The Philadelphia Eagles had done it during the regular season – handing the Giants their only home loss at the Meadowlands during the 2008-9 NFL season. But could they do it on the big stage, in front of a national audience in the NFL divisional playoffs? Of course they could.
The Eagles defeated the Giants 23-11 with a dominating defensive performance and an offense that did just enough to send the Eagles to within 1 victory of the Super Bowl. First the defense – the Eagles held the Giants to just over 300 yards and only 16 first downs. While the Giants did have their chances, the Eagles held the Giants to just 3 field goals and only 3 points in the 2nd half. On 2 consecutive possessions in the 4th quarter, when the Giants needed just a yard or 2 to keep drives going on 4th down, the Eagles front line surge prevented the Giants from gaining any yards at all, solidifying the road victory. Eli Manning had an awful day – 15 of 29 passing, 169 yards, 2 interceptions, 0 touchdowns. His 40.7 passer rating a clear indication that the Giants passing attack is much much different without a playmaker like Plaxico Burress lining up to stretch the field. Brandon Jacobs did manage 92 yards rushing on 19 carries and Derrick Ward added 12 rushes for 46 yards, but the Giants could never seem to do enough to advance to pay-dirt.
Although Donovan McNabb didn’t have a great statistical game, he did enough with the chances given to the Eagles offense. McNabb completed only 22 of 40 passes for 217 yards. He had 1 touchdown pass to Brent Celek which increased the Eagles lead to 9 points on the 1st play of the 4th quarter. He also rushed for a touchdown in the 1st quarter which gave the Eagles their first lead of the game at 7-3. But he did throw 2 interceptions, which brought his passer rating down to 58.0. The Giants defense also kept Bryan Westbrook in check – 18 carries for 36 yards and 2 catches for 10 yards. Westbrook was the big difference in the Eagles win over the Giants in December, so the Giants did do a good job of containing him in the playoffs.
At the end of the day, though, it was the Eagles defense and an efficient McNabb that made all the difference on this cold January Sunday. McNabb has now led his team to 5 NFC Championship Games in the last 8 years. The other 3 seasons, McNabb was either hurt or dealing with the Terrell Owens saga which divided the team midway through the season. For a player who was benched by his coach at halftime of an embarrassing defeat in Baltimore on November 23rd and who has endured much criticism from the Philadelphia media and fans alike, McNabb continues to perform at a high level each and every year. He is this generation’s John Elway (at least until Elway won his 2 Super Bowls in his last 2 years with the Broncos). McNabb has led his Eagles to only 1 Super Bowl during those 5 NFC Championship Games and the Eagles ended up losing that Super Bowl back in 2004 to the New England Patriots.
Next up for the Eagles is the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals on the road in Phoenix. Can the Eagles win 3 road games in a row like the Giants did last year to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? Only time will tell. But if Donovan McNabb has anything to say about it, I’d put my money on McNabb and the Eagles stifling defense. We’ll get to see McNabb on the NFL’s biggest stage for a 2nd time, and maybe this will be the year that McNabb and the Eagles get that elusive NFL Championship. Hey, the Phillies won the World Series in October 2008 – why can’t the Eagles win the Super Bowl in February 2009?
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the only home team to win in the NFL’s Divisional Playoffs this weekend, taking out the San Diego Chargers with a 35-24 victory. Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers connected with Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson on a 41-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game to give the Chargers an early 7-0 lead. That would be the last time the Chargers had reason to cheer during the long road playoff game. Just 5 minutes later, Steelers return-man Santonio Holmes to a Mike Scifres punt 67 yards to pay-dirt to tie the game at 7. And although the Chargers took a 10-7 lead on a Nate Kaeding 42-yard field goal in the 2nd quarter, the Steelers took a 14-10 lead into halftime when Steelers running back Willie Parker scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with just 40 seconds left in the 1st half. That set off a run of 21 straight points for the Steelers who turned a 10-7 deficit into a 28-10 4th quarter lead. Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller on an 8-yard touchdown pass midway through the 3rd quarter and then Steelers Running Back Gary Russell extended the lead to 18 points with a 1-yard touchdown plunge right at the start of the 4th quarter. The Chargers had no answer for Willie Parker. Parker rushed the ball 27 times for 146 yards and 2 scores – the last of which sealed the victory with just 4 minutes left in the game. Roethlisberger was an efficient 17 of 26 for 181 yards and 1 touchdown. He did not throw an interception – good for a 98.4 passer rating.
Statistically speaking, Philip Rivers had a solid game on the road in a hostile environment for the Chargers. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. He had 1 interception – good for a 105.4 passer rating. Only problem was, his team wasn’t on the field enough to keep the Chargers in the game – the Steelers won the time of possession battle 36:30 to 23:30 and the Chargers ran only 1 offensive play in the 3rd quarter.
Next up for the Steelers is a battle against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers defeated the Ravens twice during the 2008 regular season, but the Ravens played the Steelers well in both contests. Home field advantage should help the Steelers, and the Steelers defense hopes to pester rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who has played anything like a rookie quarterback during his 2008 inaugural campaign. It should be a fun, smash-mouth AFC Championship Game on Sunday in Pittsburgh – strap on your helmets tight, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…
Coming into this year’s playoffs, the Arizona Cardinals had won 2 playoff games in franchise history. After Saturday, the Cardinals had doubled their win total and find themselves hosting the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in Phoenix. How did it happen?
The Cardinals defense has stepped up as of late, and were able to shut down the Atlanta Falcons’ rushing attack in last week’s 30-24 wild card win. And the Cardinals defense showed up big once again on Saturday, forcing 5 Jake Delhomme interceptions and one Delhomme fumble. Although Delhomme has been known to have “off nights” (including a 3-interception game against Tampa Bay and a 4-interception game against the lowly Raiders during the 2008 regular season), none came close to how poorly he played in front of the hometown crowd on Saturday night.
After the Panthers scored on a 9-yard rushing touchdown by Jonathan Stewart on the game’s opening drive, the Cardinals rattled off 33 unanswered points to take control of the game. Kurt Warner threw 2 touchdown passes in the 1st half – 1 to Tim Hightower and 1 to Larry Fitzgerald, Neil Rackers kicked 2 field goals and Edgerrin James added a 4-yard rushing touchdown to give the Cardinals a 27-7 halftime lead. The Cardinals didn’t look back, adding 2 more Neil Rackers field goals in the 2nd half to increase the lead to 33-7. A late Delhomme touchdown pass to Steve Smith just wasn’t enough to will the Panthers back to victory.
Delhomme finished the day an atrocious 17 of 34 for 205 yards. He had 5 interceptions, 1 fumble and 1 touchdown pass, good for a 39.1 passer rating. Because of the turnovers, the Panthers could never get the running game going after the initial drive. DeAngelo Williams finished the game with 12 carries for 63 yards. Jonathan Stewart only had 2 other rushing attempts after he his 9-yard touchdown run. Steve Smith only touched the ball twice – once on a 35-yard pass play and once on the touchdown pass with just 50 seconds left in the game. All in all, Delhomme cost the Panthers the game.
The Cardinals offense was up to the task. The offensive line gave Kurt warner plenty of time to pass the ball – and as we all know, if Warner has time to throw, he will eat you alive. Warner completed 21 of 32 passes for 220 yards. He had 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, good for a 93.2 passer rating. Larry Fitzgerald led the Cardinals receiving corp with 8 catches for a whopping 166 yards, including 1 touchdown reception. The Cardinals aerial attack opened up the door for the running game. Edgerrin James rushed the ball 20 times for 57 yards and 1 touchdown, while Tim Hightower rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries.
The Arizona Cardinals will now host the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. In the only meeting between the 2 teams in 2008, the Eagles crushed the Cardinals 48-20 in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day. Although the teams are different now, the Eagles will likely be favored on the road come Sunday afternoon. Will the Eagles or Cardinals make it 3 in a row – stay tuned football fans…
The Baltimore Ravens upset the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Saturday on a 43-yard field goal by Matt Stover with only 53 seconds left in the game. The Ravens are poised to return to that 2000 NFL Championship form in a similar fashion – wild card team with a dominant defense, winning 3 playoff games on the road to advance to the Super Bowl. We’ll see if the Ravens can repeat that magic.
The Ravens forced 3 Titans turnovers which negated good statistical games from the Titans offense. Kerry Collins completed 26 of 42 passes for 281 yards. But Collins threw a costly interception in the red zone and did not have a touchdown pass. Chris Johnson had a good start to the divisional playoff game but was forced to leave in the 2nd quarter with a right ankle injury. Johnson scored the Titans only touchdown of the game on an 8-yard run on the game’s opening drive, and rushed for a total of 72 yards on 11 carries. In reserve, LenDale White rushed for 45 yards on 15 carries, but had a turnover that cost the Titans a chance to score in raven’s territory. Alge Crumpler also had a fumble for the Titans.
Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense did just enough to get the victory. Flacco helped the Titans tie the game at 7 on a 48-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason. Flacco completed only half of his passes (11 for 22) for 161 yards, good for a 89.4 passer rating. Flacco is the only rookie quarterback to lead his team to 2 NFL playoff game victories. The Ravens also only had 50 rushing yards, but that was enough to help set up 2 field goals by Matt Stover in the 4th quarter. Stover connected from 21 yards out in the early part of the 4th quarter to give the Ravens a 10-7 lead. After the Titans tied the game at 10 on a Rob Bironas 27-yard field goal with 4:23 left in the game, Flacco orchestrated the drive that set up Stover’s 43-yard game-winning field goal.
Now it’s off to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Although the Steelers defeated the Ravens in both regular season meetings (by a combined 7 points), the Ravens held their own in both contests and match up well against the physical Steelers. It should be a fun, grind it out football game. Are you ready for some smash-mouth football?!