As always, here are my 10 observations from the Eagles' 26-14 win over the Vikings:
1. If you've ever joined us for the live chats, you know that I often ask readers to suggest polls as we all follow the action together. When I did that Sunday, one reader suggested a poll asking whether Asante Samuel has been worth the money. My response?
Samuel has had a good year. Whenever a guy signs that kind of contract, it's easy to say he hasn't earned it. But he's been pretty good all season.
That was at 5:30 p.m. At 5:49 p.m., Samuel made me look like a genius, intercepting a Tarvaris Jackson pass and taking it 44 yards to the house for the Eagles' first touchdown. That is why they signed this guy. Big plays at big times. And keep in mind he was nursing a hip injury. Without that play, the Eagles likely go into halftime trailing. And who knows what would have happened?
2. The other game-changing play was obviously the 71-yard screen to Brian Westbrook, which gave the Eagles a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Hate to keep referencing the chat (OK, who am I kidding? I love referencing the chat), but check out this comment before the game from an Eagles fan who goes by the tag dawk&roll:
i'd like to make a few requests if the football gods are reading: 1. screen pass and long RAC by westbrook for TD 2. dawk int return for TD 3. desean jackson pulls in a wild one and goes for long TD 4. buckhalter breaks a long one for a TD 5. samuel takes one back for a TD thats all thanks.
OK, so they didn't ALL come through. But the Westbrook and Samuel requests did. I don't know what dawk&roll did to get in good with the Football Gods, but I suggest we all follow the lead, or at least get your requests in to him/her before next week's game against the Giants.
As for the screen to Westbrook, I'm sure the print folks will break it down for us Monday, but it just looked like perfect execution and blocking, specifically by Nick Cole, and downfield by Kevin Curtis. When the play happened, I think I just yelled for 10 seconds. A day's worth of offensive frustration released.
3. Special-teams play was enormous all weekend. It was a major factor in the Chargers' win over the Colts Saturday night. And the Eagles' special teams came up big in this one. You can start with David Akers, who hit four field goals, including a 51-yarder. He has now made 24 of his last 27 attempts. However, keep in mind that two of those three misses came in Week 14 against the Giants at The Meadowlands. Guess where Akers will be kicking next weekend? Sav Rocca, who had struggled, also came up big. And DeSean Jackson had a 62-yard return to set up Akers' first field goal. Good stuff all around.
4. I have a couple of beefs with FOX and the officials so might as well get them out of the way here. If you are a frequent MTC reader, you know I rarely complain about the refs. I usually go with the "You shouldn't put yourself in that position" school of thought. But what an awful call in the third quarter, saying McNabb's forward progress had been stopped, resulting in an 8-yard sack. Shouldn't they know going into the game that McNabb escapes sacks as often as any quarterback in the league? The Vikings' defenders barely had a hold on him when they made the forward progress call. It actually could have proved to be a pretty big mistake. The Eagles had the ball at the Vikings' 35-yard line, meaning they would have had a shot at an Akers field goal on fourth down. The sack put the Eagles at the Vikings' 43, and they had to punt. The other beef is with Fox. Were the replay cameras broken? I'm still trying to figure out what Samuel did to draw a 15-yard celebration penalty after his touchdown.
5. I said it last week and I'll say it again. It's amazing how little things can determine what the numbers say and which stats we look at. When everyone was ripping Andy Reid earlier this season, the stat that was repeated non-stop was that the Eagles would miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. Now? Reid is 7-0 in his first playoff games. That's a pretty ridiculous stat. Remember how thankful we were in 1992 when the Eagles finally won a postseason game for the first time in 12 years? The Eagles have now reached the divisional round in seven of nine years.
6. The optimist says...
The Giants' biggest nightmare is coming true. The Eagles have won five of six and are looking more dangerous each week. The defense has been dominant now for more than a month. The special teams is clicking. And while the offense wasn't spectacular today, it did a good-enough job. That's the thing. The Eagles didn't even play their best game today, and they still came out with a 12-point win on the road in the playoffs. Not an easy task. The Birds get to play the underdog role again next weekend. This is when they're at their best. A month ago, they showed they can win at the Meadowlands. Now they'll have no pressure on them against a Giants team that ended the season losing three of four. Is it Sunday yet?
7. The pessimist says...
Somehow things fell right into place once again for the Eagles. Enjoy it. The ride ends next week. As you peruse EBAY looking for tickets at The Meadowlands, remind yourself of a few things. The Eagles managed one offensive touchdown today. They had to settle for three field goals. They allowed a huge run by Adrian Peterson. Third-and-short was again a disaster. Now let me spell out how this translates to next week. The Eagles are facing the defending Super Bowl champs, who are getting healthy and have a real home-field advantage, not the kind that results in having to beg fans for a sellout. They have a quarterback with a ring, something Philadelphia has never had. They have depth at running back, so stopping one guy won't get the job done. And they have a competent coach. The line is only four? This is the lock of the year.
8. Brad Childress seems like a nice enough guy, but you saw a couple things today that make you realize why Vikings fans haven't exactly been thrilled with him this season. The first was the decision to decline the Jamaal Jackson holding penalty in the first quarter. The Eagles had the ball at the Vikings' 26-yard line when the penalty was called on third down. Childress declined it, allowing Akers to set up for a 43-yard field-goal attempt. Had he taken the penalty, the Eagles would have faced third-and-19 from the Vikings' 36-yard line. An incompletion would have meant a 53-yard attempt. Gotta take the penalty there, right? The other odd decision was at the end of the first half. The Vikings' offense took over at their own 13 with 1:10 left. Run the clock out and head into halftime down two, right? Well it appeared that's what they'd do after a first-down run. But the Vikings then threw an incomplete pass on second down for some reason. The Eagles were able to call a timeout and force a punt, which is important, considering how bad the Vikings' coverage unit has been all season.
9. My buddy C-Nast, a blog contributor and frequent chatter, has a request. C-Nast was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, but since then he's had to deal with fans from other cities. He went to college in Boston when the Eagles lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And he now works in Baltimore, where he has to converse with a Yankees/Giants fan on a daily basis. So when C-Nast told me he won a bet on the Eagles-Vikings game where by he can choose what wallpaper appears on his co-worker's computer this week, I got to thinking -- why not put the question out to MTC readers? SO I NEED YOUR HELP. Please make recommendations for C-Nast. I already suggested a picture of Eli Manning from his party-filled college days. And some chatters suggested a shot of Westbrook or Samuel from today. I'm anxious to hear what you have to say. Please keep it (relatively) clean.
10. Some game balls to people we have not yet mentioned. One is Jason Avant. Five catches for 47 yards. Not eye-popping numbers at first glance. But four of those catches were in the second half. And four were for first downs. And two were on third down. Avant is quickly becoming a fan favorite. And the other is Brian Dawkins. He was punishing people all game, and when he finally retires, I demand the Eagles hire him as an assistant coach for the sole purpose of showing defenders how to go after the ball when they blitz. No one does this better than Dawk, and he's been playing like a mad man.