EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - When the Eagles took the ball on their own 25-yard line with 1:24 remaining in the second quarter, down 8-7 to the Giants, they had more penalty yards (36) than yards of offense (34).
But 1:24 and 12 plays later, the Eagles had tripled their offensive output and established a vital 10-8 lead heading into halftime at Giants Stadium, a lead they rode all the way to an impressive 23-11 victory over the defending Super Bowl champs and into the NFC Championship game – a meeting with the equally surprising Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz.
"I think it played a major role for us as far as knowing what we needed to do to change things around," quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "That provided a little more confidence for us on the offensive side, (and we came) out in the second half where we felt like we could throw the ball versus this team."
The drive was vital for McNabb establishing a rhythm, his go-to reason for success after a victory. Prior to the drive, McNabb was 4-of-10 with just 18 yards passing, an interception and an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone that resulted in a safety for New York. Photo Gallery : PHI vs. NYG 1-11-09
The situation posed quite a problem for head coach Andy Reid, who was attempting to stick to an ineffective run game, and it might have come at the expense of McNabb's confidence.
But with a brilliant two-minute drill that made use of three different receivers, McNabb was able to push his team into field goal range. On the drive, McNabb was 5-of-8 for 50 yards, and he had a 9-yard scramble that helped set up David Akers from 25 yards out.
"I have to do a better job there of getting (McNabb) in rhythm," said head coach Andy Reid, who will be coaching his fifth NFC title matchup in eight years. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League, and I'm a little partial because I think he is the best."
After that drive, McNabb resembled the quarterback Reid described. He was 13-of-22 in the second half, including a touchdown that broke the Giants' back. He converted key third down plays when it seemed the Eagles were on the ropes, he used his feet to buy time and he allowed his receivers to redeem themselves after egregious errors.
Despite his dropping of a third-quarter bomb that could well have been a touchdown, Kevin Curtis' four catches and 40 yards in the second half were key in helping the Eagles put the Giants away.
And McNabb's efficiency allowed Reid to continue pounding the ball with the running game, which, at the very least, ate up precious clock.
"We were a well-rounded team," said running back Brian Westbrook, who had just 46 yards from scrimmage on 20 touches and was the obvious focus of the New York defense.
But, "anytime that you're trying to stop one guy," Westbrook added, "it's going to be hard to stop everybody."
McNabb was able to find seven different receivers, and each seemed to make a big play. DeSean Jackson caught a vital deep throw that helped put the game away late. Brent Celek caught a touchdown. L.J. Smith, Jason Avant and Correll Buckhalter all converted key first downs.
McNabb's numbers – 22-for-40 for 217 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions – weren't proficient, but they didn't need to be. At this point, the "W" is the only stat that matters.
And McNabb's one "W" from his second Super Bowl appearance.
"I think this team has shown that we're strong mentally and physically, (and we're) able to get the job done when our backs are against the wall," he said. "But next week, playing against a team that doesn't have a problem with scoring points, we're going to have to kind of dig deep on offense and be able to come up with touchdowns."