Confident Eagles take a giant step forward
MINNEAPOLIS - All but forgotten as postseason contenders, Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles have a playoff win.
Next up: the Super Bowl champions.
Brian Westbrook caught a short pass out of the backfield and zigzagged through the Minnesota defense for a devastating 71-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and the Eagles spoiled the Vikings' first home playoff game in eight years with a 26-14 victory yesterday.
"I've seen this team have confidence in each other and try to have one another's back," McNabb said. "What you're seeing is a team playing with a lot of energy, playing with emotion, and just having fun."
Asante Samuel's 44-yard interception return for a score in the second quarter set a tone for the kind of game most Vikings fans feared from unpolished quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Andy Reid improved his playoff coaching record to 9-6, including at least one win each time the Eagles have qualified in his 10 years. He bested his buddy and former offensive coordinator Brad Childress in this one, and they spoke for several moments on the field after the game while maybe a thousand Eagles fans cheered around the tunnel entrance.
Philadelphia will play next Sunday at Giants Stadium against the top-seeded Giants, sending Arizona to play Carolina in the other NFC semifinal Saturday.
Jackson, who lost his job in September but got it back when Gus Frerotte was hurt, finished 15 of 35 for 164 yards. Adrian Peterson's two touchdown runs weren't nearly enough for NFC North champion Minnesota, which will head to yet another offseason with burning questions about the quarterbacks.
Westbrook couldn't find any room to run, finishing with 38 yards on 20 carries even with two starters (Ray Edwards and Pat Williams) missing on Minnesota's defensive line. But McNabb, who was 23 of 34 for 300 yards, kept the offense from derailing.
He tossed a ball toward his always-reliable running back at just the right time with the Eagles clinging to a 2-point lead after a scoreless third quarter. Westbrook received a slew of well-timed blocks as he slalomed downfield for the clinching touchdown.
"Any time that you get an opportunity to give the ball to a guy like Westbrook, give him an opportunity in space or against any other defenders, you feel confident about that matchup," McNabb said.
Despite a solid December, Jackson showed he's still quite raw and in need of a lot more experience. His one big mistake really hurt, an underthrown out route to Sidney Rice that Samuel read perfectly and picked off and returned 44 yards for a 16-7 lead.
McNabb wasn't perfect. He threw an interception, lost a fumble in the third quarter, and took an 8-yard sack that pushed the Eagles out of David Akers's field goal range. But the Vikings didn't capitalize on the turnovers and left plenty of receivers open in the middle of the field - particularly Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek - for McNabb to target.
"Donovan did a great job today leading this team. Basically putting the team on his back," Westbrook said. "We really didn't have too much of a running game, but he put this team on his back and threw the ball down the field - just sitting there in the face of the blitz. And that's what you expect from a superstar quarterback like Donovan."
The Vikings couldn't get any rhythm in the second half. Peterson managed only 17 yards on eight attempts after halftime, and the Eagles applied plenty of pressure to keep Jackson from bouncing back.
"I think we rattled him kind of towards the end," defensive end Trent Cole said. "He had to get rid of the ball quick and move around. He was probably getting tight from a lot of pressure."