January 23, 2010

2005: Eagles Win NFC Title on 4th Try, Beating Falcons

By the 2004 season, the Philadelphia Eagles were becoming regular participants in the NFC Championship game, but had yet to win under Head Coach Andy Reid. Since the 2001 season they had made it to the conference title game in three consecutive seasons - in ‘01, traveling to St. Louis where they lost a hard-fought battle to the favored Rams; in 2002, the final season at Veterans Stadium, they hosted Tampa Bay and were humiliated, 27-10; and in ’03 it was the Carolina Panthers coming to Philadelphia and winning, 14-3.

The Eagles had boosted their heavily pass-oriented West Coast offense for 2004 with the addition of WR Terrell Owens to provide QB Donovan McNabb (pictured at left) with a proven All-Pro target. The brash wide receiver didn’t disappoint, catching 77 passes for 1200 yards and 14 touchdowns before being sidelined late in the season by a high ankle sprain. McNabb had his best season, throwing for 3875 yards and 31 TDs against just 8 interceptions; his 104.7 passer rating was his career-best. RB Brian Westbrook was an exciting all-purpose talent who ran for 812 yards in 12 games and had another 703 yards on 73 pass receptions. The team rolled out to a 13-1 start and rested its starters in the final two games - once they had locked up the highest seed in the NFC playoffs - ending up at 13-3 atop the NFC East. They handily defeated Minnesota in the Divisional round, with Owens still sidelined, as he would be for the conference title game.

The team they faced for the NFC Championship was the Atlanta Falcons, who went 11-5 in winning the NFC South under Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr. QB Michael Vick had his detractors as a passer, but was a dangerous runner who accumulated 902 yards on 120 carries. Together with RB Warrick Dunn, who ran for 1106 yards, they spearheaded the top rushing attack in the league. Pro Bowl TE Alge Crumpler led the club with 48 pass receptions, while the defense featured DE Patrick Kerney and LB Keith Brooking.

The weather at Lincoln Financial Field was bitterly cold for the game on January 23, 2005 with a wind chill factor between zero and five below. The Eagles scored on their second possession, after Atlanta’s Chris Mohr punted into the gusty wind for just eight yards. Following a 36-yard run by Westbrook (pictured), RB Dorsey Levens plowed four yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

Atlanta came back with a 17-play, nine-minute drive to the Philadelphia two yard line, but the Eagles defense refused to yield as 254-pound RB T.J. Duckett was thrown for a loss on first-and-goal, Vick was sacked by DT Hollis Thomas on third down, and the Falcons ultimately had to settle for a 23-yard Jay Feely field goal. The Eagles responded with a 45-yard pass play from McNabb to WR Greg Lewis down to the Falcons four yard line. From there, TE Chad Lewis (pictured at top) made an outstanding catch of a high throw in the corner of the end zone, just keeping both feet inbounds to score the TD and extend Philadelphia’s lead to 14-3.

The Falcons came back strong as they drove 70 yards in five plays capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by Dunn with just over two minutes left in the half. The 14-10 score stood at the intermission.

The first half had been highly competitive, but the Eagles dominated the second half. David Akers kicked field goals of 31 and 34 yards in the third quarter, the second following an interception of a Vick pass by FS Brian Dawkins, who returned the ball 19 yards to the Atlanta 11. The Falcons couldn’t get the offense going even after getting the wind advantage in the fourth quarter as the Eagles defense stacked the line and forced Vick to pass from the pocket.

With 3:21 left in the game, McNabb threw another TD pass to Lewis, this from two yards, to thrill the hometown crowd of 67,717 and sew up the win. It was costly – the tight end sprained his foot and was lost for the Super Bowl. But the Eagles had finally won the NFC Championship in their fourth try by a score of 27-10.

Donovan McNabb completed 17 of 26 passes for 180 yards and two TDs with none picked off; he also ran for 32 yards on 10 carries. Brian Westbrook led the team both in rushing, with 96 yards on 16 attempts, and pass receptions with 5 for another 39 yards. Greg Lewis led the team in receiving yards with 65 on two catches.

The Eagles defense effectively hemmed Michael Vick in and sacked him four times – DE Derrick Burgess (pictured above left) had an outstanding game, accounting for two of the sacks. Vick completed just 11 of 24 passes for 136 yards with an interception. After the two solid drives in the first half, the Falcons running game was ineffectual; they were outrun by the Eagles, 156 yards to 99. Warrick Dunn led the team with 59 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. TE Alge Crumpler was Atlanta’s top receiver with 4 catches for 49 yards, although most memorable was a crunching hit he took from Dawkins after one of them (pictured below).

Terrell Owens was back for the Super Bowl, but Philadelphia fell short against the New England Patriots. The Eagles were mired in controversy in 2005, as the mercurial Terrell Owens wore out his welcome in Philadelphia and Donovan McNabb went down with an injury; they would return to the postseason in 2006. Atlanta dropped out of playoff contention the next three seasons, and Michael Vick’s career was derailed due to legal problems. Coach Mora was gone after the ’06 season, and there would be two more coaching changes before the Falcons returned to the postseason.