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Eagles grab playoff spot with 27-13 win

The Eagles are in the playoffs, but they won't be for long if they play the way they did today in the bone-chilling cold at Lincoln Financial Field.

Donovan McNabb scrambles for a first down in a 27-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers. ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer )
Donovan McNabb scrambles for a first down in a 27-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers. ( Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer )Read more

The Eagles are in the playoffs, but they won't be for long if they play the way they did today in the bone-chilling cold at Lincoln Financial Field.

Thanks to the Dallas Cowboys' win Saturday night in New Orleans, all the Eagles needed to do was win and they were in the postseason for the eighth time in coach Andy Reid's 11 seasons as head coach.

That mission was accomplished with a 27-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that allowed the Eagles, 10-4, to remain a game ahead of the second-place Cowboys in the NFC East.

Impressive it wasn't.

Sure, DeSean Jackson's star remained on the rise as the second-year receiver pulled in six more passes for 140 yards, scoring his 11th touchdown of the season in the process.

Sure, rookie running back LeSean McCoy had a terrific day, averaging 5.3 yards on his nine carries while breaking Correll Buckhalter's single-season rookie rushing record.

And, sure, the Eagles' winning streak stretched to five games, the team's longest since the end of the 2006 season when they last won a division title.

The problem was the Eagles made things a lot more difficult than they had to be and the veterans in the locker room were well aware that they can't play the way they did against the 49ers if they want to play on the first Sunday in February.

"Killer instinct [was lacking]," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "We had it for the first half, then we came out of the locker room and I don't know what happened."

The Eagles, after a David Akers field goal with two seconds left in the opening half, had a comfortable 20-3 lead and seemed to be on their way to a rout against an inferior opponent.

But that changed instantly at the start of the second half when Josh Morgan took the second-half kickoff 53 yards to the Eagles' 43-yard line, leading to a San Francisco field goal that cut the lead to 14 points.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb made the next big mistake when he tried to force his first pass of the second half to a well-covered Jackson and the result was an interception that 49ers veteran cornerback Dre Bly returned to the Eagles' 35-yard line.

Even after Trent Cole sacked quarterback Alex Smith for a 10-yard loss on first down, the 49ers managed to turn the McNabb interception into seven points. Smith found tight end Vernon Davis for a 15-yard gain on a fourth-and-five play, then two plays later connected for a 12-yard touchdown to Morgan that cut the Eagles' lead to seven points, adding an elevated level of discomfort to the wind-chilled crowd.

McNabb finished with respectable numbers, completing 21 of 36 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown, but he wasn't happy with himself afterward, especially about throwing two interceptions. The quarterback said he "absolutely" has to play better if the Eagles are to advance deep into the postseason.

"There were throws I would definitely want back," McNabb said. "It was uncharacteristic of myself. I was just trying to force some things. You have to be smart with the ball and I'll be very critical of myself watching the film. You don't want to get caught up in the whole forcing game. I think when you get caught up in the forcing game, things get real negative. I could have ran on the one Dre Bly had.

"We made some great plays out there, but there were some plays we left on the field."

As much as the Eagles made things more difficult on themselves this day, they did also have some highlights.

The defense, fresh off surrendering a season-high 512 yards to the New York Giants, bailed out the offense a few times and also came up with four takeaways, including three on interceptions.

After the Eagles failed to convert a fourth-and-one play from their own 29-yard line late in the first quarter, Brown made sure the 49ers didn't score by stripping the football from tight end Delanie Walker. Fellow cornerback Asante Samuel recovered, protecting the Eagles' 7-3 lead.

The offense responded with its best series of the day, driving 94 yards on nine plays for a touchdown that gave them a 14-3 lead. McNabb finished off that drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. It was his first rushing touchdown since opening day when he paid for the score in form of fractured ribs that kept him out of two games.

"We did get things back in the fourth quarter, but we can't have that little mental lapse," Brown said.

The Eagles regained control of the game early in the fourth quarter when the offense put together an eight-play, 89-yard drive. Fifty-nine of those yards came courtesy of a connection between McNabb and Jackson on a third-and-two play from the Eagles' 19-yard line.

"You have that confidence in that guy, but it all starts with [offensive coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg] having confidence that play will be successful," McNabb said.

The running game finished off the long drive. After fullback Leonard Weaver picked up 18 yards on three straight carries, McCoy fought his way into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that pushed the lead back to 14 points.

Snowballs started to fly around the Linc after that score eased the tension. The Eagles were back in the playoffs in a year when they've had to endure the loss of their defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and rely heavily on rookies like McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

"This may rank up there," Brown said. "I can remember the year we lost a lot of guys [in 2005], we went 6-10. We've lost a lot of key players this year on the defensive side of the ball and we're still in the hunt, obviously. It has to be one of those seasons where we've overcome adversity, so it's going to rank up there pretty high."

McNabb said nobody was overly excited about the playoff berth inside the locker room.

"It's an exciting time, but nothing to get overly excited about," McNabb said. "We're going to keep putting the pedal to the metal. Obviously, you want to put yourself in a position to make the playoffs, but one of our goals was to have a bye week and to win the NFC East and the only way we can do that is by winning the next two weeks."