The Birds pushed past Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, 26-14, securing a trip to the Meadowlands for a showdown with the Giants.
Ten observations, in no specific order, from the victory:
1. Let's give a hearty round of applause to the Eagles defense. When it looked as though, midway through the first half, the Vikings would run all over the field, the entire defense stepped up. Take away his long touchdown run and you find that Peterson was held to little over two yards per carry. Chester Taylor had some nice gains, but he never broke our back.
Furthermore, the Vikings were extremely successful in third down situations in the first half. This trend was reversed, however, late in the game, as Jim Johnson dialed up more blitzing schemes. Defensive honors go to a cast of players, including Trent Cole (7 tackles), Quintin Mikell (7 tackles and solid pass coverage), Brian Dawkins (need I explain?), Mike Patterson (5 tackles), Stewart Bradley (4 tackles), and Asante Samuel (interception return).
2. What a difference two weeks make! Same scenario in Washington, Samuel drops a wide-open interception and return opportunity. This week, Asante doesn't miss a beat. Huge, huge play.
3. The 26-point performance is a bit deceiving, since Akers posted four field-goals and the defense came up with seven points. In fact, the offense provided Westbrook's lone dash to the endzone as their only points of the day. That just will not cut it. McNabb and the boys moved well in their own territory, but seemed to hit a wall around the Viking's 35-yard line. Though the Eagles were not expected to have an electric day on the ground (23 carries, 67 yards) against Minnesota's excellent run defense, they must be more successful in finishing their drives.
4. Speaking of the offense, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but Reid cannot continue to pass on third and short situations. Run the ball, close the gap to the first-down marker, and risk it every once in awhile on fourth down.
In addition, Reid's constant desire to pass in first-down situations is over the top. Even worse, it seems that when these passes fall incomplete, the Eagles automatically go with a run on the subsequent play. It's very predictable. These runs usually net between -2 and 2 yards. It's a guarantee.
5. Despite his tendency to drift backwards after securing a punt, DeSean Jackson played a critical role in the Eagles victory. The rookie had two stellar returns, placing the offense in prime territory to capitalize. Jackson is a godsend in terms of special teams, a drastic change from last year when the Eagles perpetually began drives from deep within their own territory. I love seeing him dance across the field, scanning for even the smallest hole to burst upfield.
6. There was a time when David Akers walked onto the field and you didn't give two thoughts to his field goals. They were good, always good. The kicker's invincibility diminished in recent years and field goals were no longer foregone conclusions. Yet, the second half of the 2008 season has been a rebirth for Akers. He has been extremely consistent and is showing off more power. He contributed 12 of the Eagles points against the Vikings, including kicks of 44 and 51 yards. His performance is even paying off in terms of opponent's field position, as he has increased his number of touch-backs in recent weeks.
7. I will say it again: Give Buckhalter the ball! Two carries for 27 yards, including a scamper that set up an Eagles field goal. The man is always ready to pitch in and help the cause, but Reid has to give him the chance.
8. What other United States governor could literally take off Sunday's to loyally watch his Eagles and sit as a panelist on Comcast SportsNet's "Eagles Post-Game Live?" Well, that is what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has done for a number of years. It is quite amusing watching the "Gov" pal around with the other commentators, providing sufficient analysis and displaying genuine love for his team. Steelers, don't be jealous!
Hey, I like the guy. He did a good job as Philadelphia's mayor and has had his moments in Harrisburg over the last six years. But I don't want to see what would happen if an emergency befell our great state on a Sunday afternoon. I believe Rendell pours over Eagles statistics more than government documents! All in good humor, of course.
9. Who loved McNabb's smile on the sideline as the clock wound down? Fox caught a great shot of the quarterback imitating an interception return as he caught Tarvaris Jackson's errant pass along the Eagles sideline and wrestled with teammates.
And the Eagles improbable march rolls on.
Wild Card Weekend: 2-2
Wins: Ravens, Eagles
Losses: Chargers (my pick: Colts), Cardinals (my pick: Falcons)
Ravens @ Titans- Titans 16-13- Titans continue to surprise their critics with a solid defensive performance against the Ravens. Both offenses struggle, but the Ravens have a few fatal turnovers
Chargers @ Steelers- Steelers 24-20- The Steelers prove to be just too tough at home. Rivers and the Chargers stall in the redzone late in the game.
Cardinals @ Panthers- Panthers 31-17- Nice win Cardinals, but there will be no repeat on the road against Carolina. Steve Smith has a big game.
Eagles @ Giants- Eagles 31-20- The Birds slay the defending champs, winning a trip to the NFC Championship game for the fifth time in eight years. Jim Johnson pressures Manning all day, forcing two interceptions and a fumble. McNabb is efficient, but not spectacular. Westbrook dominates, rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns. What, you thought I was going to pick the Giants?