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Vikings crumble in Philadelphia

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005

 

  Philadelphia Eagles' L.J. Smith (82) fumbles the ball after being hit by Minnesota Vikings' Antoine Winfield (26) in an NFC Divisional playoff game in Philadelphia, Sunday Jan. 16, 2005. Eagles' Freddie Mitchell caught the fumble in the endzone for a touchdown. AP Photo/George Widman

Philadelphia Eagles' L.J. Smith (82) fumbles the ball after being hit by Minnesota Vikings' Antoine Winfield (26) in an NFC Divisional playoff game in Philadelphia, Sunday Jan. 16, 2005. Eagles' Freddie Mitchell caught the fumble in the endzone for a touchdown.

AP Photo/George Widman

PHILADELPHIA — Freddie Mitchell showed 'em why he's called ''Hollywood.''

In the Eagles' first meaningful game in nearly a month, the back-ups played like regulars and the supporting cast picked up the slack. Philadelphia wasn't rusty at all in making its fourth straight NFC championship game with a 27-14 romp Sunday over the self-destructing Minnesota Vikings.

Mitchell was the headliner. He more than filled in for All-Pro wide receiver and glamour guy Terrell Owens, who watched from a luxury box while nursing an injured ankle. He scored two touchdowns, and wasn't a bit shy about congratulating himself for playing the part of team celebrity.

''I'm a special player,'' he said, wearing an Indiana Jones hat and bow tie. ''I've just got to thank my hands for being so great. I've just been chillin' being patient, being humble. I knew my time was going to come.''

The bigger question: Has the Eagles' Super Bowl time finally come?

Philadelphia, which has lost three consecutive conference title games, the last two at home, hosts Atlanta next Sunday. The angst level this week in Philly will be off the scale as the Eagles attempt to get to their first Super Bowl in 24 years.

It's the first time a team has hosted three straight conference championships.

''We know what's at stake, we're a better team now,'' linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. ''This is our year.''

In the weak NFC, it just might be.

The Eagles (14-3) were in synch even though most starters barely played for nearly a month, and they didn't lack for big-play offense or defense.

''I guess we weren't too rusty,'' Donovan McNabb said after going 21-for-33 for 286 yards.

The Eagles got plenty of help from the Vikings (9-9), who showed exactly how they lost seven of their last 10 regular-season games to back into the playoffs. Minnesota's high-powered offense couldn't handle defensive end Jevon Kearse and Trotter.

The inept Vikings didn't exactly provide a test, but Michael Vick and the Falcons should be a more formidable hurdle.

''Mistakes, penalties at the wrong time, taking some points off the board, stopping a drive, having a nice play called back,'' said Vikings coach Mike Tice, rattling off Minnesota's miscues. ''We made some mistakes when we had a little bit of rhythm going. We didn't finish anything.''

While Philadelphia was getting two touchdowns from Mitchell — and one takeoff of Randy Moss' simulated mooning as Mitchell pretended to pull up his pants after his first score — it also benefited greatly from Vikings errors:

— An offensive lineman remaining on the field instead of Moss for a fake field goal, leaving no receivers to catch Gus Frerotte's pass.

— Several costly defensive penalties, including three pass interference calls totaling 78 yards.

— Two damaging interceptions thrown by Daunte Culpepper, who had 39 TD passes and only 11 picks during the season.

Mitchell got lucky on his second TD, catching a fumble by tight end L.J. Smith in the end zone.

''I want to say 'Hi' to all my new friends out there, those people who doubted me and the receivers,'' added Mitchell, who finished with five catches for 65 yards, each one a key play.

Under coach Andy Reid, the Eagles never have lost after a bye, and the regulars basically had three weeks of nonaction. It didn't hurt, and Philly led 14-0 44 seconds into the second quarter.

Mitchell caught a 2-yard pass from McNabb midway in the opening period, then did his reverse moon. Greg Lewis' graceful catch of a 52-yard throw set up Brian Westbrook's 7-yard TD reception, Westbrook's first postseason score; he was injured for last year's playoffs.

Moss, who was fined $10,000 by the NFL for his simulated mooning of the Green Bay crowd last weekend, was held to three catches for 51 yards. Culpepper was sacked three times and befuddled nearly the entire game.

''You try to play mistake-free football,'' Culpepper said. ''But when you do make mistakes, you got to do something to compensate for it.''

The Vikings gained more on one second-quarter play, a 40-yard pass to Marcus Robinson, than they managed in total before that. It sparked a drive that culminated in Culpepper's 7-yard scramble to make it 14-7.

But Minnesota immediately messed up again. J.R. Reed returned the kickoff to the Vikings' 46, then Minnesota was hit for two pass interference calls. From the 14, McNabb found Smith over the middle, and Smith fumbled at the 4 when hit by Antoine Winfield. The ball shot directly to Mitchell, who caught it in the end zone for his second score.

''That just goes to show you things are going our way,'' McNabb said.

Only Mitchell's fourth-and-26 reception in the playoffs against Green Bay last January was more meaningful. That catch pretty much got the Eagles to the NFC title game, where they lost to Carolina.

Mitchell didn't mock Moss this time, and Moss caught his first pass on the Vikings' next offensive play, a 15-yarder. That sparked a drive to the Philadelphia 3, where Minnesota botched the fake field goal with Tice and his staff screaming for a timeout they didn't get.

The Vikings damaged themselves again moments later. Chris Claiborne recovered Josh Parry's fumble at the Philadelphia 41, but he had stepped out of bounds and only got one foot back in when he picked up the ball. Philadelphia won a replay challenge, but didn't score on the drive.

On Minnesota's opening drive of the second half, third-string linebacker Ike Reese tipped Culpepper's pass to himself for a brilliant interception.

David Akers kicked two field goals, Westbrook had 117 total yards, Kearse and Trotter made stops all over the field.

Minnesota got a 32-yard TD reception by Nate Burleson with 1:59 remaining. By then, Philly's thoughts had turned to Vick and the Falcons.



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