Westbrook, Lewis, Levens help Eagles reach next level

Updated: January 23, 2005, 9:58 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- The final piece the Eagles needed to reach the Super Bowl turned out to be a healthy Brian Westbrook, rather than a hobbled Terrell Owens.

A year after an injured Westbrook watched helplessly from the sideline while Carolina upset Philadelphia in the NFC championship game, the speedy running back redeemed himself.

With Owens sidelined by a severe ankle injury, Westbrook ran for 96 yards and caught five passes to help the Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-10 Sunday after three straight losses in the conference title game.

"Nobody thought we had a running attack and we were able to run the ball efficiently," said Westbrook, who missed the playoffs last year with a torn triceps.

Chad Lewis, a forgotten tight end down the stretch, made two TD catches, Dorsey Levens bulled his way for a 4-yard touchdown run and Donovan McNabb outplayed Michael Vick, giving the Eagles a chance to win their first NFL championship since 1960 when they face the New England Patriots in Jacksonville, Fla. on Feb. 6.

Westbrook became McNabb's main target and the offense's biggest threat in Owens' absence. Meanwhile, Lewis, whose role had been reduced with the emergence of L.J. Smith, came up with TD grabs of 3 and 2 yards.

Lewis isn't known for his footwork, but made a nifty move to stay in bounds on his scoring catch in the second quarter.

"That was sweet," Lewis said. "Donovan threw it out there and put me in position to make a play."

Owens, the All-Pro wideout, was considered the player the Eagles needed to win the conference. He helped lead Philadelphia to a 13-1 start before going down in the 14th regular-season game.

Owens' injury was a devastating blow for Philadelphia, but Westbrook, McNabb and others proved this wasn't a one-man offense.

Owens has an outside chance of playing in the Super Bowl in two weeks. He stood on the sidelines against the Falcons, waving his arms and encouraging the crowd to make more noise.

"We'll see how he does this next week, if he can put more pressure on it," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.

Westbrook caught as many passes as Philadelphia's wide receivers -- Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell and Greg Lewis -- combined to grab against Atlanta. McNabb threw for 180 yards and two TDs, and outran Vick 32-26.

"We know a lot of people turned their backs on us and didn't think we can do it," McNabb said. "I set a goal to win the Super Bowl. We're excited about this win, but we're not done."

Westbrook's neat 36-yard run in the first quarter set up Philadelphia's first score, a run by Levens. After not being involved much in the second quarter, Westbrook had runs of 8, 12 and 11 yards on three consecutive plays on the opening drive of the third quarter that resulted in a field goal that gave the Eagles a 17-10 lead.

Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter and Duce Staley formed Philadelphia's "three-headed monster" rushing attack last season, combining for 2,157 total yards and 29 touchdowns.

But after Staley signed with Pittsburgh in the offseason and Buckhalter went down with a season-ending knee injury in preseason, Westbrook became the primary back.

He quickly silenced critics who thought he was too small -- he's generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds in Philadelphia's media guide -- by running for 119 yards in the season opener.

Westbrook missed just one game with sore ribs, and was held out of the final two games because the Eagles had nothing on the line. He finished with 812 yards rushing and three TDs and was the team's second-leading receiver with 73 catches for 703 yards and six TDs.

"I was disappointed I didn't get to play last year," Westbrook said. "I'm happy we got the win, but we got one more win to go."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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