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Eagles eliminate Vikings 26-14
MINNEAPOLIS -- Above the Metrodome's deafening noise, Donovan McNabb stayed poised.
Completing passes precisely when the Eagles needed him to, McNabb repeatedly sidestepped the Minnesota rush and sent Philadelphia to a 26-14 playoff win Sunday after being all but forgotten as a postseason contender just one month earlier.
Next up: the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Brian Westbrook caught a short pass out of the backfield and zigzagged for a devastating 71-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and the Eagles spoiled the Vikings' first home playoff game in eight years.
"I've seen this team have confidence in each other and try to have one another's back," McNabb said. "What you're seeing is a team playing with a lot of energy, playing with emotion, and just having fun."
Asante Samuel's 44-yard interception return of Tarvaris Jackson's errant pass in the second quarter set a tone for the kind of game most Vikings fans feared from the unpolished quarterback.
Eagles coach Andy Reid improved his playoff record to 9-6, including at least one win each time the Eagles have qualified in his 10 years. He bested his buddy and former offensive coordinator Brad Childress in this one, and they spoke for several moments on the field after the game while maybe a thousand Eagles fans cheered around the tunnel entrance and began a derogatory chant toward the Giants.
"I think we're dangerous," Samuel said. "We've just got to see how it plays out."
Philadelphia will play Sunday in New Jersey against the top-seeded defending champs, where they won 20-14 on Dec. 7, putting Arizona in the other NFC semifinal Saturday at Carolina and sending the Vikings home.
Jackson, who lost his job in September but got it back when Gus Frerotte was hurt, went 15 of 35 for 164 yards. Adrian Peterson's two touchdown runs weren't nearly enough for NFC North champion Minnesota, which will head to yet another offseason with burning questions about the quarterbacks.
"You know, this game sticks with you," Childress said. "You hate to serve up seven points. You have to take that out of your repertoire."
Westbrook couldn't find any room to run, finishing with 38 yards on 20 carries even with two starters (Ray Edwards and Pat Williams) missing on Minnesota's defensive line. But McNabb, who was 23 of 34 for 300 yards, kept the offense from derailing.
He tossed a ball toward his always-reliable running back at just the right time with the Eagles clinging to a two-point lead after a scoreless third quarter. Westbrook received a slew of well-timed blocks as he slalomed downfield for the clinching touchdown.
"Anytime that you get an opportunity to give the ball to a guy like Westbrook, give him an opportunity in space or against any other defenders, you feel confident about that matchup," McNabb said. "Time and time again, you give him an opportunity, he makes plays for you."
Stability at quarterback almost certainly would have given the Vikings another win or two, and perhaps a first-round bye. And despite a drastically better December, Jackson showed he's still quite raw.
His one big mistake really hurt, an underthrown out route to Sidney Rice that Samuel read perfectly and picked off for a 44-yard return and a 16-7 lead.
"I think we rattled him kind of toward the end," Eagles defensive end Trent Cole said. "He had to get rid of the ball quick and move around. He was probably getting tight from a lot of pressure."
McNabb wasn't perfect. He threw an interception, lost a fumble in the third quarter and took an 8-yard sack to push the Eagles out of David Akers' field-goal range. But the Vikings didn't capitalize on the turnovers and left plenty of receivers open in the middle of the field -- particularly Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek -- for McNabb to target.
He guided the Eagles out of dangerous territory twice in the second half, starting drives at their own 5 and their own 4 and chewing up precious time even though they ultimately punted.
"Whoever said that guy can't move still is a liar," Minnesota's Jared Allen said. "He was running around out there quite nice."
Though he was benched briefly in November, before the Eagles won four of their last five to sneak into the playoffs, McNabb set a franchise record for yards passing this year and helped Philly make the postseason for the seventh time in nine years. There were some bad games, but he's still in the league's upper crust of quarterbacks.
"Donovan did a great job today leading this team. Basically putting the team on his back," Westbrook said.
He added: "That's what you expect from a superstar quarterback like Donovan."
Jackson snapped back after his big mistake, throwing a pair of first-down passes on the next possession to put Peterson in position for a 3-yard, slicing run to pull Minnesota within 16-14.
But the Vikings couldn't get any rhythm in the second half. Peterson didn't have any more holes, and the Eagles applied plenty of pressure to keep Jackson from bouncing back.
DeSean Jackson, the slithery rookie Childress reverently referred to this week as a "human pogo stick," led the Eagles to six of their 16 first-half points. He returned a punt 62 yards -- a big weakness for the Vikings -- to set up the first field goal by Akers, and caught a 34-yard pass up the sideline preceding another three-point kick.
The only short field the Vikings had came after Allen, who had two of their three sacks, knocked the ball out of McNabb's hand and gave them the ball at their own 46. But they promptly went three and out, and soon after came Westbrook's big catch and run.
The Eagles brought the blitz, and Jackson just had no answer.
"You don't want to be down two scores in the fourth quarter to those guys," Vikings center Matt Birk said. "It's like blood in the water for them."
Notes: Jackson had 109 yards of punt return yardage, to just 1
yard by the Vikings on four Eagles punts. ... Peterson had 17 yards on eight carries after halftime. ... The Vikings lost S Darren Sharper to a sprained ankle in the second quarter. ... Akers went 4-for-4 in his field-goal attempts.