<
>

Eagles rest starters after clinching NFC East title

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia Eagles got their bye a week
early.

Thanks to the Detroit Lions, Jeff Garcia and the rest of
Philadelphia's starters rested up for the playoffs while the
backups finished off a remarkable late-season run with a 24-17
victory over Atlanta on Sunday.

The stage is set. The Chiefs-Colts game in Indianapolis will kick off wild-card weekend on Saturday, with three games to follow. First-round byes go to the Chargers (No. 1 seed) and Ravens in the AFC, and the Bears (No. 1) and Saints in the NFC. This weekend's lineup:

SATURDAY
AFC: Chiefs at Colts, 4:30 ET (NBC)
NFC: Cowboys at Seahawks, 8 ET (NBC)

SUNDAY
AFC: Jets at Patriots, 1 ET (CBS)
NFC: Giants at Eagles, 4:30 ET (FOX)

• For the complete playoff schedule, click here.

The Eagles (10-6) clinched the NFC East title less than five
minutes into the game when Dallas lost 39-31 to the lowly Lions.
So, coach Andy Reid pulled his starters to keep them healthy for
next Sunday's first-round matchup against the New York Giants
(8-8).

A.J. Feeley threw for a career-best 321 yards and three
touchdown passes to help the Eagles win their fifth straight game
without Donovan McNabb. The Falcons (7-9) played almost the entire
second half without Michael Vick, who sprained his right ankle on
the first play of the third quarter.

"We didn't get the bye week we wanted, but we were able to rest
some of the starters," Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said.

One play after Matt Schaub's 9-yard TD pass to Alge Crumpler
tied it at 17 for Atlanta, Feeley connected with Hank Baskett on an
89-yard TD pass that gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead early in the
fourth quarter. Feeley hit a wide-open Baskett in stride and the
rookie wideout streaked untouched down the right sideline.

Baskett finished with seven catches for 177 yards.

The Falcons had a first down at the Eagles 7 with two minutes
left, but couldn't score. Schaub tripped and was sacked on third
down and his next pass fell incomplete.

"We're not done," Reid said. "It's a nice one to have, but
there's not a lot of time to think about it with the Giants coming
in."

When McNabb tore a knee ligament in a loss to Tennessee on Nov.
19, it seemed Philadelphia's playoff hopes went down with him. But
Garcia has been outstanding, leading the Eagles to a 5-1 record in
his six starts.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection during five seasons in San
Francisco, Garcia invigorated the locker room with his fiery
personality. His pinpoint accuracy and quick decision-making were a
perfect fit for Philly's version of the West Coast offense.

In brief action against the Falcons, Garcia completed one pass
for 29 yards to Brian Westbrook and David Akers kicked a 41-yard
field goal on that drive. Garcia then watched Feeley and the
second-string play a game that resembled a preseason finale.

"We expected to come out and earn the NFC East championship,
but we were able to coast," Garcia said.

Feeley's 14-yard TD pass to Matt Schobel gave the Eagles a 10-7
lead in the first quarter. He hit rookie Jason Avant on a 5-yard
scoring pass to make it 17-10 late in the second quarter.

Atlanta led 7-3 after Vick tossed a 7-yard TD pass to Warrick
Dunn.

Eliminated from playoff contention a night earlier when the
Giants beat Washington, the Falcons looked like a team with its
bags packed and ready for vacation.

While the Eagles are heading to the playoffs after winning the
division for the fifth time in six years, the Falcons face an
uncertain offseason. Coach Jim Mora's status already was tenuous
before he angered owner Arthur Blank by telling a Seattle radio
station he would be interested in the University of Washington job,
even if the Falcons were in the playoffs -- and without the position
being open.

Mora apologized for his comments, saying his intended sarcasm in
the radio interview was not understood. But the damage may be
irreparable.

"I have a strong passion for this organization. I love this
organization," Mora said. "Of course I want to be here. It's all
I've ever wanted."

It was only two years ago the Falcons played in the NFC
championship game, a 27-10 loss in Philadelphia. But they were 8-8
last year and lost seven of nine after a 5-2 start this season.

"We dedicated ourselves to really having a good season this
year," Vick said. "I feel like every guy in that room put the
time in. It's disappointing because things didn't go the way we
expected them to go."

The Eagles also struggled after a strong start. They opened 4-1
before losing five of six, but it turned our great in the end.

When the final score from Texas Stadium flashed on the
scoreboard early in the first quarter, fans cheered wildly and
hurled derisive chants at the Cowboys. Now, the Philly faithful can
direct their venom toward the Giants. The teams split two meetings
this year, with each winning on the road.

Though finishing in first place was quite an accomplishment for
the Eagles this season, many veteran players didn't even wear the
championship hats or T-shirts.

"We didn't do too much celebrating because this is just the
first step," Trotter said. "We want the big one."

Game notes
Philadelphia is 22-8 in December since 2000. ... Dawkins
played in his 157th game, tying Guy Morriss for fourth-most in team
history. ... Vick is 1-3 against the Eagles, including playoff
losses in 2002 and 2004. ... The Eagles' five offensive linemen
started every game for the second time in team history. The other
time was in 2000. ... Baskett is the first Eagles player to have
two TD catches of more than 80 yards in the same season. He had an
87-yard TD catch against Dallas on Oct. 8.