EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --Awesome, wasn't it? Better than expected, even. A gut-wrenching three quarters melted into euphoria in the fourth quarter as the Eagles beat the Giants, 23-11 on Sunday at Giants Stadium. Now it's on to Arizona to play the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in Andy Reid's time here.
Here is my perspective of a day to remember ...
Let's discuss some of the inactives. Fullback Dan Klecko is up, after battling a sore shoulder all week and practicing very little. I'm surprised, frankly, but I'm not entirely convinced that Klecko will play the whole game at fullback. I think the Eagles can work in some looks with Kyle Eckel and Correll Buckhalter at fullback. I'm just guessing, of course, but who knows? The Eagles have to have some wrinkles in this game.
The weather at Giants Stadium is really nice for the middle of January. The temperature is 31 degrees and the wind is around 11 miles per hour. I'm sure there will be gusts, but right now the weather doesn't figure to be much of a factor. It's cold, yeah, but it could be a whole lot worse at Giants Stadium.
I've seen some Eagles green in the parking lot and already in the stands, but nothing like last week. This is going to be a pro-Giants crowd, and very loud. I think it is of the utmost importance for the Eagles to get out and grab the lead and not look back.
12:17 p.m.The Giants have two kickers active, John Carney and Lawrence Tynes. Tynes will kick off. I'm watching both of them kick to the goal posts where David Akers had his problems in the last game here, and I would say they have a range of 43-45 yards.
At the same time, Sav Rocca is punting the other way. He looks fine, and he looks like he trying to kick the ball to the sidelines. Rocca just boomed a 55-yard punt straight down the middle of the field. Who knows what the heck will happen?
I see where Jerome McDougle is active for the Giants. What does that mean? McDougle has played in four games with one tackle for the Giants this year. Are the Giants worried about Justin Tuck's leg injury?
12:34 p.m.I've asked around the press box and the thinking here is that the Eagles are going to come out throwing the football. The weather is certainly OK for that, but I wonder about the thinking. The Eagles need to keep the Giants off-balance, and move the chains and convert third downs as they did on December 7 (12 of 18 conversions on third down).
Also, the Eagles need to wear down the Giants' defensive front. There isn't as much depth for the Giants as there was a year ago, and I think that is a factor. I think that means something.
As an FYI, the Eagles are wearing white jerseys and green pants. Does that mean something for you?
The field is empty. The teams have gone through their warm-ups and are now in the locker room for some last-minute talks and preparations. I trained my binoculours on the stands and actually see quite a few more Eagles fans than I expected. It is a very heavy Giants crowd, of course, but the Eagles are well represented, so again a hearty thank you to the fans.
How do you feel? I feel like a bundle of nerves and I can imagine that in a few minutes I'm going to have trouble catching my breath. The tension is amazing. I welcome this feeling. This is a playoff feeling, and I missed it in 2007
This is a Donovan McNabb game. He has to step in and be the man. He has to lead this team, no matter how ferocious the pass rush becomes for the Giants. I watched Jake Delhomme play a lousy game last night, and before him Kerry Collins turned the ball over too much. Can McNabb be great today?
The other call is for the Eagles defense to stop New York's running game, although I have this nagging feeling that the Giants are going to come out throwing the football. McNabb and the defense. And, yeah, the special teams. And the coaching.
And to answer the question below: Brian Westbrook looks fine. He looks, may I suggest, frisky. But you don't really know until game time.
What the heck. I'm just killing time here. I'm not even sure what I'm saying. I just want the Eagles to play their best game of the season and beat the blue out of the Giants.
Jordan Sparks sang the national anthem, and if you are superstitious, here is a stat: The Eagles are 1-0 this season when American Idol singers perform the national anthem (Rueben Studdard vs. Browns). The Eagles are at the coin toss. They call heads and the toss is tails. New York receives to begin the game. You know how it started the last time the Eagles were here for the playoffs ...
Poor start and a poor job by the kickoff coverage team to allow Ahmad Bradshaw to bust 65 yards to the Eagles 35-yard line on the opening kickoff. Eli Manning's first pass to a wide-open Steve Smith was blown short by the wind. Fourth and 2 and Brandon Jacobs gets the first down over the left side. Not the start I wanted.
Giants lead, 3-0, thanks to a great kickoff return, a fourth-down conversion and John Carney's 22-yard field goal. With 9:59 to go, the Eagles get the ball and they need to do something with it. I didn't like the kickoff coverage and I didn't like the way the Eagles gave up that fourth-down conversion. Talk about a chance to seize momentum. The Giants took 5:01 off the clock on their first drive. Now let's see Donovan McNabb and Co. respond.
1:26 p.m.One first down on the Eagles' opening offensive drive, but the Giants dug in and won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles must make adjustments, and good field position would help. New York's second drive is starting at its 13-yard line. I need a three-and-out series by the Eagles defense.
Look for the Giants to run the ball on this series. I just feel it.
Another huge defensive play by Asante Samuel, who picks off an overthrown Manning pass It sets up a bruising touchdown -- nothing is going to come easily on this day, methinks -- as Donovan McNabb sneaks in, extending the football over the goal line for a touchdown and all of a sudden the Eagles lead, 7-3, with 5:58 to go in the first quarter.
Samuel pays off again. Amazing guy. Big-game player. The kind of player who hawks the football and who stops one side of the field in the passing game. Plus, when Samuel has the football in his hands he is just awesome.
Samuel now has seven playoff interceptions, first among all active players and tied for the fifth most in NFL history.
I kind of can't believe any team, including the Eagles, gave up on Jeff Feagles. The guy is terrific. The Eagles are backed up to their 10-yard line with 1:58 to go in the quarter. Critical possession. Then again, what isn't a critical possession?
I need to see a running game here. Calling Correll Buckhalter, calling Correll Buckhalter ... Brian Westbrook hasn't had a chance here. The Giants are blitzing very effectively off the edge and they are winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.
I need the offense to get into a rhythm. Another false-start penalty. The crowd is really loud, but that is no excuse. L.J. Smith knows better. He has been in this situation before.
1:57 p.m.I have no problem with the intentional-grounding call. It was. I didn't like the play call, and I didn't like the way the Eagles didn't give Jon Runyan help against Justin Tuck. It's clear that the Eagles need help wherever Tuck lines up.
What the Eagles need is some field position. They've started the last two drives at their 10-yard line and then their 5-yard line, and the running game is going nowhere. Special teams needs to turn the field around in the Eagles' favor. The Giants have a first down at their 32-yard line with 12:28 to go in the quarter. Big defensive series here.
2:15 p.m.This is a really discouraging first half of offense by the Eagles. They're trying to run the ball, with absolutely no success. The Giants are getting off the ball really well, anticipating the snap count and killing the Eagles at the line of scrimmage.
Great throw from McNabb to Smith, and a terrific catch for a much-needed first down. Clock is moving. A few ticks more than 6 minutes in the half. Nice Westbrook run to the right side. Third and 1 here. Tough inside run from Buckhalter.
First down in Giants territory. Antoher run, this time to the left side by Westbrook. Ground Reid? Twelve runs and 7 passes called so far. Twelve and 8 now. Big third and 9 play from the Giants 41-yard line with 4:04 to go in the half. Where is Jason Avant? No chance. The Giants blitz, and execute perfectly, and McNabb is hit as he throws toward DeSean Jackson. Kevin Dockery makes the pick at the 20-yard line. Giants ball, 3:58 to go in the half.
2:37 p.m.Eagles down, 8-7. They have the ball at their 25-yard line with 1:24 to go in the half with one timeout. Dangerous time. Brent Celek drop. This is not the way you win games like this. Too many penalties. Losing battles. Dropping passes. The Eagles won't win this game unless they tighten things up and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented.
First down after Jackson catch. Completion to Avant. Clock is ticking. Under one minute. Completion to Westbrook and he gets out of bounds at the Giants 49-yard line with 47 seconds remaining. The Eagles need to reach the 25-yard line, at least. Completion to Avant at the 34-yard ilne. Eagles timeout, their final timeout, with 40 seconds to go.
Wind looks pretty calm right now. That could change in a second, or when the Giants open the door somewhere in this building ...
Completion to Jackson and he rolls out of bounds. Ball at the 25-yard line, 36 ticks on the clock. Incomplete pass. Third and 1 at the 25, 31 seconds remaining in the half. Handoff to Westbrook. First down. Spike. Clock stops with 18 secods to go, ball on the 21-yard line. End of half ... I'm so nervous.
McNabb runs to the 12-yard line, and 5 more yards because of an illegal contact penalty on the Giants. Ten seconds remaining in the half. Ball on the 7-yard line. Throw for Jackson in the right corner, and he makes a sensational catch, but way out of bounds.
David Akers in. He lines it up, kicks a 25-yard field goal and the Eagles lead at the half, 10-8.
End-of-half drive: 12 plays, 68 yards and 1:33 off the clock. Akers made his 16th consecutive playoff field goal, tying an NFL record.
Breathe for 12 minutes. Eagles ball to start the second half.
Good return from Quintin Demps, to the 47-yard line. Two plays later, the game changes. McNabb's pass for Kevin Curtis is tipped by a leaping Chase Blackburn at the line of scrimmage and is intercepted by Fred Robbins, who returns it to the Eagles 33-yard line. So much for momentum. Awful start. Brandon Jacobs big run. I feel like tossing the cookies right now. Giants first and 10 at the Philadelphia 22-yard line.
Another Jacobs run. The Giants are opening holes up front. Five yards for Jacobs. Derrick Ward dropped pass. Third and 5. Nice pass breakup by Sean Considine on a pass for Kevin Boss. Another field-goal attempt by John Carney, from 36 yards out. It's good and the Eagles are down, 11-10.
3:03 p.m.Not feeling great right now. Quintin Mikell is on the sidelines, hobbling back and forth. Asante Samuel missed the first series of the second half while he was getting an IV. Celek just dropped another pass. The offense is in a hole, and the Eagles are trailing and I just don't feel any Eagles momentum.
Too many penalties.
Too many dropped passes. This is not the formula for winning in the playoffs.
3:22 p.m.Anybody having fun? The clock reads 7:39 to go in the third quarter. The Eagles lead, 13-11, after a well-constructed drive that put the Ealges in the red zone. Again, though, no touchdown. Another Akers field goal. I like the way McNabb is managing the field, but the Giants were effective on that drive blitzing and just coming through too clean.
Kevin Curtis made up for a drop with a tough catch over the midde. Avant, who has headed into the locker room with an injury, was tough inside.
Ooops. Manning goes to Domenick Hixon for 34 yards on third down. Considine came with a bliltz and Manning threw the ball perfectly and Hixon made the catch with Joselio Hanson draped all over him. That is the kind of play at a critical time that you expect from the defending Super Bowl champions.
Quintin Mikell is out of the game. No announcement on what is wrong with him. Giants driving. Wait, he is back in the game.
Intense. That's all I can say. Literally every play is huge. It is a back-and-forth game. The Eagles just got robbed on a pass-interference penalty that wasn't called against Curtis, but the offense has to rebound from that no-call. And they do: McNabb completes a pass to Smith and the Giants are penalized for face masking, so the Eagles have a first down at the New York 29-yard line with 2:41 to go in the quarter.
Huge completion to Curtis. Now the Eagles have the ball at the New York 14-yard line. First down. Need a touchdown here. Need to go up by two scores. Completion to Celek. Six-yard gain. Second and 4 at the 8-yard line. Inside handoff to Westbrook for 3 yards. Third and 1 at the 5-yard line. Pitch left to Westbrook, with a caravan in front of him. Gain to the 1-yard line.
Quarter over. Eagles lead, 13-11. Believe in Green, baby.
3:37 p.m.Touchdown! Great call on a play-action fake to Dan Klecko (the Giants bought it!) and then a throw to Celek in the left corner of the end zone. Touchdown! A two-score lead, with 14:56 to go in the game. In the game!
Defense must come out and attack. No prevent stuff. Go after Manning.
3:51 p.m.Great hold by the defense on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak by Manning, as Mike Patterson and Chris Gocong came up huge. The offense didn't do anything with the gift in Giants territory except, and this is important, eat some clock. Sav Rocca's punt, only 26 yards, pins the Giants at their 11-yard line with 10:22 to go.
Eagles must hold. Eagles must hold. Eagles must hold.
4:01 p.m.Another stop by the defense! For the second straight possession, the Eagles stopped New York on fourth down! And the Eagles have the ball with 6:28 to go in the game, leading 20-11. First down at the New York 48-yard line. First and game. One or two first downs and it's all over. New York took its jolly time on offense, huh? And isn't it amazing how the Giants took the ball out of the hands of quarterback Eli Manning this entire game?
Buckhalter run, and he loses yards. Clock is moving. Giants have just one timeout remaining, plus the 2:00 warning. Clock is under 6 minutes. McNabb back, he's looking for Jackson and he MAKES THE CATCH!!!!
Eagles ball on the 1-yard line. Tick, tock! What a game! What a moment! Eagles need a touchdown here to ice it, hands down, ice it. Third and goal from the 2-yard line. What does Marty Mornhinweg have .... a roll right and throw too long for Hank Baskett. Another field goal try. Akers is good from 20 yards out and the Eagles lead 23-11 with 3:58 remaining.