Eagles top Vikings, will face NFC East rival Giants in divisional round

MINNEAPOLIS -- All but forgotten as playoff contenders, Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles have a playoff win.

Next up: the Super Bowl champions.

Four downs

» The Eagles have won five of their last six games, including the playoffs, following a 5-5-1 start.

» Eagles QB Donovan McNabb is 5-0 in his career against the Vikings, including the playoffs, with nine touchdowns and one interception.

» Eagles CB Asante Samuel recorded his fourth career interception return for a touchdown in the playoffs, passing Willie Brown for the most in NFL playoff history.

» The Vikings are 0-3 all-time against the Eagles in the playoffs.

Brian Westbrook caught a short pass out of the backfield and zigzagged through the Minnesota defense for a devastating 71-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and the Eagles spoiled the Vikings' first home playoff game in eight years with a 26-14 victory Sunday.

"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."

Eagles cornerback 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.

Andy Reid improved his playoff coaching 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 New York Giants.

Philadelphia will play its top-seeded NFC East rivals next Sunday at Giants Stadium, sending the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals to visit the NFC South-winning Carolina Panthers in the other conference semifinal Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.

Jackson, who lost his job in September but got it back when Gus Frerotte was hurt, went 15-of-35 passing 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 its quarterbacks.

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 from the Vikings' defensive line. But McNabb, who went 23-of-34 passing for 300 yards, kept the Eagles' offense from derailing.

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McNabb tossed a ball toward his always-reliable running back at just the right time, with Philadelphia 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.

Stability at quarterback almost certainly would have given the Vikings another win or two, and perhaps a first-round playoff bye. And despite a drastically better December, Jackson showed he's still quite raw and in need of a lot more experience.

His one big mistake really hurt, an underthrown out route that Samuel read perfectly and picked off for a 44-yard TD return and a 16-7 Eagles lead.

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 open receivers open -- particularly Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek -- for McNabb to target in the middle of the field.

Though he was benched briefly in November, before the Eagles won four of their last five games to sneak into the playoffs, McNabb set a franchise record for passing yards this season and helped Philadelphia make the postseason for the seventh time in the last nine years. There were some bad games, but he's still in the league's upper echelon of quarterbacks.

"Donovan did a great job today leading this team, basically putting the team on his back," Westbrook said. "We really didn't have too much of a running game, but he put this team on his back and threw the ball down the field -- just sitting there in the face of the blitz. And that's what you expect from a superstar quarterback like Donovan."

After Akers made a 51-yard field goal -- he went 4-for-4 in the game -- to finish the first quarter, the Vikings drove 78 yards for the lead. On third-and-2 at the Philadelphia 40, Peterson zoomed through the line untouched and beat Eagles safety Quintin Demps to the corner of the end zone for his first playoff touchdown.

Jackson snapped back after his big mistake, throwing two first-down passes on the next possession to put Peterson in position for a 3-yard, slicing touchdown 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, managing only 17 yards on eight carries after halftime, and the Eagles applied plenty of pressure to keep Jackson from bouncing back.

"I think we rattled him kind of towards the end," Philadelphia defensive end Trent Cole said of Jackson. "He had to get rid of the ball quick and move around. He was probably getting tight from a lot of pressure."

DeSean Jackson, the slithery rookie whom Vikings coach Childress reverently referred to this week as a "human pogo stick," led the Eagles to six of their 16 first-half points. Jackson returned a punt 62 yards to set up Akers' first field goal and caught a 34-yard pass up the sideline preceding another three-point kick.

Jackson had 109 yards of punt-return yardage, but the Vikings had just 1 yard on four Eagles punts. The only short field Minnesota had came after defensive end Jared Allen, who had two of the team's three sacks, knocked the ball out of McNabb's hand and gave the Vikings the ball at their 46. But they promptly went three-and-out.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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