McNabb doesn't miss a beat
Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 12:52 a.m.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Donovan McNabb is doing just fine. Michael Vick still has a few lessons to learn.
McNabb made a triumphant return from a broken ankle to lead Philadelphia past Vick's Atlanta Falcons 20-6 Saturday night, putting the Eagles within a victory of their first Super Bowl in 22 years.
The game was billed as a matchup between two of the game's shining stars: McNabb, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, against the guy he once showed around the Syracuse campus.
Vick's eye-popping speed and prodigious arm may one day carry him to heights higher than McNabb, but not on this frigid night at the "Concrete Jungle." Crusty ol' Veterans Stadium, occupied by 66,452 towel-waving fans, will hang around for one more game, the NFC championship next Sunday against either Tampa Bay or San Francisco.
The Eagles defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone, and McNabb, playing his first game since Nov. 17, did just enough on offense to earn the top-seeded Eagles at least another game.
McNabb, who had not played in nearly two months, showed right away that his right ankle was OK.
On Philadelphia's second offensive play, he scrambled to his right, raced past Keith Brooking and scooted out of bounds with a 19-yard run.
But the Falcons, after falling behind 13-0, made a game of it until McNabb sealed the victory with 6:26 remaining.
On fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 35, McNabb got some huge blocks up front to hold off the blitzing Falcons and threw to James Thrash, who spun away from Ray Buchanan and raced all the way to the end zone for the only offensive touchdown of the night.
McNabb completed 20 of 30 for 247 yards.
Vick, who made the Pro Bowl in his first year as a starter, was sacked three times and threw two interceptions - one that was returned for Philadelphia' first touchdown.
The 22-year-old quarterback finished 22 of 38 passing for 274 yards. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries.
In the third quarter, Vick turned on his afterburners and appeared to tie the game up for the Falcons.
On second down from the Philly 20, Vick dropped back to pass but found a seam up the middle. He took a vicious hit from Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins but ricocheted into the end zone for an apparent TD.
With both players sprawled on the field, the crowd's groans turned to cheers when they spotted a yellow flag back downfield. A holding penalty against Travis Claridge negated the score; two plays later, Jay Feely missed a 37-yard field goal that seemed to sap some life out of the Falcons.
Otherwise, the Philadelphia defense, with four Pro Bowlers, came up huge against one of the NFL's highest-scoring offenses.
The Falcons, who became the first visiting team ever to win a playoff game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field last weekend, failed to score a touchdown for only the second time all season.
At the end, the field was circled by dozens of police motorcycles, lights blinking. But there was no need to hold off the crowd, which filed out with "Philadelphia Freedom" blaring on the loudspeaker. This was merely a preliminary - nothing less than a trip to the Super Bowl will do for a team that lost in the NFC title game a year ago.
Vick made a huge mistake on Atlanta's second possession.
Under pressure from Darwin Walker, Vick failed to spot an open receiver in the middle of the field and tried to hit Shawn Jefferson along the sideline. The ball was badly overthrown and landed right in the arms of Bobby Taylor, who sprinted 39 yards the other way for a touchdown. Vick showed he's a better quarterback than a defender, making a weak attempt to corral Taylor at the goal line.
Maybe it was good thing Vick didn't try to make the tackle. The game took a huge toll on the Falcons' defense, which had two key losses in the secondary in the first half.
Free safety Keion Carpenter jammed his neck when making a helmet-on-helmet hit on Duce Staley, a blow so jarring that it knocked Staley back into the end zone. He scrambled out to avoid a safety while Carpenter was crumpled on the turf.
On the first play of the second quarter, cornerback Juran Bolden collapsed while trying to defend Thrash on a deep pass. Thrash made a 42-yard reception, while Bolden was carted off with a torn patella tendon in his right knee.
The Eagles had the Vet roaring when they built a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter, the product of Taylor's TD and two field goals by David Akers.
But Vick guided the Falcons on a crucial 13-play, 61-yard drive that turned the momentum. Feely hit a 34-yard field goal with 4:10 left in the half.
After forcing a punt, Atlanta got the ball back at its own 21 with 1:49 remaining. Vick ran a couple of times for 20 yards, then hit former Philadelphia receiver Brian Finneran for a 16-yard gain over the middle. On the final play of the half, Feely connected on a 52-yard field goal that brought the Falcons within a touchdown heading to the locker room.
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