NFL Nation: Eagles-Cardinals playoffs

 
  Chris Morrison/US Presswire
  Tim Hightower scored the game-winning touchdown in the Cardinals' 32-25 victory over the Eagles.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Back in August, when history told us the Arizona Cardinals might never reach a Super Bowl in Bill Bidwill's lifetime, the 77-year-old owner drove his golf cart up an incline leading to the practice fields at Northern Arizona University.

The metaphor gods couldn't resist an opportunity as inviting as this one, even at training camp.

The golf cart stalled.

Bidwill backed up and gave it another run. Same result.

No matter how hard he pressed the accelerator, the NFL owner known for falling short wasn't getting over the hump.

Until now.

The Cardinals' 32-25 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game validated the theory Bidwill has advocated for years, namely that his team needed a state-of-the-art stadium to compete at the highest level.

 
  Jamie Squire/Getty Images
  Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill proudly displays the George S. Halas trophy after Arizona defeated Philadelphia to win the NFC Championship Game.
University of Phoenix Stadium opened for the 2006 season, and here are the Cardinals, one victory away from their first NFL championship since 1947.

"The first thing I'd like to say is I'm just so happy for Mr. Bidwill and [son and team president] Michael for all the work they have done," second-year coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It's been a tough number of years here in Arizona and I'm glad that we have this opportunity to go to the Super Bowl."

For those expecting Bidwill to revel in the chance to attack his suddenly silenced critics, the Cardinals' on-field performance will apparently do his talking.

What does this victory mean to the soft-spoken, bow-tied patriarch team employees affectionately call "Mr. B"?

"A win is a win," Bidwill told a small gathering of reporters in the Cardinals' locker room. "Some wins are better than others, and this is one of them."

Is it the best?

"No," Bidwill replied matter-of-factly. "We're going to be talking about the best in the weeks to come."

That was as close as Mr. B would come to Mr. Bravado, but his team was under no such restraints Sunday.

Led by Whisenhunt and an aggressive staff, the Cardinals are no longer punch lines. This joke is on the rest of the NFL.

Five reasons why

1. The Philly Special

No one can accuse the Cardinals of playing not to lose. No one can label their coaches as control freaks, either.

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Rest of Cardinals
  Fitzgerald Rest of team
Thrown to 10 18
Receptions 9 12
Yards 152 127
TDs 3 1
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley trusted his third-string quarterback, Brian St. Pierre, with one of the riskiest calls the Cardinals have made all season.

The result: the brilliantly-timed pass to Larry Fitzgerald for a pivotal 62-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

"It's a scary play to call and I put that on Brian St. Pierre, our backup quarterback, last night," Haley said. "I said, 'I want to call this Philly Special, but I'm putting it on you, Brian. You tell me when it's the right time, because there were a lot of variables.'"

The play, which Haley borrowed from New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton when the two were Dallas Cowboys assistants, would have blown up if the Eagles had blitzed.

"Your one job [Sunday] is to let me know when it's time," Haley said he told St. Pierre.

How many coordinators in their first full season calling plays trust their third-string quarterback to make the riskiest call in a championship game?

Haley did.

Quarterback Kurt Warner tossed the ball back to running back J.J. Arrington for an apparent running play. Arrington ran right, stopped and threw backward to Warner. Warner barely had time to deliver a jump-ball pass to the best jump-ball catcher in the NFL, and he paid a price when defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley hit him late.

The Cardinals are just aggressive enough to win a Super Bowl.

  Eagles-Cardinals highlights
  NFL.com Video
  The Arizona Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-25, in the NFC Championship Game.

2. The new Warner

Warner threw more touchdown passes over the second half of the 2007 season than any quarterback in the NFL, Tom Brady included.

Whisenhunt responded by naming Matt Leinart the starter for 2008.

The move seems laughable now, but the Cardinals had their motives. Whisenhunt and Haley wanted Warner to improve his fundamentals and cut down on turnovers.

And so they made Warner sweat out his status all the way through the exhibition season.

"A lot of times he does things a lot of older quarterbacks don't want to do [in terms of making changes to his game], and that's a credit to his humility, his competitive drive and the reason we are here today," Whisenhunt said.

Warner moved in the pocket effectively Sunday. He tossed four touchdown passes without an interception or fumble.

Warner completed 12 of 14 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns when the Eagles rushed with four or fewer defenders. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 100 yards and one touchdown when Philadelphia brought five or more.

Either way, the Eagles' pressure defense couldn't stop a 37-year-old quarterback.

3. The top-shelf game plan

With their defense allowing 454 yards, the Cardinals needed their offense to win this one.

That meant they needed to solve the Eagles' well-conceived blitzes, which meant they would need their best offensive plan of the season.

They got it.

Another look at that 62-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald helps explain why.

The team with three 1,000-yard receivers left two of them on the sideline for long stretches, including during the Philly Special. The personnel group in question looked like something borrowed from the old NFC Central division: two running backs, two tight ends and Fitzgerald as the lone receiver.

Before finding Fitzgerald deep, the Cardinals had run the ball 23 of their previous 24 snaps from that personnel group, dating to their wild-card game against the Atlanta Falcons.

When the Eagles saw that personnel group, their keys told them to play the run. When Arrington took off running, there was even less doubt.

That's how the Cardinals managed to get Fitzgerald matched up against single coverage.

The Cardinals also leaned far more heavily on their two-back, three-receiver grouping. They used it nine times Sunday -- matching its usage for the previous six games combined -- and the Eagles could not stop it.

  Ravens-Steelers highlights
  NFL.com Video
  The Steelers defeated the Ravens, 23-14, in the AFC Championship Game.

Instead of using a fullback as one of the backs, the Cardinals went with two halfbacks, helping them create mismatches in space. Arizona would either stick with a split or offset backfield, or motion out one of the backs, building in quick throws to help Warner beat pressure.

"You can get linebackers on athletic backs like J.J., and you've got Edge [Edgerrin James] coming out in the flat," receiver Steve Breaston said. "You've got two in the slot and me and Larry outside. It causes a lot of problems."

Warner completed 7 of 7 passes for 82 yards from the personnel group, which also produced two carries for 9 yards.

4. The smarts factor

Whisenhunt inherited a Cardinals team that too often made the stupid play, usually in the form of the 15-yard penalty.

Arizona still has room for improvement in that area, but the Cardinals were arguably smarter than the Eagles in this game.

Yes, Antonio Smith's nonsensical body-slam on Eagles running back Brian Westbrook wiped out a momentum-turning sack by teammate Darnell Dockett. But the Eagles failed to score on the drive.

The Eagles committed more penalties, including a drive-killer for intentional grounding and a roughing penalty that helped the Cardinals add a field goal right before halftime.

And what was Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri doing muffing that kickoff return late in the second quarter? Only an officiating error prevented the Cardinals from taking over at the Philadelphia 27-yard line.

5. The Edge

James carried 16 times for 73 yards -- a 4.6-yard average -- providing the balance Arizona needed to keep defenders off Warner.

We must also recognize James' 22-yard run in the first half. James' teammates love the way he fights for yardage, falling forward instead of dancing. But when the Cardinals need to pick up yardage in fat chunks, he usually isn't among their options.

James, after all, finished the regular season with one rushing play of 20 yards or longer, same as Brett Favre.

The 22-yarder against the Eagles proved James has unusually fresh legs for this late in a season. The coaches' decision to bench him for much of the season could work to the Cardinals' advantage in Super Bowl XLIII.

 
  Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
  Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald torched Philadelphia's defense for 152 yards and three touchdowns.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Philadelphia Eagles spent the past two months digging themselves out of a huge hole. So maybe that's why we weren't surprised that it took an 18-point deficit to rouse their competitive spirit in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

After a dreadful first half in which the Eagles acted as if they'd never seen film of the best wide receiver in football, they came storming back to take a 25-24 lead over Arizona in the fourth quarter. The Big Toaster fell silent and the Eagles were poised to pull off one of the greatest postseason comebacks this side of Frank Reich.

In the end, though, the Eagles didn't leave themselves enough margin for error. The same defense that had carried the team throughout the postseason faltered at the worst possible moment, and the Cardinals escaped with a 32-25 victory.

At some point, the Eagles will look back and take pride in their postseason accomplishments. But on this day, they weren't interested in providing perspective. They let a golden opportunity slip through their hands because they had no answers for the Cardinals' offense in the first half -- or on its game-winning drive.

"I expected the guys to step up, they expected to step up, but it didn't happen," said coach Andy Reid.

After his team amassed eight yards in the third quarter, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner dialed up All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald on several key plays on the winning drive, including a remarkable 6-yard catch at the Eagles' 14 with two Eagles defenders hanging on him.

Fitzgerald has emerged as the most dangerous offensive player in the league and the Eagles didn't have anyone capable of defending him. Cornerback Asante Samuel signed a lucrative free agent contract last March because the Eagles thought he could match up with explosive receivers such as Fitzgerald. On Sunday, he wasn't up to the task.

And as defensive backs Quintin Mikell and Sheldon Brown patiently fielded questions, Samuel retreated to the team bus.

The Eagles should take pride in what they accomplished this season, but Sunday was no time for perspective.

From the start, it was obvious the Eagles didn't respect the Cardinals' running game. Despite their relative success in the postseason -- the Cardinals were last in rushing during the regular season -- Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson flooded the field with defensive backs to account for Warner and the passing game. The Cardinals responded by pounding away with running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, who combined for 68 yards in the first half.

Fitzgerald had six catches for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. His second score came off a trick play on which J.J. Arrington threw a lateral pass to Warner, who then launched the ball downfield to Fitzgerald. Reserve safety Quintin Demps appeared to be in decent position but got turned around at the last second and fell down at Fitzgerald's ankles. In the somber visiting locker room, Eagles players didn't want to admit they were overmatched, but they were clearly in awe of Fitzgerald.

"He was out of his mind today," said Brown, who was victimized on Fitzgerald's third touchdown. "He's a great player. And I like him because he's not a showman. He does everything in the context of the team."

Later, Brown told me he looked forward to telling his grandchildren about playing against Fitzgerald. Late in the first half, Brown lined up in one-on-one coverage against Fitzgerald at the Eagles' 1-yard line.

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Rest of Cardinals
-- Fitzgerald Rest of team
Thrown to 10 18
Receptions 9 12
Yards 152 127
TDs 3 1

In the Thanksgiving game between the two teams, he'd been able to break up a slant route to Fitzgerald in a similar situation. Fitzgerald "started dancing" at the line of scrimmage, and when Brown guessed slant, Fitzgerald caught a fade route for a touchdown.

Even 20 minutes after the game, defensive ends Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Chris Clemons and Darren Howard sat together near their lockers and angrily discussed the Cardinals' winning drive. A few feet away, offensive line coach Juan Castillo sat alone, his face buried in his hands.

The Eagles insisted they didn't underestimate the Cardinals. They had beaten Arizona by 28 points on Thanksgiving, but Reid stressed all week that they didn't get the Cardinals' best shot.

That didn't happen until Sunday.

Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley spent about 15 minutes attempting to explain what had happened, but he finally settled on a hard reality.

"At the end of the day, they did their jobs and we didn't," said Bradley. "And they're going to the Super Bowl and we're going home."

The drive that moved mountains

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
10:48
PM ET
 
  Jamie Squire/Getty Images
  Arizona's Kurt Warner and receiver Larry Fitzgerald hooked up a number of times in Sunday's 32-25 win over Philadelphia.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This is how it works when your last NFL Championship Game was in 1947. You take a 24-6 halftime lead in this year's NFC Championship Game. Then you collapse in the second half, take your dubious spot in the NFL record book and start getting ready for next year.

That fate seemed likely Sunday for the Cardinals. Arizona was poised to join a short list of teams that have given up an 18-point lead in the postseason. Philadelphia had stormed back to take a 25-24 lead early in the fourth quarter, and a sellout crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium had turned silent.

But with 10 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game, the Cardinals stopped being ... well, they stopped being the Cardinals. They put aside 61 years of misery and produced a drive that propelled them to the doorstep of immortality.

"What we did," said receiver Steve Breaston, "is what you do to win championships."

Yes, the Cardinals fashioned a 14-play, 72-yard drive that consumed nearly eight minutes and ended with Tim Hightower's 8-yard touchdown reception. The march included a risky fourth-down conversion and a smart misdirection call on the touchdown.

How did the Cardinals pull themselves together and launch themselves into Super Bowl XLIII with a 32-25 win? Let's take a second look.

The first huddle of the drive was surprisingly calm, according to Hightower and quarterback Kurt Warner. Remember, the offense had managed just 29 yards and one first down on its three second-half possessions. Players might have been shell-shocked, but they were composed.

"I didn't seen any panic," Warner said. "I think that was the thing. There wasn't a whole lot that was said. We knew what we had to accomplish. Nobody was panicking. Nobody was crazy or hyperventilating or anything like that. We just told ourselves ... that we've done some good things today and now we just need to do it one more time. Guys were calm and collected and believed we could drive the ball down the field and do our business."

The Drive
Trailing 25-24 in the fourth quarter, Arizona's Kurt Warner orchestrated a memorable drive against the Eagles that gave them a trip to the Super Bowl.
Score at the start 25-24, Eagles
Time remaining 10:39, 4th
Plays 14
Yards 72
Comp-Att 5-5
Pass yards 56
TD-INT 1-0
Passer rating 152.9
TOP 7:52
Passer rating 152.9
Score after drive 32-25, Cardinals

What could inspire such confidence? According to Hightower, the Cardinals had played much worse during a 2-4 stretch in the final six games of the regular season. They had rallied to win a pair of playoff games after that slump, giving them reason to believe they could revive themselves Sunday.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs this year," Hightower said. "We've been at the highest point you can be, and we've been in the lowest point you can be a couple of times. So we just needed to keep a level head. We've shown to ourselves that we can figure out a way to come out on the other side."

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley had a plan, too. The Cardinals had run the ball well in building up their first-half lead, and Haley was determined to start grinding against an Eagles defense that he felt was wearing down. Of the 14 plays he called on the drive, nine were runs.

"We just needed to get back to what we were doing in the first half," Haley said.

The biggest run came on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles' 49-yard line. Nearly eight minutes remained in the game, and failing to convert would have turned the ball back to the Eagles in a position where they could easily add to their lead. But Haley and coach Ken Whisenhunt were convinced they could gain a yard on a zone blocking play that Hightower has excelled at all season.

"I just felt like we were going to get it," Whisenhunt said. "It wasn't a hard call."

The play required Hightower to follow fullback Terrelle Smith to the right side and react to what he saw. But Smith didn't immediately target a defender, so Hightower took the risky path of turning parallel to the line of scrimmage and heading outside. Running backs don't always turn the corner in those situations, but Hightower stutter-stepped as he waited for the blocking to materialize. Smith eventually got a piece of Eagles cornerback Quintin Mikell. Hightower squeezed around the block, squared himself and gained six crucial yards.

"My job on that play is to get a first down," Hightower said. "That's what I've got to do. I've got to get a first down. Plays rarely go where they're supposed to. I got to read the fullback's block. If it takes me inside, it takes me inside. If it takes me outside, it takes me outside. It was definitely a risk to move outside, but I've got enough confidence in my fullback."

The play provided Arizona crucial momentum. Warner followed with an 18-yard pass to receiver Larry Fitzgerald, putting the Cardinals in field goal range. Then Haley went to work on whittling down the clock, calling running plays on four of the next five plays.

  Eagles-Cardinals highlights
  NFL.com Video
  Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald fool Philly for a fancy 62-yard touchdown.

That left the Cardinals facing a third-and-goal from the Eagles' 8-yard line. Philadelphia called a timeout to preserve some time, and during the stoppage Haley and Warner settled on a play that would take advantage of a perceived tendency and likely catch the Eagles off-guard.

According to Warner, the Cardinals often run a short screen to receiver Anquan Boldin in those situations. Arizona felt confident the Eagles would be expecting it and would send a heavy blitz to clog the passing lanes. The play called for Warner to fake to Boldin, who was lined up on the far right side of the formation, and then find Hightower for a backside screen.

The Eagles did not blitz, but that decision actually worked to the Cardinals' favor. Linebacker Stewart Bradley backed off the line of scrimmage at the last second, freeing several offensive linemen to get downfield ahead of Hightower. One of them was tackle Mike Gandy, who sealed off Bradley as Hightower rumbled into the end zone.

"I think it fooled them a little bit," Warner said. "They probably expected something to the outside."

Instead, the Cardinals took a 32-25 lead with the ensuing two-point conversion. The had moved 72 yards -- along with a few figurative mountains -- in a matter of minutes.

"I think it speaks a lot to our team and how we've grown up as far as being able to respond," Whisenhunt said. "That was really a drive. ... [It] really is an indication of our growth as a team, and that's what it is really about."

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What looked like a romp for the Arizona Cardinals Sunday turned into a nail-biter in the second half. But after a furious rally by the Eagles allowed them to overcome an 18-point deficit to take the lead, the Cardinals put together a clutch fourth-quarter drive to help escape with a 32-25 victory in the NFC Championship Game.

Although everyone across the country knew the Cardinals would be looking to All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Eagles looked lost against him. Even when safety Quintin Demps was in perfect position on a throwback play to quarterback Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald toyed with him before making the touchdown catch. Demps ended up turned around and was harmlessly waiting at Fitzgerald's ankles as he hauled in a 62-yard touchdown.

Cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown were completely overmatched by Fitzgerald, and for reasons maybe only defensive coordinator Jim Johnson can explain, Fitzgerald was given a free release at the line of scrimmage throughout the first half.

The Eagles looked like a different team in the second half. The defense turned up the pressure on Kurt Warner and quarterback Donovan McNabb was brilliant in finding tight end Brent Celek and wide receivers Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson. It was a 50-yard throw from McNabb to Curtis that turned the game around for the Eagles.

But when the defense needed one more stop in the fourth quarter, it couldn't deliver. Fitzgerald was once again brilliant in making acrobatic catches on the Cardinals' game-winning drive. And rookie running back Tim Hightower finished off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown reception.

It certainly looked like the Eagles were on the verge of pulling off the miracle comeback. But in the end, they didn't leave themselves enough wiggle room. They played like an undisciplined team in the first half -- as evidenced by Demps' ridiculous late hit on Kurt Warner.

Now, the Eagles will face an offseason of questions. It was a remarkable playoff run, but it still leaves the Eagles and their fans with a horrible taste in their mouths. I'll be back in a few hours with a full report on what happened.

"We are the Champions" playing as confetti falls on the field. Unbelievable scene. The Arizona freakin' Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals can thank their offense for delivering the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a mostly brilliant game against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium. They leaned heavily on personnel combinations they rarely used during the regular season. As a result, they solved the Eagles' well-conceived blitz packages when they absolutely had to solve them. And they had Larry Fitzgerald, which gave them an almost unfair advantage at times.

Arizona made it look easy in building a 24-6 lead at halftime. The Cardinals also had to know the Eagles would make them work for it. That only made the outcome sweeter for Arizona.

  Eagles-Cardinals highlights
  NFL.com Video
  The Arizona Cardinals defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-25, in the NFC Championship Game.
When Philadelphia jumped into the lead in the fourth quarter, Arizona responded with a 14-play touchdown drive that proved the Cardinals' championship mettle. Kurt Warner's 8-yard pass to rookie Tim Hightower with 2:59 remaining gave Arizona the lead for good. The play itself -- a quick throw against the blitz -- marked another schematic victory for the Cardinals' offensive staff.

While the Cardinals were fortunate to parlay a 9-7 regular-season record into a home game for the NFC Championship Game, they earned their way to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII. They were resilient. They made big plays. They held up in the clutch against a team with much more playoff experience.

This Arizona team can beat any other when the stakes are high enough. Expect a competitive performance in the Super Bowl, no matter the opponent.

Down the stretch they come

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
6:10
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals have just taken a seven-point lead here with a stirring fourth-quarter drive, but we're still in for an interesting finish here at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Arizona leads Philadelphia, 32-25, but 2:53 remains for Philadelphia to tie the game with a touchdown and an extra point. The Eagles have one timeout and the two-minute warning at their disposal.

The Eagles have been unstoppable in the second half and have 251 yards since halftime. We'll focus in on the conclusion here and be back with you shortly afterwards.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are trying to avoid becoming the seventh team in NFL playoff history to lose after leading by at least 18 points.

They led 24-6 at halftime. They now trail, 25-24, with 10:45 left in the fourth quarter. The 2006 Colts, 1972 Cowboys and 1985 Dolphins also overcame 18-points deficits to win in the playoffs.

The 1957 Lions overcame a 20-point deficit to beat the 49ers. The 2002 49ers overcame a 24-point deficit to beat the Giants. Those comebacks trail only the 1992 Bills' legendary comeback from a 32-point deficit against the Oilers.

Largest Deficit Overcome To Win (Postseason)
Year/Game Final Score Deficit
1992 AFC wild card Bills 41, Oilers 38 (OT) 32
2002 NFC wild card 49ers 39, Giants 38 24
1957 NFL conference playoffs Lions 31, 49ers 27 20
2006 AFC Championship Game Colts 38, Patriots 34 18
1972 NFC divisional playoffs Cowboys 30, 49ers 28 18
1985 AFC divisional playoffs Dolphins 24, Browns 21 18
Note: Eagles trailed 24-6 (18 points) at halftime
Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Great block by Baskett!

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
5:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz -- Did you guys see the block by wideout Hank Baskett on Brent Celek's touchdown? As Celek sprinted toward the goal line, Baskett took out Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. One of those pancake blocks that receivers dream about.

In the third quarter, the Eagles outgained the Cardinals, 165 yards to 4. And Arizona came into this game as the most prolific third-quarter offense in the league. Who knows what Andy Reid said at halftime, but the Eagles are back in this game. On the Cardinals' third-down play, Victor Abiamiri lined up inside and completely destroyed Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein.

Some idiot just ran onto the field.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's awfully quiet here at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Arizona is struggling to maintain its lead against a Philadelphia team that is getting after quarterback Kurt Warner.

With 3:42 left in the third quarter, the Eagles have outgained the Cardinals 104 yards to 1. Arizona's most recent possession went like this: Incomplete pass, incomplete pass, sack, punt.

This is especially unusual for the Cardinals, who were the NFL's highest-scoring team in the third quarter during the regular season. But Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has found a blitz combination that is getting to Warner.

Cardinals fans are trying to muster enthusiasm, but it's clear that many people are concerned about an Eagles comeback. Stay tuned.

The Brent Celek Show

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
5:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz -- The Eagles were one play away from being completely out of this game. But quarterback Donovan McNabb threw a perfect deep ball to Kevin Curtis to put the Eagles in scoring position. I think it's safe to say that we've seen the last of L.J. Smith in Philly.

McNabb has a lot of confidence in tight end Brent Celek right now -- evidenced by his eight catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. Don't look now, but the momentum has shifted in this game. On back to back plays, defensive ends Trent Cole and Victor Abiamiri put heavy pressure on Kurt Warner. No one came near Warner for most of the first half, but on that last possession, he had someone in his face the whole time.

The Cardinals have abandoned the run for no apparent reason. On offense, the Eagles have found a soft spot in the middle of the Cardinals' defense. Kevin Curtis has been wide open across the middle several times, and the Cardinals' linebackers can't catch him once he has the ball.

Bone-headed play by Demps

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
4:40
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Eagles appear to be losing their poise. The Cardinals may have been content to settle for a 21-6 halftime lead, but then rookie safety Quintin Demps decided to cheap-shot quarterback Kurt Warner a full two seconds after he delivered the ball.

The Eagles have been called for two late-hit penalties on Warner, and both of them have been silly. The Demps thing was inexcusable. If I'm Andy Reid, I'm getting the kid off the field.

Now the Cards have a legitimate shot of making this thing 24-6 at halftime. Or they could just throw the ball in the general direction of Larry Fitzgerald and take a 28-6 lead.

Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has to be beside himself. How in the world is Fitzgerald seeing man-to-man coverage on some of these plays?

Telegraphing the play

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
4:24
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Trust me. I'm no football savant. But it wasn't too hard to figure out where Arizona was going with that first-and-goal play at the 1-yard line.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who already had two touchdown receptions, split out wide left and was the only receiver in the formation. Cornerback Sheldon Brown followed him. And no one else.

Talk about a bad matchup. Sitting here in the press box, we all looked down on that formation and had little doubt what was about to happen. Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3 and the NFL's best receiver at outfighting opponents for the ball. Brown, 5-foot-10, was helpless.

Mike Sando will have much more on this later, but it's a tribute to the Cardinals' coaching staff that they have been able to get Fitzgerald in single coverage so often Sunday afternoon. Fitzgerald is now the third player in NFL history to have at least three touchdowns in an NFC Championship Game.

Cards benefit from no-call

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
4:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Not to be an NFC East homer, but Cardinals cornerback Ralph Brown was hanging all over Jason Avant on that third-down play a few moments ago. He had him by the back of the jersey well before the pass from Donovan McNabb arrived. It should've been a defensive holding penalty, but nothing was called.

The Eagles were forced to settle for the field goal. And by the way, if the Eagles come back to win this game, remember Antonio Smith's body slam of Brian Westbrook. Just a really dumb play.

It's hard to believe the Cardinals already have 68 yards rushing and they're over 200 yards of total offense. Kurt Warner is picking apart the defense right now. Todd Haley and Ken Whisenhunt are doing a superb job of getting great matchups.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

• As you probably know by now, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is in the press box again today. He's been using a cane the past two weeks because of back pain.

Someone told me before the game that Eagles secondary coach Sean McDermott is the one calling in the plays after talking to Johnson. On that first touchdown drive, the Cardinals were having a lot of success running against the Eagles' nickel defense.

• Defensive end Travis LaBoy has an injured left biceps and his return is questionable.

• Hero for the Eagles so far: Rookie wideout DeSean Jackson racing back to strip the ball from Cardinals free safety Aaron Francisco after his interception. The Cardinals would've had the ball inside the Eagles' 30-yard line. Instead, right tackle Jon Runyan pounced on the ball, giving Philly a fresh set of downs. If you're looking for a huge play so far in this game, there you go.

Oops, 62-yard touchdown for Larry Fitzgerald. My Super Bowl trip not looking good!

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Those of you who are watching the FOX telecast no doubt saw the animated conversation between Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The "discussion" continued during a commercial break and ultimately ended with Warner smiling and walking away.

Generally speaking, such conversations are common on the sideline and not indicative of a major feud. Fiery, competitive people have fiery, competitive conversations. And it's a little early for Warner to be complaining about Haley's play calling.

The Cardinals marched down the field in nine plays on their first drive to take a 7-0 lead. The discussion commenced after their second possession, a three-and-out that ended with a short pass to receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a third-and-9 play.

I wouldn't read much into what you saw on the screen.

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