The cold didn’t knock the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the playoffs. Donovan McNabb did.
McNabb ran for a touchdown and threw for two more to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to 21-3 victory over Tampa Bay in an NFC wild-card game today, sending them on to the Meadowlands to play the New York Giants next weekend.
Cold Weather Breakdown
For the Bucs, who hoped to become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium, it was a disappointing end to a 10-7 season that started with title hopes.
It also continued a string that has plagued them even as they became one of the NFC’s best teams: They’re now 0-20 when gametime temperatures were under 40 degrees, including three losses this season. It was 34 Sunday, the wind chill was 11 and the wind was swirling up to 30 mph.
The winning formula for the Eagles was the same one that improved them to 11-5 this season after they went 8-24 the previous two years — defense and Donovan.
McNabb, runner-up to Marshall Faulk for the NFL’s MVP award, played much of the game as if the weather was balmy. He finished 24-of-33 for 161 yards and ran for 32 yards on eight carries, and was at his best as he quarterbacked the Eagles to two touchdowns in a span of 3:21 late in the first half that gave Philadelphia control of the game.
Defense Comes Through
Still, the defense, led by Hugh Douglas, jump-started the Philadelphia offense. And it was the defense that shut down Tampa Bay after McNabb’s only mistake, an interception by Donnie Abraham at the Philadelphia 48 early in the fourth quarter. But the Bucs gained just 4 yards and had to punt.
With the Bucs leading 3-0 late in the second quarter and the wind in their favor, Shaun King dropped back to pass on a third-and-19 from his own 25. He was sacked by Douglas, fumbled and Mike Mamula recovered for Philadelphia at the 15.
Four plays later, McNabb took the snap on a third-and-goal from five, cut through the line and swerved right for the Eagles’ first score.
That came with 3:21 left in the half and seemed to take all the oomph out of the Bucs—they never played well again, on offense or defense.
Philadelphia got the ball back with 1:43 left in the half. Going into the wind, common sense suggested they sit on the ball. Instead, McNabb hit Brian Mitchell for 11 and 13 yards to start the drive that ended when he found Na Brown for a 5-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left in the half.
Then McNabb used up the first 7:44 of the second half going into the wind, a drive that ended with David Akers missing a 36-yard field-goal attempt. Tampa Bay had the ball for only 2:42 in the third quarter.
McNabb clinched the game with a 2-yard TD pass to Jeff Thomason 45 seconds into the fourth quarter at the end of a 10-play, 57-yard drive.
Tough Task Ahead
The win by the Eagles means the four teams left in the NFC were a combined 25-39 last season. Only Minnesota (10-6) had a winning record. The Giants were 7-9, the Eagles 5-11 and New Orleans was 3-13.
Philadelphia’s task could be tougher on the road next week.
The Giants, top seed in the NFC, beat the Eagles 33-18 and 24-7, the only two games all season that Philadelphia had no chance to win late.