MINNEAPOLIS –Call this one The Three Phases of a Playoff win. Because at the end of the day, after the Eagles packed up their things and left this frozen tundra of a land, the 26-14 win over Minnesota was possible because all three phases of the team chipped in for a thrilling victory.
The Eagles move on to play the Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoff round as a team. They won a tremendously physical game against Minnesota and will now take the appropriate steps to freshen up for a well-rested and battle-tested Giants team.
And as the team landed in Philadelphia and put the win over the Vikings behind it – that's what happens in this league, win or lose – the Eagles have a little more trust in one another and in every phase of this team.
You want big plays? The Eagles delivered them, first with a 62-yard punt return by DeSean Jackson that set up the first of four David Akers field goals. Score one for the special teams.
In the second quarter, it was Asante Samuel's turn as he stepped in front of a Tarvaris Jackson pass intended for Sidney Rice and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 16-7 advantage. Kudos to the defense.
Later on, with everyone on the edge of his/her seat, and with palms sweating and heartbeats racing, Donovan McNabb completed a screen pass to Brian Westbrook and he got some great blocking, did his usual amazing running through the maze and ended up 71 yards down the field in the end zone for a touchdown to turn a two-point lead into a nine-point, it's-over margin with fewer than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
And you can throw in some excellent coaching, too, because the Eagles dialed up that screen pass at just the right time against a Minnesota defense that was coming full bore at McNabb the entire game. The Vikings played a pressure style, clogged up the running lanes and took away a lot of what the Eagles wanted to do offensively.
"You have to stick together and everybody has to step up," said tight end Brent Celek, who did just that with six catches for 56 yards. "We're doing that. Everybody is taking his turn to step up."
The defense led the way, for the most part, battling tooth and nail against superstar running back Adrian Peterson, who exploded for a 40-yard touchdown run but was otherwise pedestrian: He ended with 83 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. While the defense sacked Jackson just once, they harassed him enough into an awful day – Jackson completed only 15 of 35 passes for 164 yards and had a passer rating of 45.4.
After a frustrating first half in which the Vikings converted 6 of 10 third downs, Philadelphia clamped down on defense. In the second half, Minnesota managed only 101 yards of total offense, six first downs and only 2 of 10 conversions on third downs.
"We didn't adjust a whole lot," said middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. "We just played better. We got off the field better. That was disappointing in the first half, but we bounced back in the second half."
The offense didn't have a whole lot going for it other than McNabb's passing game. Correll Buckhalter reeled off a 27-yard run to set up another Akers field goal, but then mysteriously did not touch the ball again. McNabb went to eight receivers, including Jason Avant, who gained first downs on four of his five receptions.
A little dinking and dunking did just enough to keep the Vikings off balance, and then the Eagles went for the killer blows in a convincing fourth quarter.
Hey, there are smiles all around right now, but there is also the understanding that the defending Super Bowl champions are waiting on Sunday. The scene is set for Round 3 of this season between the Eagles and Giants. It should be a great, great battle.
For now, as the Eagles heal and savor the win, the reality is this: A total team has come together here after that baffling 5-5-1 start to the season. The Eagles are playing as One, and that is the formula to win in the post-season.
Great win. Great weekend. Thousands of Eagles fans made the trip to Minnesota in search of the win, and they got it. They earned it. Everyone of you did. It's that kind of feeling right now.
The roll continues. The Eagles move on. The season is alive, and the Eagles, as they flew through the night to Philadelphia, were thrilled to have the chance to keep it going against the Giants.