Sunday, January 11, 2009
I described the Eagles win against the Vikings in the First Round as "not pretty", which would make the Birds victory over the Giants in the NFC Divisional Round positively ugly. Once again, though, a win is a win, and the Eagles will take it because they are now in the NFC Championship Game.
The Eagles downed the Giants 23-11 in a brutal defensive struggle. Neither offense could move the ball effectively as they not only had to battle the opposing defense but also the frigid cold and swirling winds of the Meadowlands. In other words, it was a typical NFC East game.
The Eagles defense proved once again that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was right when he said this is the best Eagles defense he has ever coached. The defense kept the Giants out of the end zone all day, allowing only 3 field goals despite New York having good field position several times throughout the game.
Asante Samuel made the big play early in the game, intercepting an Eli Manning pass that Samuel brought back all the way to the 2 yard lineto set up an Eagles touchdown. Defensively, the Birds focused on shutting down the Giants running game and basically challenged Manning to beat them through the air, a challenge that Eli failed miserably. The Giants completed only 15 of 29 passes for 169 yards and had two costly interceptions. Manning struggled not only with the pressure the Eagles continually put on him but also with the wind that continually made his passes look like lame ducks.
The Giants were able to gain signifigant yards on the ground, totalling 138 yards, but the Eagles made the big stops when it mattered. The Giants went for two 4th and shorts late in the game and the Birds defense stiffened just enough to stop Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs and seal the victory.
Offensively, the Eagles did just enough at the right time. Late in the first half, the Eagles had a drive where they actually managed the clock effectively and picked up a big field to give themselves a lead. After a slow start, Donovan McNabb picked up the offense and completed just over 50% of his passes at 22 for 40. The Eagles ran the ball repeatedly in the first half and couldn't get anything going; it wasn't until the Birds basically abandoned the run in the second half that they started to move the ball effectively.
The Eagles run that probably never should have been continues. Now that they have knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions, you have to really start believing that this team could finally get that championship that has eluded them for so long. They are back in the NFC Championship Game for the 5th time in the last 8 seasons. Credit has to be given to Andy Reid who has seemingly re-opened the Eagles championship window that looked like it had slammed shut. This team is resilient and as long as the defense continues to play the way it has, they can play with any team in the league.
At the beginning of the playoffs, who could have possibly predicted the NFC Championship would be a Battle of the Birds between the Eagles and Cardinals? The Cardinals, a team the Eagles beat 48-20 on Thanksgiving, are a very beatable team. Arizona isn't the same team the Eagles faced back then as they no longer completely rely on the passing game to move the ball on offense. Edgerrin James has re-emerged as a viable threat to run the ball, meaning the Eagles can't simply blitz the Cardinals out of the building. Still, even though the game is being played in Arizona, the Eagles have to be the early favorite to win the game.
I have run out of words to describe how improbable this Eagles playoff run is. This team had been left for dead so many times this season but it has really bounced back in a big way. With the Phillies winning the World Series just a few months ago and the Eagles just two wins away from finally winning a Super Bowl, I can't think of a better time to be a Philly fan. Let's see how long this wave of good times continues.