Eagles, Ravens advance in NFL playoffs
AFP - Monday, January 5
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AFP) - - The Philadephia Eagles parlayed two big plays into a 26-14 victory over Minnesota to book a National Football League playoff showdown with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The Baltimore Ravens also advanced from the first round of NFL playoff action, defeating the Miami Dolphins 27-9 in an American Conference wild card game.
The Ravens advanced to a second-round clash with the Tennessee Titans.
In Sunday's National Conference contest in Minneapolis, Asante Samuel returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown and Brian Westbrook added a 71-yard score as the Eagles spoiled the Vikings' first home playoff game in eight years.
It was Samuel's fourth career playoff interception return for a touchdown - the most in NFL history.
David Akers booted four field goals for the Eagles, including a 51-yarder that was a franchise playoff record.
Adrian Peterson, the NFL's top rusher this season, had 20 carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns in his first postseason appearance for the Vikings.
The game was still up for grabs in the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Eagles took possession on their 29-yard line.
Westbrook then turned a simple screen pass into a 71-yard touchdown run, with the help of textbook blocking by his teammates.
"We weren't able to establish the run, but that screen came at the right time," Westbrook said.
"It was the first screen we ran all game," added Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, "and it exploded into the biggest play of the game."
Eagles quarterback McNabb finished 23-of-34 passing for 300 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
Westbrook totaled 121 total yards, just 38 coming on the ground.
Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, playing in his first postseason game, finished 15-of-35 passing for 164 yards and one interception.
In Miami, Baltimore's vaunted defense lived up to its billing to deny the Dolphins another chapter in what had been a storybook season.
Ed Reed returned an interception for a touchdown and the Ravens pressured quarterback Chad Pennington and the Dolphins into a string of turnovers.
Pennington's four interceptions were more than half his regular-season total of seven.
The Dolphins had won the competitive AFC East division in a dramatic turnaround from a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2007.
But they had no answer for the Ravens' stifling defense, which has held an opponent to 13 points or fewer 11 times this season.
The Dolphins committed a league-low 13 turnovers during the regular season, but had five against the Ravens.
"We heard all week that they don't turn the ball over," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But we force turnovers."
Reed, who led the league in interceptions with nine during the regular season, had two and notched his 12th career touchdown interception return and first in the postseason.
He gave the Ravens the lead for good when he seized on a wayward throw by Pennington and returned it 64 yards for a 10-3 lead with 2:30 to play in the first half.
"It felt like a 200 from track, so it took a while to catch my breath," Reed said. "I don't think I caught my breath until like the third quarter. It was fun."
Jim Leonhard and Fabian Washington also intercepted Pennington, who hadn't thrown more than one interception in a game this year.
Baltimore's Joe Flacco was an unspectacular 9-of-22 for 135 yards, but also rushed for a late touchdown as he became the eighth rookie quarterback to start a postseason game since 1966.
Pennington, who is in his first season with Miami after he was released by the New York Jets in August, threw for 252 yards on 25-of-38 passing with one touchdown.
"It has been a special year, that's why it hurts so much," Pennington said. "You want to keep it going and see how far you can take it."
In next weekend's other second-round games, Carolina host Arizona and Pittsburgh host San Diego.
Arizona and San Diego advanced on Saturday, while Carolina and Pittsburgh enjoyed first-round byes along with Tennessee and the Giants.
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