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Inspired Eagles still holding onto playoff hopes

By Rob Maaddi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 2011 2:45 a.m. MST

Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) celebrates a touchdown with teammate Danny Watkins during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Miami.

Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Every time the Philadelphia Eagles have won a game during this lost season, they've considered it a starting point.

They've run out of time to turn things around, but, hey, at least they're still clinging to playoff hopes.

A 26-10 win at Miami on Sunday coupled with the New York Giants' 37-34 victory at Dallas kept Philadelphia alive in the division race. Even at 5-8, the defending NFC East champions have a chance to repeat. They must win their last three games, and the Giants and Cowboys each have to finish no better than 1-2.

Tough task, for sure. But until they are mathematically eliminated, the Eagles aren't conceding anything.

"It's exciting. We've got three games left and it's up for grabs," coach Andy Reid said Monday. "I'd say that's a good thing."

Michael Vick returned after missing three games with broken ribs to help lead Philadelphia past the Dolphins (4-9). Vick had a so-so performance, completing just 15 of 30 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked four times.

Though he hasn't played like the Pro Bowl starter he was last year, Vick was a distinct improvement over backup Vince Young. The Eagles were 1-2 with Young, including consecutive blowout losses to New England and Seattle.

"Just having his presence in the huddle, it changes everything," running back LeSean McCoy said. "There are plays that should be called dead or be stopped, and instead you have Vick running around making plays down the field, so it's good to have him back."

While Vick's return bolstered the offense, it was their maligned defense that carried the Eagles to victory in Miami. Juan Castillo's crew had nine sacks, forced three turnovers and held the Dolphins to just 204 total yards in their best all-around effort this season.

Castillo, the offensive-line-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator, has been under intense scrutiny since Reid made the stunning decision to switch his position. For at least one week, Castillo will hold off some of the criticism.

"I think Juan did a really great job with the plays that he was calling," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "It helped us. We had some turnovers, had some sacks. It was exactly what we needed."

Given the mediocre state of the NFC East, the Eagles are certainly kicking themselves for all those blown opportunities earlier in the season. They lost five games in which they led in the fourth quarter, including four at home.

"We started out slow and there were a lot of games that we were supposed to win and we didn't finish," Vick said. "We got some wins and we had some losses and then I got hurt. The guys just really rallied around each other win, lose or draw. I think the ultimate goal is to come out and win each and every week, but at the same time just play together."

The biggest obstacle blocking the Eagles' path to the playoff is their own play. It's more likely that the Giants and Cowboys would lose two more games than the Eagles would win four in a row. They've had just one winning streak of two games this season when they beat Washington and Dallas sandwiched around a bye week in October.

"We have a chance. It does matter," tight end Brent Celek said. "That's all you can ask for after the position we left ourselves in. We just have to capitalize on every opportunity we have."

The Eagles, 1-5 at Lincoln Financial Field this year, host the New York Jets (8-5) next. They'll visit the Cowboys (7-6) on Dec. 24 and finish at home against the Redskins (4-9) on New Year's Day.

Notes: WR Steve Smith was placed on injured reserve with a bone bruise in the same knee he had had microfracture surgery on last year. DT Cedric Thornton was signed off the practice squad to take his roster spot. ... WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring tightness), RT Todd Herremans (sprained ankle), DT Cullen Jenkins (strained groin), RB Ronnie Brown (strained hamstring strain), DE Darryl Tapp (broken rib) were injured against the Dolphins.

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