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2008 NFC Championship: Grief in Glendale for McNabb and Co

2008. 10 years ago now. To start the year, Adele was just beginning her reign at the top of our charts, Cloverfield was atop the movie box office and the 2008 NFC Championship was as always broadcast by Fox. Giving us Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to lulus to sleep whether we wanted to or not.  It pitted the Philadelphia Eagles against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium. This was a team of has-beens and no names, players that had no shot on a team that had never been to the Super Bowl despite being one of the founding members of the league. No one had given them a shot at the start of the season to make the playoffs let alone be 60 mins from the Super Bowl, but here they were.

The signal to start the game was met by a swirl of white towels and a cacophony of noise so loud that the football blew off the tee as Eagles kicker David Akers runs up to kick it. The Eagles think it’s just a slight mishap, and now with hindsight, it looked to be a foreshadowing of the rest of the game. With the Cardinals starting with the ball, they took their two former Super Bowl champions on offence: Kurt Warner and Eddrign James to kick start the game well in front of their raucous home crowd. They did with an opening touchdown drive of methodical precision, like a doctor performing heart surgery that lasted 5:40 going 80 yards in nine plays. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught the opening touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. This was a sign of things to come for the raucous Cardinals crowd.  This was the first 1st quarter touchdown the Eagles had surrendered since Week 10 against the Giants. These two teams had faced off in Week 13, with the Eagles manhandling the Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field in front of a roaring Philly crowd to the tune of a 48-20 win. In that game they started off fast, scoring quick 1st quarter touchdowns, something they were trying to repeat here.

After their opening drive ended with a field goal, the Eagles stopped the Cardinals from moving the ball on offence, giving the ball back to McNabb. After missing a wide-open DeSean Jackson, the amped-up Cardinals defence stopped Westbrook on 2nd down. McNabb threw a terrible interception to Safety Eric Fransico who was stripped of the ball by Jackson and Philly recovered. A let off the hook for a wobbly Mcnabb. The first quarter ended 7-3 to Arizona. Star running back and Philly hero Brian Westbrook was held to just 45 yards on 12 carries all game by an Arizona defence that had been dominating in the playoffs. They had held the Falcons to 42 yards and Carolina to 75 yards. This was a defence playing its heart out in the denouement of the season. To begin Westbrook was stuffed in the backfield for no gain, Philly’s fourth straight run on their drive this was starting to become predictable for Arizona. David Akers at the end of the drive then proceeded to miss his 1st field goal in his last 20 attempts, giving Arizona great field position. On the first play of this ensuing drive, Todd Haley called a reverse halfback pass, with Warner tossing the ball to JJ Arrington who threw it back to Warner. He then unleashed a bomb down through the sweet Arizona air to Larry Fitzgerald who broke away for a 62-yard touchdown. It was Fitzgerald’s 2nd of the half, the crowd went crazy after that play, now starting to believe they could do it and make the Super Bowl.

With 9 minutes left in the half Akers came back on to kick another field goal for an Eagles team mightly struggling in the red zone. After that, as they rode a wave of Arizona noise, Warner led the Cardinals on a great 6-minute drive that culminated in guess who scoring a touchdown. Yes, you are correct it was Larry Fitzgerald. It was his third of the half, but then everyone else was expecting more as the Cardinals again stopped Philly, giving Warner & co the ball back with 1:32 left in the half. It took them a few plays masterminded by offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but Arizona managed to hit a 49-yard field goal to go into halftime up 24-6. Larry Fitzgerald had 6 catches for 113 yards and 3 touchdowns in the half. It was looking all too predictable to Philadelphia fans, another defeat in the NFC Championship to go with the other 4 they had experienced this decade.  But coming out of halftime, getting the ball there was hope. A good catch by Jackson and the entire abandonment of the run left the ball in McNabb’s hands but not for very long when he was strip-sacked by Ardian Wilson on a safety blitz. Giving the ball back to Arizona, with the game looking seemingly finished.

However, after forcing a punt from the Cardinals, McNabb finally found his rhythm firing a huge 50-yard pass to Kevin Curtis, yes I know you’re thinking who is Kevin Curtis on a 3rd and 19. This looked to be the play that sparked up Philadelphia on offence as they finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown to Brent Celek getting the Eagles now to 24-13. Another punt by Arizona gave McNabb the ball at his own 39-yard line, from there he engineered a beautiful play drive that culminated in a 31-yard touchdown throw to Celek his second of the game. However, Philly fans can’t have nice things and Akers missed the extra point leaving it at 24-19. Arizona now seemingly stifled on offence punted again to Philadelphia, the Eagles fans now really sensing their team can make a comeback as they get the ball back with 13 minutes left. It took less than 3 minutes but after a giant 62-yard touchdown pass to rookie DeSean Jackson by McNabb, the Eagles had the lead and the momentum. The loud Arizona crowd stunned by Philly’s 19 point comeback is in shock but McNabb is just showing off his trademark smile to all the cameras. But then again Philly fans can’t have nice things as they failed to convert the 2 point conversion, now up by just 1 point at 25-14 with 10:39 to play.

So Arizona takes over possession now trailing for the first time in the game. But seemed to be the calmer team, converting a key 4th and inches with rookie Tim Hightower running for 6 yards. As time ticked off the clock, and the Cardinals edged closer towards Philadelphia’s end zone, that same wave of energy and noise started to build again inside the stadium. Two catches by Fitzgerald, runs by James and again by Hightower gave Arizona first and goal, with 4 minutes left. So they wisely run the ball two straight plays, giving Warner third and goal with 3 minutes left. Warner then throws a pass to Hightower on a well-designed screenplay and he dives into the end zone to give Arizona a 30-25 lead. In order to make it a 7 point game, Arizona went for 2 and unlike Philadelphia, they converted it making it 32-25. It was the culmination of a 14 play, 72-yard drive that ate up almost 8 minutes of the clock. It showed why Warner would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame, he was mesmeric to give the Cardinals back the lead. McNabb was as he had been in all those previous NFC Championships was down late in the 4th quarter and just as he had done in the majority of those games was playing poorly. He missed both DeSean Jackson and Hank Baskett for first down catches, and so the game came down to a 4th and 10. McNabb threw to Curtis who looked to be held by Hood and then dropped the ball.

So just like that the Cardinals took over on downs and tried to run the clock out. But after some stout Philly defence, they managed to get the ball back with 9 seconds left. However, their endeavours proved to be fruitless as they could not come up with a miracle giving Arizona their first-ever Super Bowl performance in Franchise history. It was a great game to rewatch again, as you could see the talent on display from players like Warner and McNabb as well as the rising play of rookies DeSean Jackson and Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. This was a tough loss for the Eagles who until tomorrow haven’t been back to the NFC Championship, let’s hope they can exorcise some demons against the Vikings on Sunday and get to the Super Bowl.

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