Eagles clinch playoff berth

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December 29, 2008 4:21:36 PM PST
Donovan McNabb flexed his muscles, danced on the sideline and revved up the crowd. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to the playoffs, so the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback had plenty to celebrate on a day when many came to the stadium wondering if they were seeing his last game in this city.

McNabb threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, Brian Dawkins forced two fumbles that were returned for scores and the Eagles overcame daunting odds to capture an NFC wild-card spot with a dominating 44-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

So much for all that preseason Super Bowl hype in Dallas - America's Team can start its vacation plans early. It could be a turbulent offseason for the Cowboys (9-7) after another dismal finish.

The Eagles (9-6-1) will play at NFC North champion Minnesota (10-6) next Sunday.

"I've been kind of revived, I guess," McNabb said. "They've (critics) thrown me out, they ran over me, spit on me, but you know what, I just continue to prevail."

Written off after a 10-3 loss at Washington last week, Philadelphia avoided elimination when Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago in the early games. The Raiders were 13-point underdogs against the Buccaneers, who lost their fourth straight.

"I want to thank the Raiders and Texans," coach Andy Reid said. "They did a heck of a job."

Of all the teams that remained in contention for a playoff berth entering the final weekend, the Eagles had the lowest odds. Meanwhile, Dallas knew all week it just had to win to get in.

How 'bout them Cowboys!

Tony Romo came up way short in another crucial game, dropping his record to 5-8 in December. T.O. was a non-factor, despite six catches for 103 yards.

"With our destiny in our own hands, we kind of just stunk it up," Owens said.

According to multiple media reports, Romo sustained a rib injury late in the game and collapsed in the shower after. He had to be helped to his feet by teammates. Romo had X-rays and was able to meet with reporters, though he blew off questions about his health.

Right from the start, the Eagles played with more urgency. While fans cheered Tampa's loss to Oakland, players ran onto the field for pregame introductions seconds after that game ended.

McNabb scored on a sneak from inside the 1 to put Philadelphia ahead 10-3 in the second quarter. He kept the drive going with a 59-yard catch-and-run to Correll Buckhalter on third-and-6.

Then the Eagles scored 17 points in the final 2:03 of the second quarter. McNabb tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Buckhalter to make it 17-3 just before the 2-minute warning. He twice kept the drive going in third-and-long situations, connecting with Kevin Curtis for 15 yards and DeSean Jackson for 34 yards to the Cowboys 3.

Sheldon Brown intercepted Romo's underthrown pass to Roy Williams on Dallas' ensuing possession and returned it 23 yards to the Dallas 42. Then two big penalties - a personal foul on Adam "Pacman" Jones and pass interference against Terence Newman in the end zone - set up McNabb's 1-yard TD pass to Brent Celek.

A fired-up McNabb sprinted toward the Eagles sideline and suddenly stopped. He turned around toward the Cowboys bench and flexed, the way T.O. often does.

Jones was stripped by Quintin Demps on the kickoff and Omar Gaither recovered at the Cowboys 31 with 3 seconds left in the half. David Akers made a 50-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 27-3 lead going into halftime.

Dallas pulled out all the tricks on the first possession of the third quarter, including a 42-yard pass from tight end Jason Witten to Owens to the Eagles 14. But Dawkins sacked Romo on the next play, and Chris Clemons picked up the fumble and raced 73 yards for a score that gave Philly a 34-3 lead.

Joselio Hanson returned Marion Barber's fumble 96 yards for a TD on the next series.

"It's frustrating," Romo said. "We obviously had hopes to play a lot better than we did."

The Eagles seemed headed for their third last-place finish in four years after they tied lowly Cincinnati and were routed by Baltimore in consecutive weeks last month. McNabb was benched for the first time in his career in that loss to the Ravens and his future in Philadelphia was the hot topic.

But McNabb came back strong and led the Eagles to three straight wins only to fall short against the Redskins - Reggie Brown was tackled at the 1 on the final play.

Still, the Eagles found a way to make the playoffs after getting all the help they needed around the league.

"Everybody turned their backs on us," Dawkins said. "But we believed in one another."

Notes: The Eagles scored a franchise-record 416 points this season. ... McNabb broke his own single-season team record for yards passing, finishing with 3,916. ... Jackson set a team record with 912 yards receiving. He became the first rookie WR to lead the Eagles in receptions since 1942. ... The Cowboys have lost nine consecutive season finales.


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