The NFC Championship Game was played yesterday in Philadelphia for the
first time since 1981. With 66,713 frenzied Eagle fans screaming at the
start, Brian Mitchell took the opening kickoff 70 yards to the Tampa
26-yard line. Two plays later, Duce Staley ran it in from 20 yards for
the game's first touchdown. The TD sent the already loud crowd into
complete pandamonia and they roared their approval and sang the rendition
of "Fly, Eagles Fly" louder than any other time in Eagles' history. It
was 7-0 and the game was barely 52 seconds old. It was all too easy.
Donovan McNabb hadn't even thrown a pass yet and the Birds already had
a touchdown. Could it be after 22 long years of no championships that the
Vet's faithful were gonna have a big party after the Eagles finish off
the Bucs. After a pretty good return by the Bucs Aaron Stecker out to
the Tampa 33-yard line, Tampa drove the ball 37 yards before the Eagles
defense finally held. The drive was sustained mostly by a big third down
conversion on a short Michael Alstott run. Though the Bucs settled for
a Martin Gramatica 48-yard field goal, the drive set the tone for the
Tampa offense the rest of the half and into the third quarter.
Brian Mitchell struck again on the ensuing kickoff with another fantastic
return of 43 yards to the Eagles 44-yard line. Three plays and out later,
the Eagles were forced to punt. That was basically how it went all game
for Donovan McNabb and the Eagles' offense. But Bobby Taylor made another
great read and intercepted a Brad Johnson pass and returned it to the
Tampa 47-yard line giving Philadelphia another golden opportunity to score
more points. But three plays and out again forced the Birds to punt again.
This time, Lee Johnson's punt was downed inside the five at the 4-yard line
by Dameane Douglas. It seemed that the Eagles had Tampa right where it wanted.
The fans cheered loudly to get the Eagles defense pumped and then Brad Johnson
hit Joe Jurevicius on a short crossing pattern, which he ran it 71 yards all
the way down to the Eagles' 5-yard line. Two Michael Alstott runs later and
Tampa Bay took a 10-7 lead. The crowd went silent for the first time all
game. It was only the beginning of the end for Philadelphia. The Eagles did
manage to tie the game at 10-10 on a David Akers 30-yard field goal. But
soon afterwards, Brad Johnson led the Bucs on a methodical 12-play, 80-yard
TD drive keyed by 3 passes to Keyshawn Johnson, the last culminated in a
9-yard touchdown pass with only 2:28 left in the half. The half ended after
a furious Donovan McNabb run 2-minute offense. He completed 3 straight passes
for 36 total yards and the Eagles were in business at the Tampa 24-yard line
with a first down and 2 timeouts left. After 2 penalties, an incomplete pass to
Duce Staley and another short run by Staley, the Eagles had a 3rd-and-16
situation. Donovan went back to pass, but it was his old high school buddy,
Simeon Rice who hit McNabb from behind causing the fumble which was recovered
by Rice himself. The half ended with Tampa in the lead at 17-10.
In the second half, Gramatica added a 27-yard FG with only 1:02 left in
the third quarter extending the Bucs lead to 20-10. McNabb never gave up,
trying to will the Eagles offense to move the ball downfield. He failed time
after time. Then with only 6 minutes left, Donovan McNabb drove the Birds
downfield pushing the team into a potential scoring position which could
cut the lead to 20-17 with 3 ½ minutes left and all 3 timeouts.
It was Ronde Barber who broke in front of a McNabb pass intended for
Antonio Freeman and ran it back for a 92-yard touchdown interception
return. That was the final straw as the Vet's 66,000 faithful quickly
took to the exits. They were cursing and swearing the Eagles as we all
headed home. Some fans even kicked over trash cans, but that was the worst.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the fans and players alike. It was total
jubilation for the men in white and gold. You can blame the loss on Andy Reid
for his first half conservative play calling. You can blame it on Jim Johnson
for not allowing the Eagles defense to blitz and the Eagles defense for not
putting on hardly any pressure to Brad Johnson. Brad Johnson completed
20-of-33 passes and 259 yards and 1 TD pass. His counterpart threw the ball
49 times, completing only 26 for 243 yards, 1 TD and also 1 very costly INT.
Just like last year, when the Eagles needed a big play late in the fourth quarter,
it was a McNabb interception that ended the Eagles' Super Bowl dreams. But it
was not the biggest reason why the Eagles lost. The Philadelphia Eagles had
8 drives inside Tampa Bay territory, including possessions down to the 32,
30, 24, 19, 12 and 10 that totaled only 3 points. Two very big turnovers were
the main reason for their inability to score. Maybe a healthy Donovan McNabb
would of escaped both of those fumble-caused plays by his buddy, Simeon Rice getting
a first down with his feet. Would of? Could of? Should of? Tampa Bay won the
game 27-10 and now win the right to play the Oakland Raiders next week in
San Diego in Super Bowl XXXVII. We came out like a house on fire, but the Bucs
extinguished that fire with two long first half TD drives. They also won in the
freezing cold too. It was only 22 degrees and windy. Better luck next year????