Westbrook runs Falcons' hopes into the ground

Posted: January 24, 2005

A year ago he was relegated to the sideline, a torn triceps tendon ruining his postseason. This year the Eagles were careful with running back Brian Westbrook, and it has paid dividends in the postseason.

For the second straight playoff game, Westbrook was a major factor, keying an offense that ran more than it passed, a rarity in the Andy Reid era. The Eagles rushed the ball 33 times (including three kneel-downs) and passed it 27 times during yesterday's 27-10 NFC championship win over the Atlanta Falcons.

While the weather dictated running the ball more, the success of Westbrook also was a major reason for keeping it on the ground. Westbrook rushed for 96 yards, just three fewer than the Atlanta Falcons, who led the NFL in rushing during the regular season, when they averaged 167 yards per game.

Westbrook averaged 6.0 yards on his 16 carries and, for good measure, added five receptions for 39 yards.

It's the second straight playoff game in which he had more than 100 total yards. During last week's 27-14 playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings, he accounted for 117 yards, 70 rushing and 47 receiving.

"I didn't get to play last year and I was definitely disappointed, but I'm happy that we won and we have one more step to go," Westbrook said.

This was the first major postseason action for Westbrook, now in his third year out of Villanova. During his rookie year in 2002, he rushed for 5 yards on three carries in two playoff games and added three receptions for 25 yards.

This year, especially with the injury to Terrell Owens, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Westbrook has become a focal point of the offense.

"He is a special athlete," Eagles center Hank Fraley said. "Run, pass, he will get the job done, and I can't say enough about what he brings to our team."

Westbrook totaled just 4 yards on his first three carries yesterday, twice being stopped for no gain. His fourth carry was much different. Westbrook exploded for 36 yards up the middle to the Atlanta 25-yard line. Two plays later, Dorsey Levens scored the Eagles' first touchdown on a 4-yard run, and the Eagles were off and running.

"With the inclement weather and wind blowing like it was, some of the balls were sailing, so we had to run the ball and Brian had a great day running," Levens said.

Even Westbrook admitted to some serious pregame jitters.

"I could not sleep too much" Saturday night, Westbrook said. "I was a little nervous before the game, and once the game got going, I was ready to play."

The Eagles didn't play Westbrook in the final two regular-season games in order to have him fresh and healthy for the postseason. With Owens out, the only player more important to the offense is quarterback Donovan McNabb. The lack of late-season wear-and-tear has Westbrook looking for even more work, yesterday included.

"I feel as though we could have continued to run the ball a little bit more," he said. "But Coach makes those decisions, and I was happy that we ran the ball a lot, and I'm glad that we won."

Even Reid, the master of understatement, had due praise for Westbrook.

"He had a pretty good game," Reid said.

Then the coach became more effusive.

"You know, he's a great player, and I think everybody knows that," Reid said. "He's on center stage now. He's shown what he can do."

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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