Eagles, Vikings have plenty of doubters
Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 1:54 a.m.
PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles don't have Terrell Owens, haven't played a meaningful game in four weeks and finished the regular season with consecutive losses.
The Minnesota Vikings backed into the playoffs, losing seven of their last 10 games only to upset the Packers in Green Bay last weekend.
Momentum? Give it to the Vikings. Are the Eagles rusty? The answer will come today.
Philadelphia coach Andy Reid was criticized for holding running back Brian Westbrook and defensive end Jevon Kearse out of the final two games, playing quarterback Donovan McNabb just one quarter and resting most of the other starters for 1¶ games.
But after Owens went down with an ankle injury against Dallas on Dec. 19, Reid wasn't taking any chances, especially since the Eagles had clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC by starting 13-1.
''When you are in this position, you've got to make decisions and then live with the consequence of that decision,'' Reid said. ''I was put in the position to make a decision, and I did what I thought was best for this football team. Good or bad, I live with that consequence. I still believe in what I did and we will see how things work out on Sunday.''
The Eagles (13-3) are hoping to reach the NFC championship game for the fourth consecutive year after falling one victory short of the Super Bowl the last three seasons. Even without Owens, the flamboyant Pro Bowl wide receiver, they're still 8¶-point favorites to beat the Vikings (9-8).
McNabb, going to the Pro Bowl for the fifth straight year after the best season of his six-year career, is determined to lead Philadelphia and its mediocre corps of receivers - Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, Greg Lewis and Billy McMullen - to its first championship since 1960.
''When you're a kid, you're out in the backyard throwing the football with your dad or whoever and you're talking about being an NFL quarterback and that you're going to win a Super Bowl,'' McNabb said. ''We have an opportunity right now.''
Led by Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper and mercurial star receiver Randy Moss, the Vikings surprised many with their convincing 31-17 victory over Brett Favre and the Packers at Lambeau Field.
After all, this was a team that couldn't beat the Redskins in Washington in the final game of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth without needing outside help. The Vikings also lost in Arizona in the last game of the 2003 season to get eliminated from playoff contention.
''It's playoff time. That's where it came from. That's the bottom line - it's playoff time,'' Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins said. ''Put all that other stuff in the past. Regular season, all that other nonsense - it's finished and done with. It's playoff time, and when playoff time comes around, you've got to step your game up, and that's what we did.''
The Eagles beat the Vikings 27-16 on a Monday night in Week 2. Minnesota dominated the stat sheet, but hurt itself with costly penalties and a turnover at Philadelphia's 1.
Without Owens, the Eagles will rely heavily on McNabb and Westbrook, who gained 1,515 yards from scrimmage and scored nine TDs in 13 games. They're facing a Vikings defense that finished 28th in the league and allowed 24.7 points per game.
''I think the best is yet to come,'' McNabb said.
Minnesota's high-powered offense, which scored 405 points, is a tough test for the Eagles' defense, which allowed the fewest points (260) in the NFC. Receiver Nate Burleson and running backs Michael Bennett and Moe Williams give the Vikings multiple threats along with Culpepper and Moss.
They're going against a renowned defense that includes Kearse and four Pro Bowlers - middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, cornerback Lito Sheppard and safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis.
''We know that Philly's the class of the NFC, but we felt like when we played them earlier this year we hung with them and we played them tough,'' Vikings center Matt Birk said. ''At least we know we're in the same league as them.''
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