Eagles breeze by Browns
The easy part is out of the way for the Eagles.
The easy part is out of the way for the Eagles.
A short week and two NFC East rivals await them.
Having disposed of the lowly Cleveland Browns, 30-10, tonight at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles remained very much alive in an NFC wild-card race that didn't look like it would include them three weeks ago when quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched in Baltimore.
The Eagles, 8-5-1 and riding a three-game winning streak, trail Dallas, Atlanta and Tampa Bay with two games remaining.
Faced with a short week, the Eagles have a road game at Washington on Sunday before concluding the season a week later at home against the Dallas Cowboys. The margin for error remains zero.
Speaking of errors, the Eagles made more than a few against the Browns, but they made far more big plays, getting two touchdown passes from McNabb, an interception return for a touchdown by Asante Samuel and three field goals from David Akers.
McNabb continued his personal resurrection by completing 74 percent of his passes (26 of 35) for 290 yards. He did throw an interception that cost the Eagles points just before halftime, but it's clear the quarterback is playing with a renewed confidence since one of the darkest days of his career in Baltimore.
"They don't remember how you play early in the season," McNabb said. "They always remember how you are playing toward the end, and hopefully things will work out well."
In the three games since McNabb was benched, he has completed 72 of 104 passes for 741 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing just one interception. His passer rating in those three games is 107.9.
"This is what Donovan McNabb is all about," coach Andy Reid said. "This is the kind of person he's always been. He was doing some things before with the turnovers and that just wasn't him. That's not how he plays."
McNabb used all weapons at his disposal in this game, connecting with nine receivers. Jason Avant got the most attention with five catches for a career-high 101 yards. Kevin Curtis and Greg Lewis caught touchdown passes.
With the Eagles up by 30-3 in the fourth quarter, McNabb was benched again, but this time it was only to allow Kevin Kolb to perform mop-up duty.
"I think what happened to Donovan has something to do with the way we're playing," Avant said. "When we saw him get benched because of how we were playing as a team, we all picked up our play."
After leaning heavily on running back Brian Westbrook in the previous two games, the Eagles were able to lighten his workload in this rout, which could be beneficial given that he has one fewer day to recover for the Eagles' game against the Redskins. Westbrook ran 16 times for 53 yards. Correll Buckhalter returned from a knee injury and contributed six carries for 55 yards.
Even though the Eagles still need help - a Minnesota win over Atlanta Sunday would be beneficial - to make the playoffs, Reid said that cannot be his team's major concern.
"We've got two very good teams coming up," Reid said. "They are teams that beat us earlier in the season. I hope we're paying attention to the scoreboard of the game we're playing. That's the only thing we can control."
Reid, however, said he talks to Vikings coach Brad Childress on a weekly basis, and no one would be surprised if he gave his offensive coordinator a hint or two about the Falcons this week.
The Eagles went into the locker room at halftime with a 17-3 lead, but they didn't go in with momentum because they botched a chance to put the game away.
After going from their own 34-yard line to the Cleveland 1, the Eagles used their final time-out of the half and called a fade pattern from McNabb to Hank Baskett. Even if it had worked, it wouldn't have counted because the Eagles were flagged for being in an illegal formation.
The play, however, was a monumental failure.
Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald fronted Baskett, picked off McNabb's pass, and it appeared as if for the third time this season and the second straight week that the Eagles were going to end a half by watching the defensive side go into the end zone for a touchdown.
The combination of Westbrook and Baskett at least prevented that from happening. Westbrook slowed McDonald down deep in Eagles territory and Baskett pulled down the Browns' cornerback at the 7-yard line for a 98-yard return to end the first half.
It was the second time in the first half that the Eagles got inside the Browns' 10-yard line without scoring.
Midway through the second quarter, the Eagles had a first and goal from the Cleveland 8 after a 25-yard pass from McNabb to rookie DeSean Jackson. Faced with a third and goal from the 7, the Eagles went into their version of the Wildcat formation, with Jackson taking a direct snap from center.
Given the option to run or pass, Jackson opted to throw for the first time in his NFL career.
"It'll be the last time, too," Reid said.
Jackson's intended receiver was Baskett, but Browns safety Sean Jones intercepted the throw in the end zone.
It wasn't all bad for the Eagles in the opening half.
Cornerback Asante Samuel made up for Jackson's interception on the Browns' ensuing offensive possession with his fourth interception of the season. With quarterback Ken Dorsey under pressure from defensive end Chris Clemons, Samuel stepped in front of former Eagles wide receiver Donté Stallworth and picked off the pass at midfield.
Samuel had a clear path to the end zone for his fourth career touchdown, although he made it an adventure by flipping the ball away a yard before he crossed the goal line. The cornerback had the good sense to pick up the ball in the end zone, guaranteeing that he did not exactly duplicate the rookie mistake made by Jackson on the Eagles' previous Monday Night Football appearance this season in Dallas.
That score gave the Eagles a 17-3 lead, but led to some grief for Samuel once he got to the sideline.
"A couple of guys were saying stuff to me on the sideline," Samuel said. "D. Jack told me I almost pulled a D. Jack. I guess I didn't quite get there and I dropped the ball. But then I picked it up and got my TD."
Reid wasn't amused.
"Obviously, I only thought it would happen one time," Reid said. "Two times can't happen."
McNabb completed 15 of 21 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in the opening half. The quarterback led the offense on an eight-play, 64-yard drive to open the game, finishing it off with a nicely thrown 14-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Curtis.
Cleveland countered with a 63-yard drive of its own, but the Browns had to settle for a field goal after tight end Darnell Dinkins dropped a third-down Dorsey pass that probably would have resulted in a touchdown.
The Eagles remained in control the rest of the evening, but they made mistakes that they probably cannot afford in the final two weeks against Washington and Dallas. The easy part is over.