For the first 38 minutes of their too-close-for-comfort, 30-27 win over the Denver Broncos, the Eagles' offense was running on all engines.
Seven possessions. Twenty-seven points. Three-hundred-thirty-five yards. Twenty first downs. Super Bowl XLIV, here they come.
A week after recording his lowest passer rating in a win in four seasons, Donovan McNabb was at the top of his game, completing 17 of his first 24 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns against a Broncos defense that entered the game ranked second in the league against the pass and had allowed just 15 touchdown passes in its first 14 games.
Then, as has been the case too often in the second halves of games this season, the fun stopped. The engines went dead.
"Offensively, we were on fire in the first half," coach Andy Reid said. "But in the second half, we were terrible."
On their final seven possessions after going up 27-10 on McNabb's 15-yard touchdown pass to Jason Avant with 7:09 left in the third quarter, the Eagles gained just 59 yards on 24 offensive plays. Punted on five of their final seven possessions. Fumbled away a kickoff return on a sixth. Had just two first downs, both of which came late and ended up helping salvage Win No. 11.
"We came out [in the second half] and turned the ball over [a McNabb interception early in the third quarter and a Macho Harris fumble late in the period] and things kind of snowballed from there," Reid said. "We're not a very good second-half team right now and we have to take care of that."
The Eagles have outscored teams, 273-142, in the first half this season. They've led at the half in 11 of their 15 games and have won all 11. But they haven't been nearly as effective in the second half. They've been outscored 100-72 in the third quarter, including 17-7 yesterday, and 171-156 in the final two quarters.
"They've got a good defense," tight end Brent Celek said of the Broncos. "They adjusted a little bit [at halftime]. But we have to play better in the second half. I don't know exactly what it is, but we do need to do better. We can't put stress on our defense like we did today."
The Broncos tied the game at 27 on a 46-yard field goal by Matt Prater with 6:05 left. The Eagles looked as if they were headed for another three-and-out series that would have given the ball back to Denver with good field position when McNabb alertly saw a seam up the middle and ran for a 27-yard gain on a third-and-25 from the Eagles' 15-yard-line.
They ended up punting on the series, but McNabb's run tilted the field-position battle in their direction.
When they got the ball back with 1:41 left in the fourth quarter, it was at the Denver 42. A makeable David Akers field-goal try was just a first down away.
After a 2-yard run by LeSean McCoy, rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin made a terrific 27-yard sideline catch that initially was ruled incomplete, but was reversed after an official review. Akers booted a 28-yard game-winner with 4 ticks left on the clock.
"We were in a good flow in the first half," McNabb said. "What we were doing, everybody was contributing. The Brent Celeks, the [Jason] Avants, the [DeSean] Jacksons. McCoy had a big screen. Everybody had a hand in it. In second half, we kind of got away from it. But we won. You've got to tip your hat off to [the Broncos]. We were rolling in first half. In the second half, it seemed like they brought everything. We made mistakes and miscues. We need to eliminate those."
To Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg for using DeSean Jackson on a third-and-1 Wildcat play late in the first quarter. You're asking for trouble using the 170-pound Jackson on direct-snap runs. He isn't really willing to cut it up inside and when he can't get around the corner, like he couldn't on that play, he's a sitting duck. He lost 3 yards on that play and limped off the field.
Did you notice
** On Elvis Dumervil's first-quarter sack of McNabb, which resulted in a fumble, he beat left tackle Jason Peters. The Eagles went with an empty backfield on the play, having the lone running back, Brian Westbrook, line up in the left slot.
** Juqua Parker could have had back-to-back sacks on the Broncos' second possession if he hadn't bought a Kyle Orton fake and jumped in the air to try to bat the pass.
** How easily Parker manhandled right tackle Tyler Polumbus on the very next play on his way to his seventh sack of the season.
** After Jamaal Jackson got hurt in the first quarter, right guard Nick Cole moved to center and Max Jean-Gilles replaced him at right guard.
** The effective screen by tight end Brent Celek on Broncos cornerback Tony Carter on McNabb's 2-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter. Jackson, who lined up in the right slot on the play, came across the formation behind Celek as Carter chased after him in vain.
** The horrible tackling on the Broncos' first touchdown. Cornerbacks Sheldon Brown and Joselio Hanson and safety Quintin Mikell all failed to wrap up Jabar Gaffney after he caught a short pass. He spun away from all three of them and walked into the end zone.
** Denver's Brandon Marshall caught eight passes, but managed just 39 yards on those eight receptions.
** The illegal-use-of-hands penalty on Broncos linebacker Wes Woodyard kept alive the Eagles' third-quarter touchdown drive. Instead of having to settle for a David Akers field goal, the penalty on a third-and-6 incompletion gave the Eagles a first down at the Denver 15. On the next play, McNabb hit Jason Avant with a touchdown pass.
** The impressive knockdown by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey on McNabb's third-and-8 pass to DeSean Jackson early in the fourth quarter.
By the numbers
** DeSean Jackson, who had no red-zone receptions in the first 13 games, has had a red-zone TD catch in each of the last two games.
** Brent Celek's 47-yard TD catch was the longest reception of his career.
** The Eagles had three false-start penalties (by Nick Cole, Winston Justice and Todd Herremans) after having just one in the previous four games.
** The Eagles failed to score on their first possession for just the sixth time this season.
** For the 11th time in 15 games, the Eagles led at the half (20-7). They are 11-0 when they've led at the half. They've outscored opponents, 273-142, in the first half. The Broncos outscored them, 17-7 in the third quarter. The Eagles have been outscored in the third period this season, 72-100.
** Donovan McNabb, who threw three touchdown passes, has thrown at least one in 10 straight games, tying his career high, which he did two previous times, the last in 2004 (including playoffs).
** The Eagles lost two fumbles after losing just seven in the first 14 games.
** For the first time in six games, the Eagles didn't have a rushing TD.
** The Broncos converted just five of 15 third-down opportunities. In 10 games against nondivision opponents, the Eagles' defense has held teams to a 27.2 percent success rate on third down (37-for-136). In five games against the NFC East: 43.0 percent (31-for-72).
** The Eagles sacked Kyle Orton three times, giving them 42 for the season. They've had more than three sacks just three times.
** The Broncos have 14 takeaways in their last five games, including three yesterday, but have won just two of those five games.
** The Eagles converted just two of five red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. They had been 8-for-12 in their previous three wins. In their 11 wins this season, they are 21-for-38 in the red zone. In their four losses: 4-for-13.
** With 121 yards on four catches, Brent Celek notched the Eagles' 10th 100-yard receiving performance of the season. It was Celek's third 100-yard game. DeSean Jackson has five, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant one each.
** In his last six games, DeSean Jackson has 34 receptions for 590 yards and five touchdowns.
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