Monday, December 28, 2009

Young Receivers Lead Eagles Over Broncos

Denver Broncos v Philadelphia Eagles

Jeremy Maclin made a spectacular catch to move the Eagles into field goal territory and David Akers pounded home the game winner with 4 seconds remaining to run the team's winning streak to six. A couple other young receivers shined earlier in the game to give the Eagles a large lead as Donovan McNabb carved up the 2nd rated Broncos defense, but their fortunes changed on an Asante Samuel interception in the 3rd quarter. After racing to a 27-10 lead and looking poised to make the game a blowout, the offense stalled and rookie Macho Harris' difficulties forced the Eagles to engineer a late game drive to prevail 30-27.

Like a week earlier, the contest was pretty much all Eagles in the first half. Despite facing a Broncos defense that was ranked 2nd against the pass, McNabb played masterfully, firing strikes all over the field while rolling up 242 yards. Brian Westbrook made his return and flashed a fresh set of legs that could prove highly beneficial in the post season, and his rookie mentor LeSean McCoy seemed inspired as he made a Westbrook-like sensational run on a screen pass.

Besides McNabb's impressive play, the biggest story in the half was Brent Celek's 121 yards receiving, including a 47-yard touchdown. With the Eagles already leading, Celek shook free on a double move, caught the ball in stride and raced down the right sideline to the end zone. DeSean Jackson, who was blanketed by All Pro cornerback Champ Bailey all day, managed to get free for a short TD catch.

After a Broncos field goal, the second half looked like it was going to be more of the same. McNabb led the Eagles on another touchdown drive, culminating with a 15-yard pass that Jason Avant snared after being tipped. With lead now extended to 27-10, Samuel thwarted a Broncos drive by picking off his 9th pass of the season and returned it to mid-field. Unfortunately, Harris was called for a late hit and the penalty brought the starting point all the way back inside the Eagles 5 yard line.

Just when it was looking like it was going to be a blowout, the momentum shifted dramatically. With little operating room, the Eagles went three and out, followed by a shanked Sav Rocca punt that gave the Broncos the ball on the 25. Five plays later the score was 27-17.

On the ensuing kickoff, Harris fumbled the ball away on the Eagles 16 and just 2 plays later the lead was narrowed to 27-24. McNabb and the offense lost the edge that they had earlier and could not get anything going. The Broncos eventually knotted the score 6 minutes into the 4th quarter after another shanked Rocca punt.

With the offense sputtering, the Eagles defense forced the Broncos to put and they took possession on the Broncos 42 with 1:41 remaining. One play later, McNabb hit the diving Maclin on a deep out that was initially ruled incomplete. After a booth review, the call was reversed as replays showed that Maclin caught the ball and drug both toes, resulting in a 28-yard completion. A few plays later, Akers connected on his third field goal to give the Eagles a dramatic win.

Denver Broncos v Philadelphia Eagles

Overall, the Eagles defense played better than the score might indicate. The two short punts, Harris fumble and a McNabb interception provided a short field for the Broncos, leading to 20 points. After bottling up the running game and quarterback Kyle Orton, the Broncos reverted to multiple flanker screens and short passes to move the ball and force the secondary to make tackles in space.

Of course, the biggest story line of the day was the return of one of the all-time great Eagles players, Brian Dawkins. His fire and physicality were present throughout the game, but otherwise, did not have a standout game. He clearly did not refrain from deploying his trademark hard hitting style.

The win keeps the possibility of the #2 seed open with a Vikings loss, but the NFC Eastern crown and gaining a bye will all ride on next week's finale in Dallas. The Cowboys took advantage of a Redskins team playing out the string last night to clinch a playoff spot and maintain their hopes of wresting away the division and possibly even getting a bye if the Vikings crash and burn.

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