MINNEAPOLIS -- This is a great Eagles day with the team back in the playoffs. Nobody is satisfied merely to be here, but there is a tremendous realization that the quest to win the Super Bowl is still alive. There is also the understanding that only outstanding football is acceptable in the playoffs. And as the Eagles get ready for Minnesota, I'm here, there and everywhere bringing you my perspective. I can't wait for this game to begin ...
10:05 a.m. (Minneapolis time)
There are a couple of matchups that I think work very much in the Eagles' favor today. I'm writing from my hotel room, Room 1202 of the Marriott in the very cold city of Minneapolis. All I can think about is the game, and there is no relief writing and flipping through the channels and trying to hurry the clock along until 3:30 p.m.
Anyway, I think the Eagles are going to give Minnesota's offense a lot of problems up front. Trent Cole is too much for Bryant McKinnie on the edge, and Cole is in line for a big, big day. He dominated McKinnie last year as the Eagles overwhelmed Minnesota, and Cole is a better player now on a better line. McKinnie is big and strong, but he has been nicked up a bit and really isn't quick enough to get out on Cole play after play. If the Vikings slide help in McKinnie's direction, which I think they will, the Eagles are going to have chances to make big plays up and down the line.
The other matchup is Donovan McNabb against Tavaris Jackson. Since the benching in Baltimore, McNabb has tossed 9 touchdowns and just 1 interception with a passer rating of 98.7. We're all going to look for McNabb's demeanor early -- is he too amped and firing rockets all over the stadium? Or is he calm and precise and throwing the ball accurately?
I'm betting on McNabb having a big day. He is a playoff-tested quarterback who has enjoyed excellent success. He knows the tempo of the games and he understands the importance on protecting the football. Jackson is a talented kid, but he has never been here. I think that means something. If the Eagles can control Adrian Peterson and put Jackson into obvious passing situations ...
That's kind of obvious, isn't it? It all starts with controlling Adrian Peterson, right?
This hotel is loaded with Eagles fans. Mike from South Dakota is here with his family. A lot of fans from Philadelphia are here and I expect a bunch from the Midwest to be at the game today. Anyway ...
How much will the Eagles run the football today? I think they're going to try to establish something early, but I also look at the Minnesota depth chart and wonder how deep the Vikings are in the secondary. Can they cover the Eagles if the team goes to three- and four-wide receiver sets? Hank Baskett is going to play and Kevin Curtis is back to being pretty darn healthy. He had a big game against the Vikings last year, remember.
If I'm designing the offense, I come out running right on first down. I want to test the edge for the Vikings. And then I'm going to throw the football and see what the Vikings have planned for covering Brian Westbrook. I mean, if Westbrook flexes and lines up as a receiver, and he has DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis out there as well, how are the Vikings going to deal with that?
Time to get a workout. I have way too much hyper energy now ...
Great workout ... 30 minutes on the bke, stretching, pushups, all the stuff old men do. I play that role very well. So now I'm back in the room for a couple of minutes, and I just can't take ESPN any longer. Too much hype and controversy -- is the Brett Favre obsession ever going to end? -- and I need to get off the football thang for a few minutes. Steve Martin and Queen Latifah are in a movie called "Bringing Down The House," so I'm going to settle in for a laugh or two before the team meal. I love Eugene Levy, too.
Jeffrey Lurie is quoted as saying in an interview with The Boston Globe that the Eagles have "every intention" of bringing Donovan McNabb back in 2009. He is signed through 2010 and has already talked about wanting a new contract, so this is just another part of what is going to be an extremely interesting off-season. Hopefully, that off-season starts in February. The Eagles have a lot of cap room, and while I do not know the amount, I know I read one report that said they have in excess of $45 million under the cap. There is just no way enough talent will be on the free-agent market to spend anywhere near that much money.
So if the Eagles want to bring back all of their free agents-to-be, I'm fine. Bring back the veterans like Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan and Brian Dawkins. Keep McNabb and do whatever you can do with him as far as a contract. Go out and use the draft wisely and be aggressive in free agency.
I'm all for happy faces right now.
On to today ... again ... This is another proving ground for the run defense. For years and years we have debated the "size" issue with this defense. Are the Eagles big enough to stop the big-time running games? They have done a marvelous job this year and the defense has shown its mettle against a bruising NFC East.
I think the edges are going to be on the spot today. I think the Vikings are going to try to get guard Steve Hutchinson pulling and trying to spring Adrian Peterson on the corners of the defense. Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel will have to be physical and tackle well. The outside linebackers will have their hands full.
We are on the bus to the Metrodome. I made a goal prior to the weekend of spending no more than 45 seconds outside in the cold of Minnesota and I'm at 43 seconds. I literally spent about 10 seconds walking from the hotel to the bus and it is c-co-co-cold. Minus-1 degree, they say. The Weather Channel is stationed outside the Metrodome. I'm glad the game is inside, actually. The old-school fan in me remembers Bud Grant and the Purple People Eaters, but for today I think it benefits everyone that the game is inside today, with a Dome temperature of 58 degrees.
I'm sitting, as is my custom, with Harold Carmichael. Mike Quick and Merrill Reese. We're talking football and other things (Merrill is whistling USC's fight song behind me, for some reason). The Eagles will win, if ...
"Just pay attention and the Eagles will win," says Quick. "The Eagles aren't good enough to walk iin and think they can just win a game."
In the press box. Very quiet here. They are practicing the national anthem. David Akers and Sav Rocca are on the field, chatting. Troy Aikman, in the booth today for FOX, is talking to a Vikings coach. We still have more than two hours to go until kickoff. This is going to be agonizing. Quintin Mikell and Sean Considine are warming up on the right side of the field.
Most of the guys in the press box now are surfing the Internet or watching Baltimore beat up Miami or talking or, of course, eating. Reporters eat. The stereotype isn't entirely true, but ...
The lights are going on in the building full go. It is an old dome, very tough for photographers because there simply isn't enough light. Time to settle in. Relax. Go for a walk. Anything to kill time.
*1:43 p.m. *
Eagles fans are in the house! I just heard the first "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES" chant. There's another one! And another! It's going to be one of those great days ....
Crazy times, but somehow I'm really calm. Although, after eating a filet, having some bacon and a biscuit with gravy at the team meal, I'm diving into a salad and some mac and cheese right now. I need to go for a walk ...
*2:21 p.m. *
The Vikings will play without two of their starters on the defensive line, as tacke Pat Williams joins end Ray Edwards on the inactive list. Huge. Now, Fred Evans is a good player inside, but he is not Pat Williams. I think the Eagles have the idea of coming in with a balanced attack. They want to give the running game a chance. Here is the Minnesota inactive list: tight end Garrett Mills, linebacker Dontararious Thomas, offensive tackle Marcus Johnson, wide receiver Darious Reynaud, Edwards, Williams and defensive tackle Letroy Guion.
For the Eagles, tight end L.J. Smith is out. He did not make the trip to Minnesota after the Eagles apparently declared him out on Saturday. That shoulder injury has just not come around for him. So, Brent Celek starts at tight end, backed up by Matt Schobel. Both players have to block well here. The entire inactive list: running back Lorenzo Booker, linebacker Joe Mays, defensive end Bryan Smith, offensive tackle Chris Patrick, offensive lineman Shawn Andrews, Smith and defensive end Victor Abiamiri.
By the way, David Akers is bombing field goals from 60 yards in the pre-game warmups.
I just came back from an around-the-stadium walk through the very narrow corridors of the Metrodome. Extremely cool. Tons of Eagles fans here, and I would guess that maybe 10-15 percent of this crowd is wearing green. One Vikings fan said, "I can't believe there are all of these Eagles fans here."
I visited with one family that drove in from Philadelphia, and met several others who were from the Philly area and from Illinois and elsewhere. The Eagles fans who are here are extremely loud and in a fun-loving mood.
Injury alert: Wide receiver Greg Lewis has been taken off the field on a cart. He was hurt in pre-game warmups. No word yet on the severity of the injury.
The official temperature at this moment is plus-4 degrees outside. Not bad. Inside, the Dome is a seasonal 65 degrees. Still no word on wide receiver Greg Lewis, who was carted off the field during pre-game warmups. With 11 minutes prior to kickoff, the field is empty except for David Akers, Sav Rocca and Jon Dorenbos.
*3:41 p.m. *
Last blog before the game starts. Everything that has happened before this moment means nothing. The Eagles called "heads" and the toss came up "tails" and the Vikings deferred. Eagles to receive. The game we have been waiting for is here. Good luck!