Sports At Phila. Front Page News; Eagles 26, Vikings 14
MINNEAPOLIS — For the better part of Sunday’s game, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense managed merely three field goals during an afternoon of frustration against an injury-depleted Minnesota Vikings defense. Philadelphia led by 2 points only because cornerback Asante Samuel returned an interception for a touchdown. But midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings appeared one big Adrian Peterson play away from stealing the game.
The Eagles kept waiting for Brian Westbrook, their game-breaker, to do something electric.
“It was going to come,” defensive end Trent Cole said.
With less than seven minutes to play, it finally did. Turning the Vikings’ blitz against them, Westbrook took a screen pass from Donovan McNabb, then juked and scooted 71 yards for a touchdown. That play quieted the towel-waving capacity crowd of 61,746 at the Metrodome and all but wrapped up Philadelphia’s 26-14 victory in its National Football Conference wild-card playoff game.
“All I saw was him and three linemen in front of him,” Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “He did a good job weaving downfield for a touchdown.”
The Eagles next face the Giants at Giants Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the divisional round.
Until Westbrook’s catch and run, the Eagles could not score in the second half against a Vikings defense that managed without linemen Pat Williams (broken shoulder blade) and Ray Edwards (knee strain) for the entire game, and safety Darren Sharper (sprained ankle) from the second quarter on.
“For the most part, they were pressuring us the whole game, their defensive line and linebackers,” Westbrook said. “We called the play at the right time.”
Though Westbrook has been slowed by injuries, including fractured ribs and a high ankle sprain, the Eagles usually win when they use him enough; they were 7-0 in the regular season when Westbrook had at least 20 combined rushes and receptions.
Before the screen pass, Westbrook had had a fair number of chances — 14 runs and 2 catches — but totaled only 31 yards. Without the 330-pound Williams around to clog the middle, the Eagles tried running Westbrook between the tackles, with limited success.
“In a game like this, you have to be patient,” said McNabb, who completed 23 of 34 passes for 300 yards. “That’s what the playoffs are all about.”
Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid said the thought of going away from Westbrook never occurred to him. “Somewhere, he is going to hit one,” Reid said.
It happened with the Eagles leading, 16-14. Westbrook took McNabb’s pass on the right side and took off, receiving several blocks.
“We hadn’t utilized the screen game much prior to that,” Reid said. “They were flying up the field, and Brian hit that son of a gun.”
David Akers added his fourth field goal of the day, a 45-yarder, for the final points.
Philadelphia’s defense tightened in the second half, shutting out the Vikings after Peterson, the N.F.L.’s leading rusher, ran for two second-quarter touchdowns. He finished with 83 yards on 20 carries.
The Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, ordered relentless blitzing to rattle the young Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who rarely had time to set his feet and throw unimpeded. Jackson completed only 15 of 35 passes for 164 yards.
Philadelphia led, 9-7, in the second quarter when Jackson, with Cole closing on him, badly underthrew Sidney Rice at the right sideline. Samuel broke on the ball for his sixth career playoff interception and returned it 44 yards for his fourth playoff touchdown, an N.F.L. record. Jackson tried to tackle Samuel inside the 5, but Philadelphia defensive end Chris Clemons lifted him like a tacking dummy and planted him on his back.
“I saw that he was looking at me the whole time,” Jackson said of Samuel. “I threw it far too inside, and he was able to make the play.”
Reid bested his longtime friend Brad Childress, who directed the Vikings to the N.F.C. North title and their first playoff berth since 2004. The friendship between Reid and Childress dates to 1986, when Reid was hired as the offensive line coach at Northern Arizona, where Childress was the offensive coordinator.
In 1999, Reid, the newly named coach of the Eagles, hired Childress away from Wisconsin to be his quarterbacks coach. Childress became Reid’s offensive coordinator, then was hired by the Vikings in January 2006.
This season, Reid and Childress endured criticism before their teams rode late runs to the playoffs.
Philadelphia fans grumbled about Reid and McNabb when the Eagles were 5-5-1. Then the Eagles won four of their last five, squeezing into a wild-card berth on the final day of the season.
But Childress might have had it worse. On Oct. 12, chants of “Fire Childress!” resounded through the Metrodome as the Vikings struggled to beat winless Detroit, 12-10. The Vikings won seven of their last nine to finish 10-6, their first winning record in Childress’s three seasons.
Even after the Vikings clinched, so many season-ticket holders turned down playoff tickets that 11,000 seats remained as of midday Wednesday.Faced with a possible local television blackout, the N.F.L. granted the Vikings two 24-hour extensions before the game finally sold out Saturday. That enabled several hundred Eagles fans to buy tickets. In their green jerseys, they gathered after the game near the field railing to greet the players and start a ubiquitous anti-Giants chant.