Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Thats been the case with the Philadelphia Eagles over the last three seasons as their Super Bowl hopes have ended in losses in the NFC championship game each time around. But on a cold, windy Sunday in Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles finally got over the hump with a 27-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
It was just 17 degrees at kickoff with winds gusting up to 35 m.p.h., which caused some early problems in the passing and kicking games. The Eagles were the first to capitalize when, after the Falcons second drive of the game stalled at Philadelphias 37-yard line, a Chris Mohr punt traveled just seven yards before being downed by Atlanta longsnapper Derek Rackley.
On the ensuing drive, it appeared the Eagles would go three-and-out, but a hands to the face penalty by cornerback DeAngelo Hall on Todd Pinkston gave the Eagles a first down at their own 35. Two plays later, Michael Westbrook broke a 36-yard run that took the ball to the Falcons' 25, where he was brought down by Aaron Beasley.
On the next play, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb hit L.J. Smith for 21 yards, giving Philadelphia a first-and-goal from the 4, where Dorsey Levens' second effort pushed the ball into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles appeared to have once again stopped the Falcons on their next possession, but as time wound down in the first quarter, Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid burned a timeout on fourth-and-one from the Eagles 31-yard line with one second left in an attempt to force Atlanta to either punt or kick a field goal into the wind. The Falcons countered by electing to attempt to convert the fourth-down play, and their gamble paid off when T.J. Duckett picked up the first down.
With the wind now at his back, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, along with running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett, advanced to the 2-yard line. But after Hollis Thomas dropped Duckett for a 1-yard loss on first-and-goal, then put a hard lick on Vick to sack him on third down, the Falcons were forced to settle for a Jay Feely 20-yard field goal.
On the Eagles first possession of the second quarter, they passed the ball surprisingly well against the swirling winds, setting up a 3-yard Chad Lewis TD reception with a 45-yard connection between McNabb and Greg Lewis. The 9-play drive that led to the Eagles' second touchdown covered 72 yards took 5:05 off the clock and stretched the lead to 11 points.
Falcons coach Jim Mora challenged the play, claiming that Lewis didn't have both feet inbounds, but the play was upheld and Atlanta was charged their a second timeout.
Much to the Falcons credit, however, they didnt just roll over. On the ensuing possession, Vick quickly connected with Peerless Price for 14 yards to advance the ball out near mid-field. A roughing the passer penalty pushed the ball down to Philadelphias 41-yard line where Vick hit tight end Alge Crumpler on a deep crossing pattern. Crumpler took a shot from safety Brian Dawkins, but managed to hold onto the football, setting up a 10-yard scoring run by Dunn with 2:02 left in the half.
Dunns touchdown cut the lead to four points heading into halftime, but it was the last time the Falcons would put points on the board as the Eagles defense, behind MLB Jeremiah Trotter, took control of the game.
The Eagles tacked on a pair of field goals in the third quarter, then sealed the victory with a second TD reception by Chad Lewis early in the fourth quarter.
McNabb finished the game 17-of-26 for 180 yards and 2 TDs and Westbrook picked up 96 yards on the ground.
The Eagles advance to Super Bowl XXXIX where they will face the New England Patriots on February 6, at 6:30 eastern time.