- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

PHILADELPHIA Last night's much-hyped Donovan McNabb-Michael Vick matchup went from an early knockout to a tense struggle before McNabb's Philadelphia Eagles held on for a 20-6 NFC divisional playoff victory over Vick's upstart Atlanta Falcons at Veterans Stadium.
The win gave the Eagles a second straight appearance in the NFC Championship game. And unlike last January's 29-24 loss in St. Louis, this one will be at the Vet next Sunday against the winner of today's San Francisco-Tampa Bay contest. It has been 22 years since the Eagles last won an NFC title and advanced to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles who are 8-1 at home this year eliminated the Bucs in first-round playoff games here the previous two seasons and crushed the 49ers on Nov.25 behind backup quarterbacks Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley. Next Sunday's game will be the last for the Eagles at the Vet after 32 seasons. The team will move across the street to Lincoln Financial Field.
The outcome last night was very much in doubt until 6:26 remained. That's when halfback Duce Staley upended Falcons linebacker Chris Draft, giving McNabb time to find receiver James Thrash, who beat a weak tackle attempt by cornerback Ray Buchanan and dashed 35 yards for the touchdown that sealed the victory.
"We tried to stay aggressive [all night], and that's what we did there," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. "If we didn't get it on third down, we knew what we were going to do."
It took just two plays for McNabb the role model for versatile quarterbacks before first-year starter Vick put on his dynamic show this season to prove he was fully recovered from a broken right ankle that sidelined him the last six games. Backed into his end zone, McNabb got away from blitzing safety Gerald McBurrows, evaded Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking and scooted for 19 yards as the rowdy crowd went wild.
"It was a gritty win. We were able to pull the thing through," Reid said.
Meanwhile, Vick actually looked like the 22-year-old second-year player he is. Cornerback Bobby Taylor picked off his underthrown pass for Shawn Jefferson and returned it 49 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:58 left in the first quarter.
"It wasn't so much because we wanted to make sure Michael Vick didn't get out of the pocket, we just played aggressive like we always do. We don't read a lot, we attack," Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon said.
Vick finished 21 of 37 for 261 yards and two interceptions and 30 rushing yards on six carries.
The Falcons' next possession was a three-and-out, and then McNabb, having already displayed his trademark elusiveness, showcased his strong arm. He hit tight end Chad Lewis over the middle for 15 yards and connected with receiver Todd Pinkston in stride to the Atlanta sideline for 24 yards. Four plays later, David Akers kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
"Donovan coming back, what a great job he did," Reid said of McNabb, who finished with 247 yards passing. "He started fast and finished fast."
When the Falcons got the ball back, Vick was flagged for intentional grounding as he tossed the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack by Pro Bowl defensive Hugh Douglas. Halfback Warrick Dunn pulled out the first down by taking a screen pass 17 yards on third-and-16, but Atlanta's series ended when Pro Bowl player Simon stopped burly rookie runner T.J. Duckett cold on third-and-1.
The Eagles' dominance continued on their next drive, which began at their 14. On second-and-8, McNabb hit Thrash for 42 yards in front of the Philadelphia bench as cornerback Juran Bolden's left knee crumpled. Bolden was carted off, following safety Keion Carpenter who had gone to the locker room with a jammed neck on the opening play.
Three straight McNabb completions put the Eagles on the 24, but they had to be satisified with another Akers field goal, this one from 39 yards. That pushed the lead to 13-0 with 10:05 remaining in the second quarter.
The Eagles' defense continued to rattle Vick as Simon dropped the young quarterback for a 10-yard loss on Atlanta's next possession. However, Vick kept his poise and picked up the first down with throws of 10 yards to tight end Reggie Kelly and 23 to wideout Quentin McCord.
Dunn beat the blitzing Eagles for 11 more yards and his 7-yard run put the ball on the Philadelphia 42. Vick then scrambled for four yards on third-and-3 and Dunn carried twice for 12 yards. However, blitzing safety Blaine Bishop forced Vick to throw the ball away on third-and-6 at the 15 and Atlanta had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Jay Feely with 4:10 to go in the half.
The Falcons closed within 13-6 on the final play of the half when Feely pounded a 52-yarder through the uprights to complete a 45-yard, 10-play drive on which Vick converted third downs qith passes to Dunn and receiver Brian Finneran.

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