Eagles Stun Giants, Reach NFC Title Game

Only a Pittsburgh win keeps the NFL's Divisional Playoffs from a clean sweep of road upsets, with the Steelers, Ravens, Eagles and Cardinals advancing on to conference championship games.
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Jan. 11 -- There were times this season when the New York Giants looked virtually unbeatable and the Philadelphia Eagles seemed to be stumbling and bumbling their way toward a rebuilding project that might not include Coach Andy Reid or quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But those were fading memories even before the teams met Sunday in a conference semifinal, and by day's end they were images to be discarded altogether. The Giants became former, not defending, Super Bowl champions. The Eagles secured a spot in their fifth NFC title game in the 10-year partnership of Reid and McNabb by beating the Giants, 23-11, in surprisingly routine fashion at Giants Stadium.

"This is something that is storybook," McNabb said. "You've been to now five NFC championships in 10 years for me. That kind of shows the trust and the coaching that we have with Andy. Everyone believes in one another and given the opportunity, we feel like we can take full advantage of it."

The NFC playoffs will conclude with a first-ever conference championship game without any of the top three seeds. The fourth-seeded Arizona Cardinals will host the sixth-seeded Eagles next Sunday, with Reid and McNabb seeking their second Super Bowl appearance together.

"There's not a lot of celebrating at the moment," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in the locker room. "We've still got a lot of work to do in Arizona."

The Eagles sneaked into the playoffs only after getting help from other teams on the final day of the regular season, but they have hit their stride with postseason victories at Minnesota and here. They were in control most of the way Sunday. McNabb ran for a first-quarter touchdown and threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek on the opening play of the fourth quarter. David Akers connected on three field goals without a miss and the defense did most of the rest in what was, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first 23-11 game in NFL history.

The Giants ran for 138 yards, including 92 by tailback Brandon Jacobs. But they couldn't get in the end zone. Quarterback Eli Manning threw two interceptions, one of which set up an Eagles touchdown, in a 15-for-29, 169-yard passing performance. Pro Bowl place kicker John Carney missed 2 of 5 field goal attempts and the Giants, whose other points came on a safety, were stopped on fourth-and-one and fourth-and-two running plays in the fourth quarter.

"Guys were excited to play this game," center Shaun O'Hara said in the Giants' locker room. "Guys were looking forward to playing this game. It just didn't work out, and it's a tough pill to swallow. Shock would be an understatement."

The top-seeded Giants couldn't recapture last year's postseason magic and, after losing three of their final four games in the regular season, are headed home early.

"We accomplished a lot during the regular season," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "But, of course, that doesn't carry a whole lot of weight into the postseason."

The Eagles won for the sixth time in seven games since Reid benched McNabb in the second half of a late-November loss at Baltimore. Their revitalization began with a 48-20 triumph over the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night in Philadelphia, a game in which McNabb threw four touchdown passes. McNabb threw two interceptions Sunday but has 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions during the 6-1 stretch.

"I think he trusts all the guys around him," Reid said. "He knows where they're going to be. He's playing confident football, not just throwing the football but also managing the game."

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