patriots, the Eagles needed to beat the Seattle Seahawks to even their record at 6-6 and stay alive in the playoff hunt. And they had to do it with backup quarterback AJ Feeley. But Feeley threw three interceptions, including one on his first pass of the game. The Eagles fought back from a 21-10 deficit to take a 24-21 lead, but Seattle jumped ahead again 28-24. Everything came down to a final drive for the Eagles, who turned back the clock and sent Westbrook back to return the punt. Incredibly, he came through, sprinting through a gap to return the ball 64 yards down to the Seattle 14-yard line. Victory seemed inevitable, if Feeley could lead the Eagles the equivalent of a first down in four plays. He couldn’t. He was sacked and then intercepted by linebacker Lofa Tatupu–his third of the game. The Eagles lost 28-24, and ended up missing the playoffs by a game.
10. 32 carries, 148 yards to beat Miami
Early in his career, critics jumped all over Westbrook, saying that he would never be a feature running back and could not succeed if he didn’t play for an offense that threw the ball 60 percent of the time. And that was true, in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. But by 2007, the prime of his career, Westbrook was ready to handle as many carries as the Eagles needed. Against the 0-9 Miami Dolphins in November, it was all Westbrook, who carried 32 times for 148 yards and a touchdown in an ugly 17-7 victory. McNabb was knocked out of the game after completing just five passes (three to the Eagles and two to the Dolphins), so Feeley relied on a heavy dose of Westbrook to secure the Eagles’ fifth victory of the season.
9. Touchdown reception in Super Bowl XXXIX
We’re not even going to talk about how the game ended because, quite simply, it hurts too much to even think about. But for one half, everything was okay in Philadelphia. The Eagles outplayed the Patriots, taking the lead in the second quarter on a perfectly thrown pass from McNabb to Westbrook that split a pair of Patriots defenders. Seriously, go watch a replay of that pass. It was perfect. All Westbrook had to do was catch the pass and walk into the end zone.
8. 52-yard screen pass touchdown against Tampa Bay
Count this as one of the most bittersweet moments of Westbrook’s career. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006, McNabb engineered a comeback from a 17-0 deficit in the second quarter, hitting Westbrook on a screen pass that the 5-foot-8 running back took 52 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with just 33 seconds remaining in the game. The catch and run was probably the most impressive single play of BWest’s career, as he broke five tackles and danced his way into the end zone to seemingly give the Eagles an improbable victory. But rookie Bruce Gradkowski put the Bucs into field goal range and kicker Matt Bryant nailed a 62-yard walkoff field goal–arguably the most painful regular season loss for the Eagles in the last decade.
7. 57-yard screen pass touchdown to keep season alive against Washington
The Eagles’ season was slipping away. They trailed the Washington Redskins 25-20 with just three minutes remaining in a game that was the definition of a must-win. Beside the fact that the Redskins were a division rival, the Eagles were just 3-5 and a loss would all but knock them out of playoff contention.
Enter Brian Westbrook. The 28-year old running back took a McNabb screen pass, highlighted by a huge block from massive guard Shawn Andrews, and scampered 57 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, and then added an game-clinching 10-yard touchdown run up the middle less than a minute later.
6. Kneel down to beat 12-1 Dallas Cowboys
In the record books, it goes down as a 23-yard run. But to Eagles fans, it ranks as one of the more memorable plays against the Dallas Cowboys in the Andy Reid era–and there definitely has NOT been a shortage of incredible plays against the Cowboys in the last 13 seasons.
With the 5-8 Eagles clinging to a late fourth quarter 10-6 lead on the road against the powerful 12-1 Dallas Cowboys, it was offensive tackle Jon Runyan who pulled Westbrook aside and told him to kneel the ball down on the one-yard line instead of scoring a touchdown if he broke away. Give credit to Runyan, because that’s exactly what Westbrook did on the very next play. His fall down at the one-yard line may have killed a number of fantasy football teams (who cares?), but it clinched an improbable victory for the Eagles. The Eagles ended up winning their final two games and avoided a losing season.
5. 203 total yards to beat 11-1 New York Giants
It was Westbrook’s final dominant regular season performance. The Eagles were 6-5-1 and needed a victory against the 11-1 New York Giants to keep their slim postseason hopes alive. Behind one of the most memorable performances of Westbrook’s career, they won 20-14 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
Westbrook set a career high with 33 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown, and also added six grabs for 72 yards and a touchdown. That would be a ridiculous 40 touches for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Westbrook’s best play came early in the fourth quarter when he found himself in single coverage with middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. McNabb took advantage and hit Westbrook for a 40-yard touchdown reception, increasing the Eagles’ lead to 17-7.
4. 71-yard screen pass touchdown against Minnesota Vikings in playoffs
The Eagles had more momentum than any NFL team heading into the 2008 postseason, thanks to a mind-boggling 44-6 stomping of the Cowboys in a winner-take-all game the previous week. But they found themselves clinging to a 16-14 lead late in the fourth quarter against a Minnesota Vikings team that really only had one offensive weapon–running back Adrian Peterson. Enter Westbrook, who caught a screen pass from McNabb and scampered 71 yards for a game-clinching touchdown behind a number of perfect blocks, the final two from wide receivers Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson. The Eagles won, 26-14, and advanced to the NFC divisional playoff game.
3. 33 carries, 257 yards, 3 TD in two playoff games in 2006
Near the end of the 2006 season, Westbrook was literally unstoppable. Throw in the impressive play of backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, and I would argue that the Eagles’ offense was as dominant as any in the league.
Against the Giants in the wild-card playoff game, Westbrook carried 20 times for 141 yards and a touchdown, including a ridiculous 49-yard scamper on the first play of the second quarter. Westbrook also returned a punt for a touchdown, but a penalty called the play back. The next week, Westbrook torched the New Orleans Saints, rushing 13 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yard burst early in the third quarter to give the Eagles a 21-13 lead.
2. Franchise record for yards from scrimmage and receptions
The 2007 Eagles did not provide a lot of memorable moments for their fan base. On offense, quarterback Donovan McNabb spent the majority of the season playing at less than 100 percent from his torn ACL against the Tennessee Titans the previous November. On defense, safety Brian Dawkins spent the majority of the season trying to work his way back into NFL shape, the result of a family problem during the offseason that left him unable to focus on football. If it wasn’t for Westbrook, the Eagles would likely have won just five or six games.
So it’s a good thing that Westbrook turned in the best season of his career, earning his second Pro Bowl selection and his only All-Pro selection. He rushed 278 times for 1333 yards and seven touchdowns, while grabbing 90 balls for 771 yards and five touchdowns. His 2104 yards from scrimmage set a franchise record (and led the league), as did his 90 receptions. He also silenced the critics who said that he could not handle a full workload, touching the ball 368 times, an average of 23 per game.
1. Miracle at the Meadowlands 2
Consider it one of the most memorable moments in the history of Philadelphia sports, and that’s no exaggeration at all.
The Eagles trailed the Giants 10-7 with just 1:30 remaining in a game that they had absolutely no chance of winning, despite the fact that their offense was about to receive the ball back. McNabb, who was suffering from a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, had completed just 9 of 23 passes for 64 yards and an interception. A loss would drop the Eagles to 2-4, putting a major blow to the Eagles’ playoff hopes.
Then came the single most memorable play of Brian Westbrook’s career. I’ll let Eagles announcer Merrill Reese tell the story on this one.
“He gets it away. It’s a wobbler. Bounces across the 20. Westbrook takes it. Looks for running room. Up to the 25, the 30. To the 35, 40. 45, Midfield. 45, 40. 35, 30. Brian Westbrook! He’s going, he’s gone! Touchdown! Brian Westbrook 84 yards! I don’t believe it! Brian Westbrook has just exploded. This place is in a state of shock!” (Click here to watch the video.)
The incredible punt return touchdown served as the second of three Miracles at the Meadowlands, and it’s a near-impossible task to rank the three Meadowlands miracles. The Eagles went on to win their next eight games and captured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second straight season, but who knows what would have happened that season if it wasn’t for Westbrook’s magic.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.