Eagles 21 - Buccaneers 3 Cold Warriors Mcnabb And Birds Roll Into Round 2

Posted: January 01, 2001

It was supposed to be the end, wasn't it? It was supposed to be the day when an Eagles team seemingly cobbled together with chicken wire and chewing gum would be humbled.

What happened instead just added sparkle to this diamond of a season.

From start to finish, the Eagles put on a dominating show for 65,813 towel-waving fans at frigid Veterans Stadium yesterday, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 21-3, in a remarkably one-sided NFC wild-card game that served as further proof that the Birds are for real.

FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED JANUARY 3, 2001, FOLLOWS: An Inquirer story Monday published the wrong date for the last playoff game at Veterans Stadium. The last Eagles home playoff game was in 1995.

And quite a sight it was. By the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were in full celebration. Linebacker Mike Caldwell was atop the bench, waving a towel. Linebacker Ike Reese was dancing. Hollis Thomas was sharing laughs on the bench with fellow defensive tackle Corey Simon.

Meanwhile, safety Brian Dawkins, who later did some towel-waving himself, was moving back and forth along the sideline, strutting and bouncing and hopping, soaking it all in.

"I was in another zone," said Dawkins, a winner in the first playoff game of his career. "The feeling I had - man! I just felt like the game was moving so slow. It was like somebody was hitting the 'pause' button, then 'play,' then 'pause,' then 'play.' That's how the game was for me today."

It had to be like that for many of the other Eagles, too. Every Tampa Bay mistake was an Eagles victory, from quarterback Shaun King's second-quarter fumble, which set up a dart-and-dash 5-yard touchdown run by Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, to cornerback Donnie Abraham's biting on the move that resulted in Na Brown's touchdown reception.

And that all happened in the second quarter. After that, it was 14-3.

Holding the lead, the Eagles went to running back Chris Warren, who a month ago was toiling as a backup for the Dallas Cowboys. Warren ran 20 times for 75 yards after halftime and finished with 85 yards on 22 carries. The Eagles held the ball for almost 22 of the game's final 30 minutes, thwarting any hopes the Buccaneers had of making a comeback.

"It's always a blessing," Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent said of winning a playoff game. "You just never know when you're going to make it back. You cherish the moment."

Next for the Eagles, on Sunday, are their nemeses, the New York Giants, who supposedly hold a curse over them. The Birds will hear this week about how the Giants have beaten them eight consecutive times and how the Giants twice dominated them this season. The talk will seem to sully the Eagles' accomplishments this season, make a team that has won 12 of 17 games seem like one that is extremely vulnerable.

"Back to being the underdog," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said.

Being underdogs in their first home playoff game since 1995 didn't bother the Eagles yesterday. In a matchup of fine defenses, the Birds were superior.

The Eagles entered the game with a main objective of stopping running back Warrick Dunn. They figured that if Dunn was limited, King would have to beat them.

Dunn finished with 1 yard on eight carries. And King was ineffective. He finished 17 for 31 for 171 yards, but a chunk of that yardage came in the fourth quarter, when the outcome had been decided.

By comparison, McNabb, like King a member of the NFL's quarterback class of 1999, finished 24 for 33 for 161 yards. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for one.

He did everything the Eagles needed him to do.

"He has more ability, in my mind, than any quarterback I've ever seen," said teammate Brian Mitchell, an 11-year veteran.

The Eagles trailed by 3-0 with about 4 1/2 minutes to go in the second quarter when King made the turnover that transformed the game.

King was in the shotgun formation on third and 19 at the Bucs' 25-yard line when defensive end Hugh Douglas sacked him. The ball popped out of his hands, and defensive end Mike Mamula recovered the fumble 15 yards from the end zone.

Douglas had beaten left tackle George Hegamin - a former Eagle - before eluding a feeble block by Dunn and nailing King.

"I think [fullback] Mike Alstott was supposed to come in on that play [to block Douglas]," Dunn said. "I am capable of blocking him, but I just didn't do a good job. He overpowered me."

McNabb followed with a 10-yard scramble. Then, after two failed passes, he darted right to left, found an opening, and dived into the end zone. The Eagles were ahead by 7-3 with 3:19 to go in the first half.

On their next possession, the Bucs were shut down on three possessions. When the Eagles got the ball back with 1:43 remaining in the half, they went down the field with precision on an eight-play, 69-yard drive that took 91 seconds, with McNabb completing three passes to Mitchell. It ended with McNabb's 5-yard pass to Brown.

"It felt like a big relief," said Brown, who has been used sparingly and was hampered by injury early this season. "I felt like I finally did something to help us win."

Both head coaches said that the sequence in the final four minutes before halftime changed the game.

"Any time you can do that before halftime, that sticks the other team a little knife there," said Andy Reid, the second-year Eagles coach, after winning his first playoff game.

Bucs coach Tony Dungy noted that his team, which is now 0-20 in games played in temperatures below 40 degrees, lost spunk after King's fumble. It never regained any momentum or stability with the Eagles' offense eating up the clock and its own offense finishing with only 199 total yards.

"We didn't match the energy that they got from that play," Dungy said. "When you go on the road in the playoffs, you have to be able to step up and match the energy and you have to be tough-minded mentally."

The Eagles' lead grew to 21-3 in the third quarter when McNabb threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Thomason.

It was all celebration and Chris Warren from there. After a two-fumble debut with the Eagles in their regular-season finale, Warren yesterday was the running back the Birds had needed since Duce Staley went out for the season with a foot injury. With his 85 yards, the Eagles finished with 126 on the ground.

As the game progressed, the fans seemed to get louder, feeding the Eagles all the energy they needed.

The Eagles gave some back, too. Most noticeable was Reese's pulling down a piece of railing before the game. Hyped-up fans fell out of the stands, but no one was hurt.

"My head is still ringing right now," tight end Chad Lewis said. "It wasn't just loud. It was electric."

And so were the Eagles, who have earned another week of life, having beaten a team that went to the NFC championship game last season - a bona fide contender.

"By no means are we satisfied," Dawkins said.

Jerry Brewer's e-mail address is jbrewer@phillynews.com

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