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Monday, January 4, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`It's Beyond Devastating' -- Eagles About-Face Shocks Saints; Cowboys Up Next

Times News Services

NEW ORLEANS - The Philadelphia Eagles have not looked back on bad quarters, bad halves, bad losses, bad decisions, bad anything all season.

But before they looked ahead to Dallas next Sunday, the Eagles owed themselves one glance behind them, one about-face as they paraded triumphantly into the Superdome tunnel.

They would have enjoyed the sight they left behind.

A scoreboard that read: Eagles 36, Saints 20. New Orleans players still seated on the bench in disbelief, gasping for air, elbows on knees, heads buried in hands.

And the remains of the Eagles' postseason ghosts of 1988, '89 and '90 scattered everywhere.

"We killed a lot of ghosts today," Eagles safety William Frizzell said. "We killed them and New Orleans brought some more ghosts back."

Said defensive end Clyde Simmons, "We killed a few things, especially the playoff monkey. I believe that's the biggest one and the only one that mattered."

The second best comeback of the day brought Philadelphia back from a 20-7 deficit midway through the third quarter with 29 unanswered points in the NFC wild-card playoff game.

So bring on Dallas.

For the first time since January 1981, there will be a second postseason game for the NFC team that had perfected the playoff one and done in recent years. The Eagles and NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys will square off Sunday at Texas Stadium. The survivor advances to the NFC championship game the following Sunday.

The Cowboys, who won the NFC East title with a 13-3 record and had a first-round bye, split two games with the Eagles this season. Philadelphia won 31-7 in Veterans Stadium on Oct. 5 and Dallas won 20-10 Nov. 1 at Texas Stadium.

"We're ready for Dallas," running back Heath Sherman said. "It's a personal thing. We don't like them and they don't like us."

Said tight end Keith Byars: "That is right where we want to be. I love going to Dallas."

Philadelphia had lost its first playoff game following the 1988, 1989 and 1990 seasons. The Eagles didn't qualify for the playoffs in 1991, heightening the sense of urgency for this aging, unfulfilled team this season.

When they fell behind the Saints 17-7 at halftime, the ghosts of playoffs past seemed to be dancing along the sideline. It got worse when the Saints went ahead 20-7.

"But the thing was, these guys never panicked," said Eagles Coach Rich Kotite. "They did a magnificent job of keeping their cool, keeping their poise under difficult circumstances."

Said cornerback Eric Allen, who had two interceptions: "It's all about maturity. In the past, I think too many guys would have been trying to do too much, trying to make plays all by themselves. This team just relaxed and let it happen."

The Eagles cut the deficit to 20-10 after three quarters, then unleashed one of the most furious rallies in modern playoff history. Or at least since Buffalo rallied from a 35-3 deficit earlier in the day.

The Eagles' 26 points in the fourth quarter were more than they had scored in their previous three playoff games combined (25) and the second-most ever scored in the fourth quarter of an NFL playoff game. The record is 27 by the New York Giants against the Chicago Bears in 1934.

"The adjustment we made was an attitude adjustment," White said. "When we walked out of the locker room, guys were looking at each other and saying, `I'm going to make a big play.' "

The Eagles got a big game from Randall Cunningham, who removed his own label as a quarterback who couldn't win in the playoffs. He completed 19 of 35 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Fred Barnett. He did not throw an interception.

Barnett made two huge plays, catching touchdown passes of 57 and 35 yards. He finished with 102 receiving yards.

Sherman carried the Eagles running game in the second half. He finished with 105 rushing yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 6-yard run with 1:05 left.

The Saints, meanwhile, are the only NFL team without a playoff victory, with an 0-4 record.

"I felt this was the best team of the four playoff teams, to let this one get away, man, it's unbelievable," linebacker Sam Mills said. "I don't like to think of this team as a team that chokes. But we just played horrible in the second half. That's why we didn't win, because we didn't play like a championship team and that's why they're playing in Dallas next week."

The latest loss left cornerback Vince Buck searching for an explanation. "Is it a Louisiana voodoo curse?" he said. "There are no words for it."

Said Frank Warren, "It was like dying by inches."

Compiled from the Philadelphia Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Camden Courier-Post, Dallas Morning News and Associated Press.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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