Eagles outplay self-destructing Vikings

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Freddie Mitchell showed 'em why he's called

In the Eagles' first meaningful game in nearly a month, the
back-ups played like regulars and the supporting cast picked up the
slack. Philadelphia wasn't rusty at all in making its fourth
straight NFC championship game with a 27-14 romp Sunday over the
self-destructing Minnesota Vikings.

Mitchell was the headliner. He more than filled in for All-Pro
wide receiver and glamour guy Terrell Owens, who watched from a
luxury box while nursing an injured ankle. He scored two
touchdowns, and wasn't a bit shy about congratulating himself for
playing the part of team celebrity.

"I'm a special player," he said, wearing an Indiana Jones hat
and bow tie. "I've just got to thank my hands for being so great.
I've just been chillin' being patient, being humble. I knew my time
was going to come."

The bigger question: Has the Eagles' Super Bowl time finally

Philadelphia, which has lost three consecutive conference title
games, the last two at home, hosts Atlanta next Sunday. The angst
level this week in Philly will be off the scale as the Eagles
attempt to get to their first Super Bowl in 24 years.

It's the first time a team has hosted three straight conference

"We know what's at stake, we're a better team now," linebacker
Jeremiah Trotter said. "This is our year."

In the weak NFC, it just might be.

The Eagles (14-3) were in synch even though most starters barely
played for nearly a month, and they didn't lack for big-play
offense or defense.

"I guess we weren't too rusty," Donovan McNabb said after
going 21-for-33 for 286 yards.

The Eagles got plenty of help from the Vikings (9-9), who showed
exactly how they lost seven of their last 10 regular-season games
to back into the playoffs. Minnesota's high-powered offense
couldn't handle defensive end Jevon Kearse and Trotter.

The inept Vikings didn't exactly provide a test, but Michael
Vick and the Falcons should be a more formidable hurdle.

"Mistakes, penalties at the wrong time, taking some points off
the board, stopping a drive, having a nice play called back," said
Vikings coach Mike Tice, rattling off Minnesota's miscues. "We
made some mistakes when we had a little bit of rhythm going. We
didn't finish anything."

While Philadelphia was getting two touchdowns from Mitchell --
and one takeoff of Randy Moss' simulated mooning as Mitchell
pretended to pull up his pants after his first score -- it also
benefited greatly from Vikings errors:

-- An offensive lineman remaining on the field instead of Moss
for a fake field goal, leaving no receivers to catch Gus Frerotte's

-- Several costly defensive penalties, including three pass
interference calls totaling 78 yards.

-- Two damaging interceptions thrown by Daunte Culpepper, who had
39 TD passes and only 11 picks during the season.

Mitchell got lucky on his second TD, catching a fumble by tight
end L.J. Smith in the end zone.

"I want to say `Hi' to all my new friends out there, those
people who doubted me and the receivers," added Mitchell, who
finished with five catches for 65 yards, each one a key play.

Under coach Andy Reid, the Eagles never have lost after a bye,
and the regulars basically had three weeks of nonaction. It didn't
hurt, and Philly led 14-0 44 seconds into the second quarter.

Mitchell caught a 2-yard pass from McNabb midway in the opening
period, then did his reverse moon. Greg Lewis' graceful catch of a
52-yard throw set up Brian Westbrook's 7-yard TD reception,
Westbrook's first postseason score; he was injured for last year's

Moss, who was fined $10,000 by the NFL for his simulated mooning
of the Green Bay crowd last weekend, was held to three catches for
51 yards. Culpepper was sacked three times and befuddled nearly the
entire game.

"You try to play mistake-free football," Culpepper said. "But
when you do make mistakes, you got to do something to compensate
for it."

The Vikings gained more on one second-quarter play, a 40-yard
pass to Marcus Robinson, than they managed in total before that. It
sparked a drive that culminated in Culpepper's 7-yard scramble to
make it 14-7.

But Minnesota immediately messed up again. J.R. Reed returned
the kickoff to the Vikings' 46, then Minnesota was hit for two pass
interference calls. From the 14, McNabb found Smith over the
middle, and Smith fumbled at the 4 when hit by Antoine Winfield.
The ball shot directly to Mitchell, who caught it in the end zone
for his second score.

"That just goes to show you things are going our way," McNabb

Only Mitchell's fourth-and-26 reception in the playoffs against
Green Bay last January was more meaningful. That catch pretty much
got the Eagles to the NFC title game, where they lost to Carolina.

Mitchell didn't mock Moss this time, and Moss caught his first
pass on the Vikings' next offensive play, a 15-yarder. That sparked
a drive to the Philadelphia 3, where Minnesota botched the fake
field goal with Tice and his staff screaming for a timeout they
didn't get.

The Vikings damaged themselves again moments later. Chris
Claiborne recovered Josh Parry's fumble at the Philadelphia 41, but
he had stepped out of bounds and only got one foot back in when he
picked up the ball. Philadelphia won a replay challenge, but didn't
score on the drive.

On Minnesota's opening drive of the second half, third-string
linebacker Ike Reese tipped Culpepper's pass to himself for a
brilliant interception.

David Akers kicked two field goals, Westbrook had 117 total
yards, Kearse and Trotter made stops all over the field.

Minnesota got a 32-yard TD reception by Marcus Robinson with
1:59 remaining. By then, Philly's thoughts had turned to Vick and
the Falcons.


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