EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After Ron Dixon knocked the wind out of the Philadelphia Eagles on the opening kickoff, Jason Sehorn and the New York Giants defense never let them recover.
Dixon raced almost untouched for 97 yards and Sehorn tipped a ball to himself and scored on a spectacular 32-yard interception return as the Giants defeated the Eagles 20-10 on Sunday to advance to the NFC title game for the first time since 1990.
This trip might be the most unexpected for the Giants, who didn't start playing well until coach Jim Fassel guaranteed late in the season that they would make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
The win over the Eagles was similar to the Giants' two other victories over Philadelphia this season. New York contained quarterback Donovan McNabb and came up with the big plays.
''It's fortunate that everybody plays badly when we play against them,'' Sehorn said sarcastically. ''We're not a very good football team.'
The Giants (13-4) will face Minnesota (12-5) here next week for the right to go to Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 28 for the Super Bowl. The Vikings beat New Orleans 34-16 on Saturday.
''I'm not satisfied yet,'' said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who had two of the team's six sacks. ''They're a very good team. They're very explosive and make more plays than anybody. We have our work cut out for us.''
The victory was the Giants' sixth straight since Fassel's guarantee, but this one was by far their worst performance in the streak.
Luckily, it came against a team New York has dominated since Fassel took over four years ago. The Giants have beaten the Eagles nine straight times, including three this season.
Still, New York played well enough to celebrate this one with 1:54 to play by showering Fassel on the sideline.
''We put those other games behind,'' Eagles cornerback Al Harris said of their struggles against New York. ''Those two big plays that they had were really the difference in the game.''
The Giants tried to be generous against the Eagles (12-6) this time, turning the ball over three times, but Sehorn, Strahan and the rest of the defense again confounded McNabb. He rushed for only 17 yards on five carries and lost 41 yards because of the sacks as the Eagles were limited to 186 total yards.
''We forced him to be a pocket passes,'' Sehorn said. ''That's not their scheme. Their scheme is to move him around and do a lot of things with him. He is a gifted player. You want to put him in one and we made him stay in one place.''
McNabb, who was 20-for-41 for 181 yards and one interception, didn't get Philadelphia to the end zone until a blocked punt set up a 10-yard TD pass to Torrance Small. But the Giants recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Giants, who were limited to 237 total yards, did not play the Vikings this season. But this will be a grudge match for New York, which was eliminated from the playoffs in 1997 by Minnesota after blowing a nine-point lead in the final 1:38 of a wild-card game.
The Giants needed only 17 seconds to show the Eagles that things would be no different in this game, which was played on a rather pleasant day with temperatures in the upper 30s.
Dixon, who was suspended for a game against the Steelers on Dec. 10 for oversleeping for a team meeting, had little trouble answering the bell for this one. He fielded David Akers' kick at the 3-yard line, went straight through a gaping hole in the middle and sprinted into the end zone after running around Akers at the Giants' 40-yard line.
''This was a special game, and I just wanted to make a special play,'' Dixon said.
The defense set up the next 10 points.
Shaun Williams forced a fumble by Small late in the first quarter and Dave Thomas recovered at the Eagles' 34. Six plays later, Brad Daluiso kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. He added a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Sehorn broke the Eagles' back with 1:40 left in the half with a highlight-film interception. He dived in front of Small on an out pattern, momentarily got his hands on the ball, then tipped it in the air and caught it. He quickly got up and ran for the touchdown, making one fake at the 20.
''I have never seen an interception as good as that one,'' Fassel said. ''That was tremendous athleticism in making the play, but our defense was strong. I have seen our defense play well at times, but I don't think I've seen our defense take over a game like that.''
The Eagles' best chance to get back into the game came in the third quarter when Amani Toomer, subbing on punt returns for Tiki Barber, fumbled and Mike Bartrum recovered at New York's 32.
McNabb drove Philadelphia to the Giants 13, but he didn't come close on a third-down pass, and Akers hooked a 31-yard field goal attempt wide right.
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