MINNEAPOLIS – The numbers say that Brian Westbrook had a tough day, and that he wasn't able to shake loose enough to make a difference Sunday against the Vikings. And for the most part, the numbers were correct.
But on the one play that Westbrook found some breathing room, he changed the game. A 71-yard screen pass, one that Westbrook caught and ran and scored on turned a two-point game into a nine-point margin midway through the fourth quarter and broke the Vikings' backs in a 26-14 Eagles' victory.
It was the kind of play we are accustomed to seeing from the marvelous Westbrook, but one that on this day was hard to get. Minnesota did a fine job keying on Westbrook, who gained just 38 yards on 20 carries. His receiving performance provided the big play in a physical, nasty playoff game.
"It was the first screen play that we ran all game," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, "and it exploded into probably the most important play of the game. Any time you have an opportunity to give the ball to a guy like Westbrook, any time you can get the ball to him in space, you have to feel confident about that matchup. Time and time again, you give him an opportunity, he makes plays for you." Photo Gallery : PHI vs. MIN 1-4-09
Minnesota's defensive strategy was to pressure the line of scrimmage, and the Vikings generally did that effectively. The Vikings took advantage of the noise and the emotion of the moment and bottled up the Eagles offense through three quarters.
But with a 16-14 lead and a first down at their 29-yard line with 6:53 to go in the fourth quarter, the Eagles called the right play at exactly the right moment.
Minnesota came with pressure, again, and McNabb faded back and lofted a pass to Westbrook, who caught the ball as he was side by side with offensive guard Nick Cole. The field opened up in front of Westbrook, who got some key blocks from Cole, Jamaal Jackson, Todd Herremans, Kevin Curtis and, really, everybody on the field. Correll Buckhalter lined up at fullback and got down the field to help, and Westbrook zig-zagged his way into the end zone as a wild celebration ensued.
"They had been pressuring us throughout the whole game with their linebackers and 'D' linemen, so we called that play at exactly the right time," said Westbrook. "The offensive line did a great job getting out on the screen – Nick, Jon (Runyan) – basically the whole offensive line did a great job getting out on the screen.
"Correll threw a great block and the receivers escorted me into the end zone, so when you have nine, 10 guys like that doing a great job on the screen, you are going to have success. I was able to get in."
Westbrook admitted he – and the offense – had to be patient in this game. The offense moved the ball early, but had just three field goals at halftime to show for the efforts. The running game managed just 67 yards on 23 carries.
But big plays – on defense, special teams and, yes, on offense – carried the Eagles into next Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Giants.
"We were very patient. Those guys on defense did a great job of taking away the run," said Westbrook. "They got into the running lanes early and often throughout the game, and so we did a good job of throwing the ball down the field and being patient. We had to make them play honest. Marty (offensive coordinator Mornhinweg) stayed with it, but we didn't have as much success as we should have."
No matter. The Eagles won. Westbrook broke the game open. The season stays alive.