Fellow Philadelphians across the greater metropolitan region were going to watch the Eagles game, whether or not it had any playoff implications. It would have stung the hearts of millions to see pretty boy Tony Romo and his Dallas Cowboys (or better yet, Cowgirls) play in the postseason. The scenario to make this game count for something wasn't as extreme as some were putting it. Simply put, one of the two playoff hopeful teams from the NFC North (Minnesota Vikings or Chicago Bears) had to lose in tandem with a loss by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to give the Eagles a chance to play for a playoff spot.
The efforts put forth by the Houston Texans against the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cannot be understated. These two teams full of young talent did not fold in their last games, but triumphed for their own sakes to showcase what could be future playoff material.
Matt Schaub played one of the best games of his career, throwing for 328 yards and finding one of the young WR greats, Andre Johnson for nearly 150 yards and 2 scores. Up 31-17 at one point, the Houston Defense held a late surge by the Bears offense to one touchdown, leaving the final at 31-24.
Browsing on NFL.com, I saw the Bucs/Raiders score on Gamecast as 14-14 late in the 3rd quarter, and was thus comelled to quickly make moves to turn on the game. Tampa Bay took the lead early in the 4th quarter on a 29 yard Matt Bryant field goal, making the score 17-14. On the ensuing drive, Oakland took the ball to roughly the twenty-five yard line. Second year quarterback JaMarcus Russell threw an errant floater in traffic that was intercepted and returned 84 yards, setting up an easy Cadillac Williams touchdown run, putting the score at 24-14 Tampa Bay. The Raiders failed to quit, putting together a quick 3 play, 66 yard touchdown drive aided by a 40+ yard pass interference coming from a passing attempt by running back Michael Bush. On their ensuring drive, Tampa Bay marched down the field and were well on their way to at least a field goal following a 24 yard run by Cadillac Williams. However, he seemingly tore his knee and had to leave the field under the manpower of two trainers.
Veteran Warrick Dunn gained 6 yards on first down to the Raiders' 33, but could get no further than the line of scrimmage on second. The story may have been different had Cadillac been in the game. On third down, Jeff Garcia scrambled right and threw a strike to his tight end Alex Smith at the 3, but one foot landed inches out of bounds. Because kicker Matt Bryant had missed his last 7 consecutive field goals of 50 yards or longer, the Bucs elected to go for it on fourth down. Garcia threw a pass that was a tad behind Antonio Bryant but still fairly catchable and he just dropped it. On the next play, Michael Bush bulldozed his way through the Bucs defense and 67 yards later found himself in the end zone, putting the Raiders on top 28-24. This was definetely the turning point of the game. The Bucs had the playoffs within reach, but this spectatular rush from the 3rd string Bush sucked out all the energy from the Bucs players and fans alike. It was quite noticeable watching the game.
On the Bucs first offensive play of the next drive, Garcia threw an interception. The Raiders collectedly ran the ball down the field, taking precious time off the clock and setting up a Janikowski field goal, making the score 31-24. With a 1:09 on the clock and no time outs remaining, Garcia proved to be human once and for all, and the Raiders triumphed in one of the most thrilling games of the afternoon.
With thanks and good fortune, these games set up an unprecendented Eagles victory which we shall hear more about later this evening.