The Philadelphia Eagles were back in the playoffs for the first time in four years as they hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a NFC Wild Card playoff game on December 31, 2000. In their second season under Head Coach Andy Reid, the Eagles had gone from 5-11 to 11-5 and finished second in the NFC East. QB Donovan McNabb (pictured above) was the key to the offense with his passing and running ability. The ground game had suffered since RB Duce Staley went down with a foot injury in the fifth week, and ex-Seattle and Dallas RB Chris Warren joined the club late in order to try and upgrade the position for the postseason. Key players on the opportunistic defense were DE Hugh Douglas, MLB Jeremiah Trotter, and FS Brian Dawkins. Following an uneven start, Philadelphia was hot coming into the postseason, having won six of its last seven games.
Tampa Bay was coached by Tony Dungy and placed second in the NFC Central at 10-6. A strong defense was the key to the club’s recent success and was especially adept at pressuring opposing quarterbacks. All-Pro DT Warren Sapp accounted for 16.5 sacks and DE Marcus Jones another 13. The offense was conservative and keyed by the ground game that featured the running back tandem of Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. But WR Keyshawn Johnson was talented, QB Shaun King was unexceptional. The Buccaneers also had difficulty playing in weather under 40 degrees, and they faced temperatures in the thirties with a wind chill that made it seem much colder in Philadelphia.
There were 65,813 fans present on a chilly night at Veterans Stadium. The teams exchanged punts through a scoreless first quarter. On their first possession of the second quarter, the Buccaneers advanced into Philadelphia territory for the first time. Shaun King completed passes to Warrick Dunn for 12 yards, Keyshawn Johnson for 14, and Mike Alstott for eight yards, after which Alstott ran for 18 yards to the Philadelphia 17. The drive stalled at the 11 and Martin Gramatica kicked a 29-yard field goal for the first points of the game.
The Eagles had to punt following their next possession but got the ball back at the Tampa Bay 15 when King fumbled while being sacked by Hugh Douglas and DE Mike Mamula recovered. It was the culmination of a series in which the Philadelphia defense pushed the Buccaneers back nine yards on two running plays. Four plays later, Donovan McNabb ran up the middle for a five-yard touchdown. David Akers added the extra point to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead.
The Bucs punted again and, after RB Brian Mitchell returned the kick 16 yards, the Eagles had the ball at their 31 with 1:43 remaining in the first half and drove 69 yards in eight plays. McNabb completed back-to-back passes to Mitchell for 13 and 11 yards and, following an incompletion, it was Mitchell running for six yards and then grabbing another pass for nine yards to the Tampa Bay 30. McNabb connected with WR Charles Johnson for 25 yards and with WR Na Brown in the end zone for a five-yard TD (pictured below) with 12 seconds remaining on the clock. Akers again kicked the point after to give Philadelphia a 14-3 halftime lead.
The Eagles had the first possession in the third quarter and put together a long drive. McNabb completed seven passes, none longer than nine yards, and Chris Warren had a pair of seven-yard runs. But Philadelphia came up empty when Akers missed a 36-yard field goal attempt.
The Buccaneers again had to punt and, in a series that stretched into the fourth quarter, the home team advanced 57 yards in 10 plays, helped along by a pass interference call on the Bucs. McNabb threw to TE Jeff Thomason for a two-yard touchdown, Akers converted, and the Eagles held an 18-point advantage.
Following another Tampa Bay punt, the Buccaneers got the ball back when CB Donnie Abraham intercepted a McNabb pass at the Philadelphia 47. King passed to TE Dave Moore for nine yards on first down, but an offensive pass interference penalty moved the visitors back ten yards on the next play, and while a throw to WR Reidel Anthony gained back six yards, two more passes fell incomplete and the Bucs turned the ball over on downs.
The Eagles were able to run almost four minutes off the clock as Warren carried on every play, gaining 27 yards on five carries before being tossed for a three-yard loss on third down at the Tampa Bay 35. Sean Landeta’s punt pinned the Bucs back at their six, but three plays later King passed to Keyshawn Johnson for a 41-yard gain to midfield. But once again the visitors had to give up the ball on downs, this time at the Philadelphia 21, in what proved to be their last gasp with 3:50 left on the clock. The Eagles were able to run out the clock behind Warren’s running and won by a final score of 21-3.
Philadelphia led in total yards (277 to 199), first downs (20 to 11), and time of possession (34:53 to 25:07). The Eagles rushed for 126 yards while the defense held Tampa Bay to just 50 yards on 19 attempts. They also recorded four sacks to two by the Buccaneers. Each team turned the ball over once.
Donovan McNabb completed 24 of 33 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also ran the ball eight times for 32 yards and a TD. Chris Warren (pictured below) rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries, much of that as the team controlled the ball in the fourth quarter. Charles Johnson and Brian Mitchell each caught a team-leading five passes, for 47 and 37 yards, respectively. Mitchell averaged 12.7 yards on his three punt returns.
For the Buccaneers, Shaun King was successful on 17 of 31 throws for 171 yards with no TDs or interceptions. Keyshawn Johnson caught 6 passes for 106 yards. But Mike Alstott gained 42 yards on 7 carries and Warrick Dunn was held to only one yard on 8 attempts, although he had five pass receptions for 28 yards.
The first win for the Eagles in the postseason under Coach Reid, of an eventual 10, was followed by a loss to the division-rival New York Giants in the Divisional round. They reached the NFC Championship game following the 2001 season. Tampa Bay was 9-7 in ’01, qualified for the playoffs once more as a Wild Card, and again lost at Philadelphia in the first postseason round.