Eagles make it look easy as they feast on Cardinals

SUDDENLY, NOTHING was a problem for the Eagles last night, in a 48-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Third-and-1? Kyle Eckel in a cameo, up the gut for 2. Third-and-23? Throw it to DeSean Jackson and watch him turn the corner for 24.

Donovan McNabb? Seldom more efficient, though he kept it short, throwing again and again underneath a clueless Cardinals secondary, finishing 27-for-39 for 260 yards, four touchdowns and a 121.7 passer rating. McNabb did not turn the ball over, after doing so seven times in his previous seven quarters. This time, when Kevin Kolb trotted onto the field with 4 minutes, 15 seconds left, McNabb was happy to see it.

"I don't worry about what people say about me on the outside, what the joke is about me this week - I just go out and play," said McNabb, who was pulled by coach Andy Reid at halftime of Sunday's loss at Baltimore. "I know what I'm capable of doing and I've done it many times."

Brian Westbrook? Never better. A career-high four touchdowns, and more than 100 yards rushing midway through the third quarter.

Defending Kurt Warner, who entered the evening as the NFL's second-ranked passer? For more than half the evening, the Eagles made Warner look like the old guy they manhandled when he was starting for the Giants, 4 years back. Warner's first two drives ended in interceptions.

Winning a prime-time game, after eight nighttime losses in a row? Never a doubt in this one, with the Eagles scoring more points than they'd managed since that Detroit game last season (56-21 on Sept. 23).

"We needed this game," Westbrook said. "It was a little vindication for my offensive line. We did a great job. My fullback [played well]. Wide receivers went downfield and made some plays, made some blocks. Those guys have been dogged; we've been dogged all week long. Now, we did what we needed to do to handle business.

"We played on their side of the line of scrimmage the whole game.''

Wouldn't it be nice if Arizona were still in the NFC East? Is there a way to get that changed back? Maybe send the Giants to the West?

The Eagles will return to reality Dec. 7, when they travel to meet those conference-leading, 10-1, defending Super Bowl champion New Yorkers. We'll see how much of last night's magic makes that trip. But there will be plenty of time to talk about that; let's not rain on this Thanksgiving parade just yet.

Yes, the Eagles are still on playoff life support, at 6-5-1. No, last night's fireworks didn't change any of the futility of that tie in Cincinnati or the blowout loss Sunday at Baltimore.

But nobody had to ask Reid afterward who the quarterback will be against the Giants. Nobody in the home team's locker room had to talk about being embarrassed or humiliated. Now the Eagles have 9 days off, some time to heal and regroup, with their offense looking viable again, despite the loss of right guard Max Jean-Gilles to a broken right ankle just before halftime last night.

"It was great to see the offense get going,'' Reid said. "Donovan was flawless in the first half and did very well in the second half. It was good to get Brian Westbrook going.''

It also was good to see the Eagles' play-calling get crisper.

"It was sort of like what we were doing early in the season," McNabb said. "We kind of went back to doing things we know."

In explaining his decision to lift McNabb and insert Kolb at Baltimore, Reid said sometimes it was helpful to take a step back to go a mile forward. But Reid downplayed the role that played in McNabb's performance against the Cardinals.

"I would probably give credit to Donovan,'' Reid said.

The Eagles asked fans to wear black, since the team was wearing its black "third jersey'' for the first time this season. Instead, early on, some fans seemed to be wearing Harry Potter-style invisibility cloaks, though the Lincoln Financial Field stands did eventually fill.

The Eagles scored on their first two drives, after starting the game having gone 99 minutes, 29 seconds without scoring an offensive touchdown. Clearly, what this team needs is to work on a short week, in which Reid and Marty Mornhinweg don't have time to overthink the offense.

The Eagles took the opening kickoff and drove 70 yards in 12 plays; McNabb completed all five passes in the drive, for 38 yards, including a variation on the familiar shovel pass play that took Westbrook the final 5 yards for the TD. But the big story on "Action News" was the third-and-2-yard run for a first down by Eckel, who got a standing ovation from the Linc faithful at the end of his first Eagles carry.

Then Joselio Hanson, starting for Asante Samuel (neck), showed why the coaching staff tabbed him to start instead of Lito Sheppard. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley tipped a Warner pass and Hanson picked it off. The Eagles had to drive only 41 yards for their second TD, covering the distance in four plays. Westbrook, looking much less hobbled than he has lately, took it in from the 1.

Warner was intercepted again on the next drive, Quintin Mikell this time, a third-down overthrow forced by a Chris Clemons pressure. The Eagles set up shop on the Cards' 44. But a sack put them in a third-and-13 hole, and McNabb threw incomplete for the first time after six completions, forcing the first punt.

Another Westbrook TD, on a 2-yard screen, on third-and-goal, made it 21-0 in the second quarter.

The Cards got back in the game at 21-7 with some help from Al Riveron's officiating crew. Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald from 1 yard out, 2 plays after Hanson broke up a third-down pass to Anquan Boldin but was called for holding. Replays did not show Hanson holding. Previously in the drive, the Eagles lost a challenge of a call on a 25-yard catch, Riveron announcing that the ball hitting the ground didn't matter because the receiver didn't lose control of it.

The Eagles drove again just before the half, a 42-yard David Akers field goal making it 24-7 and giving Akers 1,000 career points. On the next-to-last play of the drive, Jean-Gilles suffered a broken ankle when hit from behind by Chike Okeafor, who was diving at a scrambling McNabb.

The halftime numbers were the sort Eagles fans hadn't seen in more than a month. McNabb was 15-for-19 for 112 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 126.3 passer rating. Westbrook had 76 yards on 14 carries. The Eagles had converted four of five third downs. The Cards had rushed for only 15 yards on eight carries.

A miscue on a punt - it seemed to hit Jason Avant's foot, then Jackson tried to fall on it and couldn't corral the ball - set the Cards up for a score that made it 31-13 in the third, the two-point coversion pass failing. After a 41-yard Akers field goal, Arizona authored its first real drive of the night, drawing within 34-20 on a Fitzgerald TD pass.

But Boldin, who had a rough night, saw Brian Dawkins punch the ball out of his hands, Akeem Jordan recovered at the Cards' 19, and five plays later, Jackson caught a 5-yard TD pass from McNabb for a 41-20, fourth-quarter lead.

An 8-yard TD pass to Jason Avant made it 48-20 with 5:19 left.

 

Birdseed

 

After DeSean Jackson's touchdown, the 175-pound wide receiver chest-bumped Andy Reid. "I thought a moth hit me," Reid said . . . Brian Dawkins' interception was his 34th, tying him for the franchise lead with Eric Allen and Bill Bradley . . . Brian Westbrook (22 carries for 110 yards) was the first player to run for 100 yards and score two touchdowns rushing and receiving since the Colts' Lydell Mitchell, on Oct. 12, 1975, and the first Eagle to score four TDs in a game since Irving Fryar in 1996 . . . The Eagles converted nine of their first 13 third-down opportunities . . . The 7-5 Cards have lost all four games in the Eastern time zone this season, at the Jets, at the Giants, at the Panthers and last night. They are 7-1 in the other time zones. Too bad the Super Bowl's in Tampa this season. *

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.