In the first half of the contest, it was all Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, who hooked up for three touchdowns and more than 100 yards through the air. They also survived a cheap shot on Warner by Philadelphia safety Quintin Demps and avoided a let down after losing out on the recovery of a live ball on a kickoff -- which was incorrectly ruled out of bounds by game officials -- following their third touchdown.
But that was about all that went wrong for Arizona in the first half of play.
The Eagles, on the other hand, could do little right with drive after drive stalling, resulting in only field-goal attempts. But they finally broke through late in the third quarter with a six-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to backup tight end Brent Celek, cutting the Cardinals' lead to 11 points.
From that point on the Eagles defense stiffened, turned up the pressure, and was in Warner's face nearly every time he dropped back to pass. They also adjusted to their first-half struggles and kept Fitzgerald a little more under control, holding him to three catches for 39 yards in the second half. And with one of the biggest momentum shifts in NFC championship history, the Eagles went on to score 19 unanswered points to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, those 39 second-half yards by Fitzgerald came on the Cardinals' winning drive, and were key in getting the team into position to score. The Cardinals ultimately regained the lead with an eight-yard screen pass to running back Tim Hightower with less than three minutes left on the clock, and a two-point conversion put them up by seven points.
On their ensuing drive, the Eagles quickly marched out to midfield, but they stalled out there. And on a fourth-and-10 from the Cardinals' 47-yard line, McNabb spotted wide receiver Kevin Curtis about 15 yards down the right sideline, but the ball bounced off his hands, effectively ending Philadelphia's chances.
Warner finished the contest 21-of-28 for 279 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Fitzgerald capped off his big day with 152 yards through the air.
Wide receiver Kevin Curtis had a solid game in a losing cause for the Eagles, as did Celek. Curtis registered four receptions for 122 yards, and Celek caught a team-playoff-record 10 passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie DeSean Jackson was a huge contributor as well, adding six catches for 92 yards, including a 62-yard juggling play that gave Philadelphia their only lead in the contest.
If history is any indicator, McNabb is sure to catch a lot of criticism for losing yet another NFC championship game. After all, this is the fifth time in eight years he has been there, yet his team's have only advanced further just once. And granted, there were some balls that he overthrew, underthrew, and threw behind open receivers, but all in all, he had a pretty good game, throwing for 375 yards and three touchdowns. If there is a need for a scapegoat in an exciting contest such as this, though, one need look no further than a defensive unit that could not contain Fitzgerald in the first half and put the team in a huge hole early on, and then allowed the game-winning drive after McNabb and the offense had battled back.
With the win, the Cardinals will advance to their first Super Bowl appearance ever in two weeks. And on February 1, they will attempt to end a 61-year championship drought that is second in professional sports to only the Chicago Cubs.
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