- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | Ranging from their franchise quarterback to their intense safety, from an offensive tackle to the kicker, four Philadelphia Eagles have been with the team for at least a decade.

One of those players, Donovan McNabb, laughed Sunday when asked about how some of the team’s rabid fans want changes to be made, starting with him and including other veterans.

“The people who don’t really want to see us anymore will have to watch us for another week,” he said.

The Eagles continued their late-season surge and the group’s quest for a Super Bowl title with a surprising 23-11 NFC divisional playoff win against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. A last-place team at 5-5-1 on Thanksgiving night before they mauled Arizona, the Eagles earned a rematch with the Cardinals on Sunday in the desert for the NFC title. For the first time, none of the conference’s top three seeds reached this stage. The Cardinals crushed Carolina 33-13 on Saturday.

Safety Brian Dawkins (13th year), left tackle Tra Thomas (11th year) and McNabb and kicker David Akers (10th year apiece) will be making their fifth trip to the title game with the Eagles - and it’s probably the most improbable. For years, the Eagles were the team to beat, but they lost three consecutive years before beating Atlanta on Jan. 23, 2005.

“It’s really an exciting time for us,” said McNabb, who accounted for two touchdowns Sunday. “This is something that’s story book. We’ve been to five NFC title games in my 10 years, and that shows you the trust and the coaching that we have with Andy [Reid] and how everybody believes in one another. Given the opportunity, we believe we can take full advantage.”

The Eagles were in take-advantage mode against the Giants. When New York blew chances to score touchdowns in the first half, the Eagles pounced. When New York forgot to cover some players in the passing game, McNabb made them pay.

Limited to 34 yards on their first five drives, the Eagles posted a pair of long drives, and their defense got another interception from Asante Samuel to set up a touchdown, one of three takeaways. Samuels is a Philadelphia newcomer - he’s in his first year with the team - and he, along with the rest of the roster, looks to McNabb and Dawkins.

“It’s hard for me to look back and say which one team is better, but I can tell you that this team is the one with the most ups and downs throughout the year to make it [to the NFC title game],” Dawkins said. “We’ve had to do a lot of jelling and coming together and a lot of putting our hands over our ears when it comes to what is going on outside to be able to get to where we are.”

The Cardinals posted the most impressive win of the weekend, producing six turnovers and routing Carolina, which was 8-0 at home. And they did it without star receiver Anquan Boldin.

When Philadelphia started its turnaround against Arizona on Thanksgiving, the Cardinals were 7-4 and in control of the NFC West. The Eagles ruled that night 48-20 as Brian Westbrook accounted for two rushing and receiving touchdowns apiece. But Arizona clinched the division with a win against St. Louis the next weekend - and that’s when its problems started.

Minnesota 35, Arizona 14. New England 47, Arizona 7.

The Cardinals ended the regular season with a win against Seattle but were home underdogs to Atlanta and 10-point road underdogs to Carolina. Arizona won both games, scoring 63 points and averaging 358.5 yards.

“That team has continued to jell,” McNabb said. “Everybody talked about them not winning on the East Coast and that everybody expected them to lose by a lot in Carolina, but they won by a lot.”

It figures to be a high-scoring game despite the Eagles’ defense. That’s how dangerous the Cardinals are. Slow starts like the Eagles’ effort Sunday against New York will be costly.

“We know next week, playing against a team that doesn’t have a problem scoring points, we’ll have to dig deep on offense and score touchdowns,” McNabb said.

Said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie: “It didn’t look good at 5-5-1, but I was so surprised that we were even 5-5-1 - I couldn’t believe we were that kind of team. I had high expectations, and I’m just very proud of this group.”

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