Down Go the Champs! Eagles Advance to NFC Championship

mcnabb-victoryThere must be something to this whole #6 seed thing. For the second year in a row the #1 seed in the NFC falls in the Divisional playoffs. Last year it was the Giants. Today, Big Blue got the script flipped by the Eagles who marched into the Meadowlands to down the Giants for the second time in five weeks. We knew it would be physical. We knew it would be low scoring. We knew it would be close. When the smoke cleared, it was a 23-11 win for the Birds.

As expected, it was all about defense. The Eagles forced three turnovers. The first – an interception by Asante Samuel – set-up the offense at the two yard line. Two plays later Donovan McNabb punched it in for the game’s first touchdown. The defense played aggressive from the start and held a powerful Giants’ rush attack to 138 yards. I said earlier in the week that 140 would be a manageable number and it turned out to be the case. Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward were good, not great.

Eli Manning looked like the 2006 Manning not the 2007 version. His throws were errant and his decision-making suspect. The Birds came after him often and forced him into several rushed throws. The Giants struggled on third down converting on only three of thirteen opportunities. Two critical fourth down attempts, a keeper by Manning and a run by Jacobs, were thwarted by the Eagles front four. Broderick Bunkley blew-up both plays and ended any hopes of a comeback.

Starting receivers Domenik Hixon and Amani Toomer combined for only four catches for 63 yards and never provided a serious big-play threat, except for one 34 yard completion to Hixon in the third quarter. The Eagles sold-out to stop the run as they did in Week 14. The strategy worked and limited the Giants from springing any back-breaking runs.

Brian Westbrook was a relative non-factor gaining only 46 yards on 20 touches, but McNabb took the offense on his shoulders by going 22/40 for 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT and one key rushing touchdown. He overcame a shaky start and a stiff wind to shine in the second-half. The Birds were a solid 7/14 on third down and again allowed no sacks to a hungry Giants defense. The rush yards weren’t there, but the commitment was: 28 attempts for 59 yards. That’s what I like to see. Balance for the Eagles has been vital to their surprising surge.

David Akers nailed three more field goals and has now made and NFL record 18 straight in the post-season. Meanwhile, John Carney missed two crucial attempts. No team can afford to make these kinds of mistakes and come away victorious. The Eagles’ special teams has been one of the unsung heroes over the last six weeks.

Whoa!! What a game. It was everything an NFC East playoff matchup should be: hard-hitting, trash talking, and extremely physical. For the fifth time in the last eight seasons the Birds will be playing for a trip to the Super Bowl. Unbelievable. A visit to the desert next weekend to face the equally hot Arizona Cardinals is next. Two down, two to go. It has been one incredible ride. Let’s hope it’s a long way from being over. Congratulations Eagles!

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