WHENEVER A PLAYER sits in the trainer’s room at Lincoln Financial Field while a game is in progress, he is in some sort of misery.
On Oct. 2, Antonio Dixon lived a special sort of misery as Frank Gore gashed his Eagles in a loss that cost them dearly.
One more win, and the Eagles occupy the playoff spot the Giants used to win the Super Bowl.
Of all the bad plays and the bad luck and the bad coaching that comprised the Failure of 2011, losing an undrafted run-stopper in Game 4 played as large a role as anything. Maybe a larger role than most.
This season, even with the addition of first-round tackle Fletcher Cox, Dixon, at 6-3 and upwards of 330 pounds, should play a larger role than ever.
Certainly, Dixon’s value should be better appreciated after what his absence meant last season.
"Dixon, with his size and explosiveness, he’s pretty unique. When he went down last year, we really missed that," said fellow tackle Cullen Jenkins. "All of us other tackles, we don’t have that size and the ability to just fire off the ball and just push guys around and collapse it. We missed that."
In Dixon’s absence, Jenkins, a free agent acquired to rush the passer, found himself thrust into more run-defense situations. The limitations of Trevor Laws and Mike Patterson were magnified. The Eagles had to re-sign Derek Landri, whom they cut out of training camp.
And, without Dixon for less than 30 minutes, they lost to the Niners.
After a harmless, 40-yard scoot on his first touch, Gore was limited to 19 yards on five touches until early in the third quarter. Subtract Gore’s first run and the Niners, as a team, gained 33 yards on 11 carries.
Seven of those 11 rushes were for 3 yards or less. Of those 19 yards, 15 were meaningless.
The Niners’ running attack was absent. Finally, the wide-nine defensive line scheme was working.
The Eagles led, 23-10.
Dixon tore his left triceps on the next drive.
Gore gained 68 yards, scored a touchdown and ran out the clock on his next nine carries.
Dixon could only watch.
"I saw him running all over the defense. I was going crazy in the back," Dixon said. "I couldn’t help my teammates. It was pretty hard to watch.
“The first two quarters we shut them down. Then I got hurt, and he gutted us."
It was no easier to watch 2 months later in Seattle, when Marshawn Lynch trampled them for 148 yards and two touchdowns, another deflating, costly loss. Maybe a worse loss, considering it dropped the Eagles to 4-8 and made their route to making the playoffs an indecipherable combination of unlikely events.
The loss in Seattle hurt, but the Seahawks and Lynch owned that game.
Against the Niners, the Eagles blew a 20-point lead, in the second half, at home.
"The Seattle game was hard to watch, too. Because I know I could’ve helped the run game," Dixon said. "But it was harder to watch San Francisco come back."
At the same time, it was a privilege for Dixon to be missed.
Dixon, 26, has overcome homelessness, a learning disability, a speech impediment and a weight problem. Then, he was undrafted. The Redskins signed him as a rookie free agent in 2009 and planned to stash him on the practice squad. That required Dixon to clear waivers, and the Eagles snared him.
Dixon played in 31 of 32 games in 2009 and 2010. Last season, he played ahead of Laws, a second-round pick whom the Eagles let go to St. Louis via free agency. He was a big reason the Eagles traded 2006 first-round pick Broderick Bunkley in 2011.
"Trevor and Bunkley, they’re my dogs … but it makes me proud that the Eagles wanted me," Dixon said.
They didn’t just want him. They needed him.
They need him now.
Dixon stayed in Philadelphia the entire offseason, fed at the Eagles’ strict training trough and supplemented his rehab routine with a rigorous workout regimen.
Dixon weighs 332 pounds, about the same as last year.
Only now, he can see his feet.
"He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in," said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. "You can see the excitement in his face."
You could see the excitement on Castillo’s face, too.
He got his run-stopper back.
If only …
OK, Dixon finishing the game against the Niners does not guarantee a win.
In that same game, Alex Henery missed two field goals inside of 40 yards. Jeremy Maclin fumbled in Niners territory late in the fourth quarter. And, of course, Ronnie Brown turned the ball over at the goal line on a halfback option pass, the Eagles’ most absurd play-call of the season.
But a stop here, a tackle there … who knows?
Maybe the Giants aren’t smiling.