Big Apple bounced
Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
PHILADELPHIA — Some of his teammates couldn't watch David Akers when he lined up for the winning kick, preferring to let the crowd's reaction tell them the outcome.
Given recent events around the NFL, nobody could blame them.
The fans' roar gave them the news — snap, hold and kick were perfect this time.
Akers hit a 38-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the Philadelphia Eagles a 23-20 victory over the New York Giants in a wild-card playoff game Sunday.
A day after Dallas lost to Seattle when quarterback Tony Romo fumbled the hold on what could have been a go-ahead field goal, snapper Jon Dorenbos and holder Koy Detmer executed the seemingly routine play that has cost teams important games in recent weeks.
"Koy said, 'Those posts look big, don't they?'Ê" Akers said. "I said, 'Don't worry. We're going to be celebrating in a minute.'Ê"
Brian Westbrook, playing through stomach cramps that often sent him to the sidelines, had 141 yards rushing, including a spectacular, slashing 49-yard TD run in the second quarter. His 65-yard punt return for an apparent score in the third quarter was nullified by a penalty on rookie Torrance Daniels.
Jeff Garcia threw for 153 yards, one touchdown and played efficiently enough to win for the sixth time in seven starts since replacing an injured Donovan McNabb.
Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress, including an 11-yard strike that tied it at 20 with 5:04 left.
In his last game, Tiki Barber ran for 137 yards for the Giants. A three-time Pro Bowl running back, Barber plans to retire after 10 seasons in the NFL.
"This was one of the hardest places I've ever played in," Barber said. "It was fitting to come down here and play my last game."
The Eagles are far from finished, though.
Counted out after a knee injury ended McNabb's season in Week 11, the Eagles (11-6) have won six straight games. They'll play at New Orleans (10-6) next Saturday night.
The Giants overcame a second-and-30 on their tying scoring drive as Manning completed consecutive passes of 18, 14 and 11 yards to Burress.
But the Eagles drove right down the field, mixing in short passes and Westbrook runs.
That set up Akers' winning kick, a moment with a little extra drama in the wake of the botched hold in the Dallas-Seattle game and a bad snap on a critical extra point in a late-season game between Cincinnati and Denver.
"Kicking balls are very, very slick," Akers said. "That might be something that needs to be addressed. A lot of people take the snap, hold and kick for granted. It just shows you how technical that is."
Detmer, the longtime backup quarterback signed this week specifically to be the holder, had no trouble putting the snap down for Akers. Dorenbos replaced injured long-snapper Mike Bartrum last month.
"Being a holder for the amount of time I've been, you realize there's nothing given," Detmer said. "None of them are guaranteed. You have to make it happen."
Led by Garcia and a rejuvenated defense, Philadelphia turned its season around after a 24-point loss in Indianapolis, captured its fifth division title in six years and earned the No. 3 seed in the conference.
Meanwhile, the dysfunctional Giants (8-9) fell apart after a 6-2 start. They lost four in a row and six of seven before a win at Washington last week put them in the playoffs.
While the Eagles moved within one victory of their fifth trip to the NFC championship game in six years, the Giants face an uncertain offseason. Besides Barber, coach Tom Coughlin might not be back, and the embattled Manning probably will hear more criticism after failing to win a playoff game for the second straight year. The Giants lost at home to Carolina last season.
Manning was 16-of-27 for 161 yards, two TDs and one interception. Garcia was 17-of-31.
"I'm not concerned," Coughlin said about his future.
The Eagles went ahead 17-10 late in the second quarter on Garcia's 28-yard TD pass to Donte' Stallworth. Garcia completed 6-of-7 passes on the drive, capping it with a perfect strike to Stallworth, who beat cornerback R.W. McQuarters.
Akers kicked a 48-yard field goal — the longest in the playoffs in team history — to give Philadelphia a 20-10 lead with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
Jay Feely's 24-yarder cut it to 20-13 early in the fourth.
After going three-and-out on their first three drives, the Eagles finally got it going on their fourth possession. Garcia scrambled seven yards up the middle on third-and-6 for a first down. Two plays later, Westbrook electrified the frenzied crowd at Lincoln Financial Field with a run for the highlight reels.
Westbrook burst through the line, bounced outside, kept his balance after getting tripped, cut back inside at the 20, reversed direction at the 15 and sprinted toward the end zone pylon to tie it at 7.
On the ensuing possession, Sheldon Brown intercepted Manning's pass for Burress and the offense started at the Giants 37. The Eagles had a first down at the 4, but settled for Akers' 19-yard field that made it 10-7.
Barber's 41-yard run to the Eagles 3 put New York in position to go ahead. But Philadelphia's defense tightened and Feely kicked a 20-yard field goal to make it 10-10.
New York's offense was crisp at the start. Manning capped a 67-yard drive with a 17-yard TD pass to a wide-open Burress across the middle. Burress also had a 29-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage. Notes: Eagles Pro-Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard dislocated his right elbow in the fourth quarter. His status is uncertain for next week. ... The Eagles snapped a five-game losing streak to division opponents in the playoffs. ... Barber had 126 yards rushing combined in the two regular-season meetings. ... Giants backup QB Jared Lorenzen, who is listed at 285 pounds, converted a third-and-1 with a sneak on the opening drive.
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