You would think a playoff game against the defending champion Giants would have me jumping off every piece of furniture in the house and going crazy on every play. Didn't happen. This Eagles team has me very calm right now. I trust them. Let me say that again – I trust them.
That is about the best compliment I can give an Eagles team. Eagles fans are conditioned to hope for the best, but to expect the worst. If the team gets a 14-point lead, you just know the opponent will make a great comeback. As soon as the Eagles get down 10 points, you know the game is over. Nobody comes back from 10 points down. That's the mentality so many of us have.
Right now, I watch the Eagles and have great confidence. I'm not saying I know the team will win, but I trust them to right the ship. They give up a long kickoff return, but then the defense bails out the coverage unit with a good stand. The defense gives up a big pass play and field goal, but the offense bails them out with a field goal drive of their own. And so on.
There is a quiet confidence with this team that hasn't been here in the past. These guys seem to get it. They understand playoff football. Don't panic when things go bad. Don't celebrate too much when things go right. Stay focused on the play at hand. Make stops on defense. Score points when you can. Win the game.
Donovan McNabb, David Akers and a tough defense were the keys to victory. The Eagles went toe-to-toe with the defending champs and soundly knocked them out. McNabb vastly outplayed Eli Manning and the Eagles proved to be the stronger, more physical team. That was old-school NFC East football.
Let's start with McNabb. He played brilliantly. The numbers aren't great, but in that setting against a good defense you aren't going to have great stats. McNabb came up big in this game by being tough, smart and clutch. He is really calm and focused right now. I don't know that I've ever seen this McNabb before in the playoffs. He's had good games in the past, but not quite like these. He's on the road now. The last road playoff game for McNabb before this year, other than the neutral-site Super Bowl, was in the 2001 season. He's had to face a pair of top defenses (number five and number six in the league). These are not quarterback-friendly conditions.
McNabb has been very calm in the pocket. He doesn't focus on the rush. He stays locked in on his receivers. McNabb took a big hit Sunday just after he released a pass to L.J. Smith on a third down play that moved the chains. He never looked at the rusher, instead he watched Smith on his crossing route. He created something from nothing a couple of times. McNabb moved in the pocket on a third-and-20 situation and then saw Jason Avant come open in the middle of the field. He got the pass to Avant and let him run for the first down. Big play. McNabb dumped a pass to Correll Buckhalter on third-and-10. Buckhalter was able to move the chains with a good run of his own.
McNabb got the Eagles into the end zone twice. He had a terrific sneak for the opening touchdown. He paused for a half-second after taking the snap. That let his blockers go forward and gave him room to move. He then pushed forward and extended the ball for the score. Early in the fourth quarter, he threw a beautiful touch pass to Brent Celek in the back left corner of the end zone to basically put the game away. A nine-point deficit must have felt like a million points to the Giants.
Brian Westbrook had a quiet day, but the coaches were very smart to keep feeding him the ball. Westbrook and Buckhalter combined for 28 touches. That is just what I wanted to see. Those guys converted some third downs. They kept the defense honest. They kept some pressure off McNabb.
The passing game wasn't great but Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson, Avant, Celek and Smith all made important catches that moved the chains and led to points. Those guys worked well in the ball-control attack that we ran. Our receivers had more RAC yards than the Giants and that helped on a day when you couldn't throw intermediate or deep passes all that effectively.
The offensive line had an up-and-down day. In the end, they kept McNabb from getting sacked and they made key blocks. Westbrook, Buckhalter, Celek and Smith all helped quite a bit with pass protection. It was a group effort and it worked very well.
I know many people will think the offense was bad on Sunday. That isn't the case. The offense got off to a really slow start. They had issues with penalties and field position that hurt them early on. The offense really came alive in the final drive of the first half and stayed hot in the second half. They piled up more than 240 yards in that span. Good defense has to be matched by effective offense. That's what McNabb Westbrook, and company delivered yesterday.
The defense played very well. They did give up some yards on the ground, but they kept the Giants under control. New York never got into the end zone. They only got inside the 10-yard line once. If your defense can hold the opposing team to only nine points you're going to have a great chance to win.
Brodrick Bunkley was the star of the show up front. He was credited with five tackles, but controlled the middle of the line on many other plays. He was a key part of the stuffing of Manning on the quarterback sneak on fourth down. Bunkley was the key to stopping Jacobs on his fourth down run. Bunkley is able to overwhelm offensive linemen when he's single blocked. Fellow defensive tackle Mike Patterson had a good game. He helped clog the running lanes up the middle. Patterson was the one who actually tackled Manning on the failed sneak. He also got pressure on Manning on a pass play early in the game that resulted in an interception.
I was disappointed that the defensive line didn't get more pressure on Manning, but you have to give the Giants offensive line credit. They did a great job of giving him time to throw and kept him clean. The Eagles weren't able to come up with a sack, but two of the plays where they did get good pressure resulted in interceptions. Trent Cole was held in check, but did come up with six tackles. He also made a nice play in coverage when he dropped back on a zone blitz. Victor Abiamiri was sneaky good against the run. He helped shut down some key plays, but did so in a quiet way.
The linebackers had a good day. You can't allow more than 130 yards on the ground and call it a great game. Chris Gocong and Stewart Bradley really came up big. They were physical. They shed blocks and they tackled well. In order to slow the Giants down, you must get hold of Jacobs and Ward and really put them down with authority. Our linebackers did that. They combined for 19 tackles and punished Giants runners every chance they got.
Quintin Mikell and Brian Dawkins once again played well. They were fast to come up in run support. They kept control of the middle of the field on pass plays. Dawkins had more tackles (10 to 6), but Mikell was key to the run defense. He came flying up on run plays and funneled plays back to the middle. There is no stat for this, unless you want to count Gocong and Bradley's 19 tackles. Mikell took on all kinds of blockers. On one play he stood up Chris Snee, the All-Pro right guard of the Giants. When our strong safety stonewalls their best lineman, you have to feel good about things. Mikell picked off a pass and dropped another couple of picks. I love the fact he's getting to passes, but he needs to start hanging on to them. Somebody get Ed Reed's phone number for Mikell.
The Eagles signed Asante Samuel to come here and make plays. They gave him a lucrative deal. And he's been worth every penny. Samuel picked off another pass in this game and returned it to the 2-yard line to set up a touchdown. He is just a flat out playmaker.
David Akers was 3-of-3 on field goals. The kicks were all pretty short, but nothing is a gimme in Giants Stadium in January. Akers made a huge play early in the game. He forced Ahmad Bradshaw out of bounds after a long return on the opening kickoff. Think about that. If Akers doesn't make that play, Bradshaw scores a touchdown. Instead Akers takes a good pursuit angle and does just enough to force him out. The Giants never did score a touchdown.
Akers set the record for consecutive made field goals in playoff history. He's now kicked 18 in a row. He broke the record of one-time Eagle Gary Anderson, who set the record in the Eagles Wild Card win over Detroit after the 1995 season. I'm still mad at Gary. He missed one late in that game. It was a blowout, but had he made that kick the score would have been 61-37. Instead we had to settle for only 58 points. One of my all-time favorite games.
I love this current Eagles team because they are showing me great character. Curtis dropped a deep pass from McNabb. He came back and apologized, but McNabb told him to forget about it and move on to the next play. Sure enough McNabb threw him a pass on third down a few plays later and Kevin made the catch. These guys are playing well. They believe in one another. FOX showed a sideline shot shortly after the first fourth down stop. Bunkley was on the sideline hugging backup offensive lineman Chris Patrick. There is a certain chemistry and camaraderie on this team that I haven't seen since 2001. The difference is that this team has more talent and McNabb is now a veteran quarterback.
Sunday's win over the Giants was a big step forward on the journey to Tampa. The team now has to put it aside and start thinking about Arizona. Any notion that the Cardinals will be a cupcake because of what happened on Thanksgiving is a big mistake. Like us, they are hot right now. Sunday will be another tough test.