Eagles fly past Vikings with 26-14 playoff victory

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Perhaps a thousand Eagles fans surrounded the opening to the Metrodome tunnel as the victorious visitors jogged past, cheering their vanquish of the Vikings and tossing a derogatory chant toward the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Giants are next, but Philadelphia — after getting hot just in time to make the playoffs — is bringing some sizzle to the second round along with a quarterback who won’t be rattled.
Brian Westbrook caught a short pass from Donovan McNabb out of the backfield and zigzagged for a devastating 71-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and the Eagles spoiled Minnesota’s first home playoff game in eight years with a 26-14 win Sunday.
‘‘That’s what you expect from a superstar quarterback like Donovan,’’ Westbrook said.
Above the deafening din under the dome, McNabb stayed poised, sidestepped the rush and went 23-for-34 for 300 yards. He committed two turnovers, but the Vikings didn’t capitalize.
After taking a nine-point lead on Westbrook’s score, the Eagles fired up their vaunted blitz and overwhelmed Tarvaris Jackson to raise further questions about the ability of Minnesota’s raw quarterback to become a successful starter. Asante Samuel’s 44-yard interception return of Jackson’s errant pass in the second quarter set a tone for the kind of game Vikings fans feared.
‘‘You know, this game sticks with you,’’ coach Brad Childress said. ‘‘You hate to serve up seven points. You have to take that out of your repertoire.’’
Coach Andy Reid improved his playoff record to 9-6, including at least one win each time the Eagles have qualified in his 10 years. He bested his buddy and former offensive coordinator Childress in this one, and they held an extended conversation on the field after the game. Reid is 5-0 against the Vikings, including two playoff victories.
In fact, the Eagles beat Minnesota in the postseason during both of their previous Super Bowl appearances. They’ll face the top-seeded Giants next Sunday in New Jersey, with plenty of confidence they can repeat their 20-14 victory on Dec. 7. Arizona visits Carolina on Saturday in the other NFC semifinal.
‘‘I think we’re dangerous,’’ Samuel said. ‘‘We’ve just got to see how it plays out.’’
Westbrook couldn’t find any room to run, finishing with 38 yards on 20 carries even with two starters (Ray Edwards and Pat Williams) missing on Minnesota’s defensive line. But McNabb kept the offense from derailing.
He tossed a ball toward his always-reliable running back at just the right time with the Eagles clinging to a two-point lead after a scoreless third quarter. Westbrook received a slew of well-timed blocks as he slalomed downfield for the clinching touchdown.
‘‘I’ve seen this team have confidence in each other and try to have one another’s back,’’ McNabb said. ‘‘What you’re seeing is a team playing with a lot of energy, playing with emotion, and just having fun.’’
McNabb wasn’t perfect. He threw an interception, lost a fumble in the third quarter and took an 8-yard sack to push the Eagles out of David Akers’ field-goal range. But he guided the Eagles out of dangerous territory twice in the second half, starting drives at their own 5 and their own 4 and chewing up precious time even though they ultimately punted.
Though he was benched briefly in November, before the Eagles won four of their last five to sneak into the playoffs, McNabb set a franchise record for yards passing this year and helped Philly make the postseason for the seventh time in nine years. There were some bad games, but he’s still in the league’s upper crust of quarterbacks.
‘‘Whoever said that guy can’t move still is a liar,’’ Minnesota’s Jared Allen said. ‘‘He was running around out there quite nice.’’
Jackson, who lost his job in September but got it back when Gus Frerotte was hurt, went 15-for-35 for 164 yards. Adrian Peterson’s two touchdown runs weren’t nearly enough for NFC North champion Minnesota, which certainly would have had another win or two — and probably a first-round bye — with a better quarterback this season.
‘‘I think we rattled him kind of toward the end,’’ defensive end Trent Cole said. ‘‘He had to get rid of the ball quick and move around. He was probably getting tight from a lot of pressure.’’
Trailing 16-14, the Vikings couldn’t get any rhythm in the second half. During a 25-minute stretch from early in the third quarter to late in the fourth, Jackson was 2-for-11 for 17 yards with one sack, one fumble and one botched snap from center Matt Birk that the Eagles recovered.
‘‘It was good to see the character of our football team in that fourth quarter,’’ Reid said. ‘‘I didn’t see any panic or reservation not to play aggressive football.’’
Notes: Akers made all four of his field-goal attempts, tying a team postseason record. … Peterson had only 17 yards on eight carries in the second half. … Samuel has returned four interceptions for touchdowns in the playoffs, an NFL record. Willie Brown of the Raiders had three.

Ravens force 5 turnovers in 27-9 rout of Dolphins

MIAMI (AP) — The over-the-shoulder interception was enough to make the video highlights.
‘‘Like playing center field,’’ Ed Reed said.
His runback was just as special. The Baltimore Ravens safety eluded one tackler, then juked another as he cut back, finding a corridor to the end zone.
‘‘It felt like the 200 in track,’’ Reed said. ‘‘I don’t think I caught my breath until the third quarter.’’
Reed was out of breath, but the Ravens were in good shape and on the way to their first playoff win in seven years. They came up with four interceptions, including the one returned 64 yards for a touchdown by Reed, and beat the Miami Dolphins 27-9 on Sunday.
After throwing only seven interceptions during the regular season, the Dolphins’ Chad Pennington had four during a 22-minute flurry midway through the game.
‘‘We heard all week that they don’t turn the ball over,’’ linebacker Ray Lewis said. ‘‘But we force turnovers.’’
With a rookie coach in John Harbaugh and a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco, wild-card entrant Baltimore (12-5) won for the 10th time in 12 games and will play Saturday at AFC South champion Tennessee.
‘‘We don’t want the roll and the Ravens’ story to end here,’’ linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ‘‘We think we are a team of divine purpose.’’
The result put the brakes on this season’s remarkable resurgence by the Dolphins (11-6), who won the AFC East after going 1-15 in 2007. The playoff game was Miami’s first in seven seasons.
‘‘It has been a special year. That’s why it hurts so much,’’ Pennington said.
A soft schedule contributed to Miami’s turnaround, but there was nothing soft about the Ravens. They forced repeated mistakes by a team that tied an NFL record with only 13 turnovers during the regular season.
‘‘We were doing things we hadn’t done all year,’’ Miami coach Tony Sparano said.
Reed had two interceptions, and Jim Leonhard and Fabian Washington made one apiece. Suggs recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown. Pennington, playing his first game since being chosen the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, was sacked three times and faced constant pressure.
‘‘It always starts up front,’’ Ravens defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. ‘‘We had some favorable matchups, and we took advantage of them.’’
Baltimore’s secondary also had Miami overmatched. Pennington, who finished 25-for-38 for 252 yards, said the Ravens made good plays on three of the interceptions.
‘‘When you get down, you start to play in their hands, because they can start taking chances that they normally wouldn’t take,’’ Pennington said. ‘‘That’s kind of what happened.’’
Baltimore allowed just 52 yards rushing, and the Dolphins were limited to seven yards on two plays from the Wildcat, the innovative formation that helped jump-start their revival.
Field position hurt the Dolphins, who started consecutive possessions at their 20, 6, 20, 20, 20 and 2. But the biggest problem was Baltimore’s ball-hawking defense, which led the NFL during the regular season with 26 interceptions, including a league-high nine by Reed.
The Ravens’ defensive performance was reminiscent of their 27-13 victory at Miami in October. The Dolphins won nine of 10 after that to earn an improbable playoff berth.
After the Dolphins’ season ended, owner Wayne Huizenga said the architect of their turnaround, Bill Parcells, has decided to stay for another season.
‘‘It hasn’t been a good day, but it has been a great year,’’ Huizenga said.
Notes: Pennington’s four interceptions were a Miami postseason record. … Flacco completed two passes for 14 yards in the second half. … Miami went 2-for-11 on third and fourth down. … Baltimore held the ball for less than 27 minutes after leading the NFL in time of possession during the regular season.

NFL Playoff Glance
By The Associated Press
All Times EST
Wild-card Playoffs
Saturday, Jan. 3
Arizona 30, Atlanta 24
San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17, OT
Sunday, Jan. 4
Baltimore 27, Miami 9
Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 14
———
Divisional Playoffs
Saturday, Jan. 10
Baltimore at Tennessee, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
Arizona at Carolina, 8:15 p.m. (FOX)
Sunday, Jan. 11
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. (FOX)
San Diego at Pittsburgh, 4:45 p.m. (CBS)
———
Conference Championships
Sunday, Jan. 18
NFC
Arizona-Carolina winner vs. Philadelphia-N.Y. Giants winner (FOX), 3 p.m.
AFC
Baltimore-Tennessee winner vs. San Diego-Pittsburgh winner (CBS), 6:30 p.m.
———
Super Bowl
Sunday, Feb. 1
Tampa, Fla.
AFC vs. NFC, 6 p.m. (NBC)
———
Pro Bowl
Sunday, Feb. 8
At Honolulu
AFC vs. NFC, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)

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Eagles fly past Vikings with 26-14 playoff victory

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Perhaps a thousand Eagles fans surrounded the opening to the Metrodome tunnel as the victorious visitors jogged past, cheering their vanquish of the Vikings and tossing a derogatory chant toward the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Giants are next, but Philadelphia — after getting hot just in time to make the playoffs — is bringing some sizzle to the second round along with a quarterback who won’t be rattled.
Brian Westbrook caught a short pass from Donovan McNabb out of the backfield and zigzagged for a devastating 71-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and the Eagles spoiled Minnesota’s first home playoff game in eight years with a 26-14 win Sunday.
‘‘That’s what you expect from a superstar quarterback like Donovan,’’ Westbrook said.
Above the deafening din under the dome, McNabb stayed poised, sidestepped the rush and went 23-for-34 for 300 yards. He committed two turnovers, but the Vikings didn’t capitalize.
After taking a nine-point lead on Westbrook’s score, the Eagles fired up their vaunted blitz and overwhelmed Tarvaris Jackson to raise further questions about the ability of Minnesota’s raw quarterback to become a successful starter. Asante Samuel’s 44-yard interception return of Jackson’s errant pass in the second quarter set a tone for the kind of game Vikings fans feared.
‘‘You know, this game sticks with you,’’ coach Brad Childress said. ‘‘You hate to serve up seven points. You have to take that out of your repertoire.’’
Coach Andy Reid improved his playoff record to 9-6, including at least one win each time the Eagles have qualified in his 10 years. He bested his buddy and former offensive coordinator Childress in this one, and they held an extended conversation on the field after the game. Reid is 5-0 against the Vikings, including two playoff victories.
In fact, the Eagles beat Minnesota in the postseason during both of their previous Super Bowl appearances. They’ll face the top-seeded Giants next Sunday in New Jersey, with plenty of confidence they can repeat their 20-14 victory on Dec. 7. Arizona visits Carolina on Saturday in the other NFC semifinal.
‘‘I think we’re dangerous,’’ Samuel said. ‘‘We’ve just got to see how it plays out.’’
Westbrook couldn’t find any room to run, finishing with 38 yards on 20 carries even with two starters (Ray Edwards and Pat Williams) missing on Minnesota’s defensive line. But McNabb kept the offense from derailing.
He tossed a ball toward his always-reliable running back at just the right time with the Eagles clinging to a two-point lead after a scoreless third quarter. Westbrook received a slew of well-timed blocks as he slalomed downfield for the clinching touchdown.
‘‘I’ve seen this team have confidence in each other and try to have one another’s back,’’ McNabb said. ‘‘What you’re seeing is a team playing with a lot of energy, playing with emotion, and just having fun.’’
McNabb wasn’t perfect. He threw an interception, lost a fumble in the third quarter and took an 8-yard sack to push the Eagles out of David Akers’ field-goal range. But he guided the Eagles out of dangerous territory twice in the second half, starting drives at their own 5 and their own 4 and chewing up precious time even though they ultimately punted.
Though he was benched briefly in November, before the Eagles won four of their last five to sneak into the playoffs, McNabb set a franchise record for yards passing this year and helped Philly make the postseason for the seventh time in nine years. There were some bad games, but he’s still in the league’s upper crust of quarterbacks.
‘‘Whoever said that guy can’t move still is a liar,’’ Minnesota’s Jared Allen said. ‘‘He was running around out there quite nice.’’
Jackson, who lost his job in September but got it back when Gus Frerotte was hurt, went 15-for-35 for 164 yards. Adrian Peterson’s two touchdown runs weren’t nearly enough for NFC North champion Minnesota, which certainly would have had another win or two — and probably a first-round bye — with a better quarterback this season.
‘‘I think we rattled him kind of toward the end,’’ defensive end Trent Cole said. ‘‘He had to get rid of the ball quick and move around. He was probably getting tight from a lot of pressure.’’
Trailing 16-14, the Vikings couldn’t get any rhythm in the second half. During a 25-minute stretch from early in the third quarter to late in the fourth, Jackson was 2-for-11 for 17 yards with one sack, one fumble and one botched snap from center Matt Birk that the Eagles recovered.
‘‘It was good to see the character of our football team in that fourth quarter,’’ Reid said. ‘‘I didn’t see any panic or reservation not to play aggressive football.’’
Notes: Akers made all four of his field-goal attempts, tying a team postseason record. … Peterson had only 17 yards on eight carries in the second half. … Samuel has returned four interceptions for touchdowns in the playoffs, an NFL record. Willie Brown of the Raiders had three.

Ravens force 5 turnovers in 27-9 rout of Dolphins

MIAMI (AP) — The over-the-shoulder interception was enough to make the video highlights.
‘‘Like playing center field,’’ Ed Reed said.
His runback was just as special. The Baltimore Ravens safety eluded one tackler, then juked another as he cut back, finding a corridor to the end zone.
‘‘It felt like the 200 in track,’’ Reed said. ‘‘I don’t think I caught my breath until the third quarter.’’
Reed was out of breath, but the Ravens were in good shape and on the way to their first playoff win in seven years. They came up with four interceptions, including the one returned 64 yards for a touchdown by Reed, and beat the Miami Dolphins 27-9 on Sunday.
After throwing only seven interceptions during the regular season, the Dolphins’ Chad Pennington had four during a 22-minute flurry midway through the game.
‘‘We heard all week that they don’t turn the ball over,’’ linebacker Ray Lewis said. ‘‘But we force turnovers.’’
With a rookie coach in John Harbaugh and a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco, wild-card entrant Baltimore (12-5) won for the 10th time in 12 games and will play Saturday at AFC South champion Tennessee.
‘‘We don’t want the roll and the Ravens’ story to end here,’’ linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ‘‘We think we are a team of divine purpose.’’
The result put the brakes on this season’s remarkable resurgence by the Dolphins (11-6), who won the AFC East after going 1-15 in 2007. The playoff game was Miami’s first in seven seasons.
‘‘It has been a special year. That’s why it hurts so much,’’ Pennington said.
A soft schedule contributed to Miami’s turnaround, but there was nothing soft about the Ravens. They forced repeated mistakes by a team that tied an NFL record with only 13 turnovers during the regular season.
‘‘We were doing things we hadn’t done all year,’’ Miami coach Tony Sparano said.
Reed had two interceptions, and Jim Leonhard and Fabian Washington made one apiece. Suggs recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown. Pennington, playing his first game since being chosen the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, was sacked three times and faced constant pressure.
‘‘It always starts up front,’’ Ravens defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. ‘‘We had some favorable matchups, and we took advantage of them.’’
Baltimore’s secondary also had Miami overmatched. Pennington, who finished 25-for-38 for 252 yards, said the Ravens made good plays on three of the interceptions.
‘‘When you get down, you start to play in their hands, because they can start taking chances that they normally wouldn’t take,’’ Pennington said. ‘‘That’s kind of what happened.’’
Baltimore allowed just 52 yards rushing, and the Dolphins were limited to seven yards on two plays from the Wildcat, the innovative formation that helped jump-start their revival.
Field position hurt the Dolphins, who started consecutive possessions at their 20, 6, 20, 20, 20 and 2. But the biggest problem was Baltimore’s ball-hawking defense, which led the NFL during the regular season with 26 interceptions, including a league-high nine by Reed.
The Ravens’ defensive performance was reminiscent of their 27-13 victory at Miami in October. The Dolphins won nine of 10 after that to earn an improbable playoff berth.
After the Dolphins’ season ended, owner Wayne Huizenga said the architect of their turnaround, Bill Parcells, has decided to stay for another season.
‘‘It hasn’t been a good day, but it has been a great year,’’ Huizenga said.
Notes: Pennington’s four interceptions were a Miami postseason record. … Flacco completed two passes for 14 yards in the second half. … Miami went 2-for-11 on third and fourth down. … Baltimore held the ball for less than 27 minutes after leading the NFL in time of possession during the regular season.

NFL Playoff Glance
By The Associated Press
All Times EST
Wild-card Playoffs
Saturday, Jan. 3
Arizona 30, Atlanta 24
San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17, OT
Sunday, Jan. 4
Baltimore 27, Miami 9
Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 14
———
Divisional Playoffs
Saturday, Jan. 10
Baltimore at Tennessee, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
Arizona at Carolina, 8:15 p.m. (FOX)
Sunday, Jan. 11
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. (FOX)
San Diego at Pittsburgh, 4:45 p.m. (CBS)
———
Conference Championships
Sunday, Jan. 18
NFC
Arizona-Carolina winner vs. Philadelphia-N.Y. Giants winner (FOX), 3 p.m.
AFC
Baltimore-Tennessee winner vs. San Diego-Pittsburgh winner (CBS), 6:30 p.m.
———
Super Bowl
Sunday, Feb. 1
Tampa, Fla.
AFC vs. NFC, 6 p.m. (NBC)
———
Pro Bowl
Sunday, Feb. 8
At Honolulu
AFC vs. NFC, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)

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