The snap was there, the hold was good and the kick was perfect. David Akers hit a 38-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the Philadelphia Eagles a 23-20 victory over the New York Giants in a wild-card playoff game Sunday.
A day after Dallas lost to Seattle when quarterback Tony Romo fumbled the hold on what could have been a go-ahead field goal, the Eagles executed a seemingly routine play that has cost teams important games in recent weeks.
Brian Westbrook had 141 yards rushing, including a spectacular, slashing 49-yard TD run in the second quarter. His 65-yard punt return for an apparent score in the third quarter was nullified by a penalty on rookie Torrance Daniels.
Jeff Garcia threw for 153 yards, one touchdown and played efficiently enough to win for the sixth time in seven starts since replacing an injured Donovan McNabb.
Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress, including an 11-yard strike that tied it at 20 with 5:03 left.
In what probably was his last game, Tiki Barber ran for 137 yards for the Giants. A three-time Pro Bowl running back, Barber plans to retire after 10 seasons in the NFL.
The Eagles are far from finished, though.
Counted out after a knee injury ended McNabb's season in Week 11, the Eagles (11-6) have won six straight games. They'll play at New Orleans (10-6) next Saturday night.
The Giants overcame a second-and-30 on their tying scoring drive as Manning completed consecutive passes of 18, 14 and 11 yards to Burress.
But the Eagles drove right down the field, mixing in short passes and Westbrook runs.
That set up Akers' winning kick, a moment with a little extra drama in the wake of the botched hold in the Dallas-Seattle game and a bad snap on a critical extra point in a late-season game between Cincinnati and Denver.
Koy Detmer, the longtime backup quarterback signed this week specifically to be the holder, had no trouble putting Jon Dorenbos' snap down for Akers. Dorenbos replaced injured long-snapper Mike Bartrum last month.
Led by Garcia and a rejuvenated defense, Philadelphia turned its season around after a 24-point loss in Indianapolis, captured its fifth division title in six years and earned the No. 3 seed in the conference.
Meanwhile, the dysfunctional Giants (8-9) fell apart after a 6-2 start. They lost four in a row and six of seven before a win at Washington last week put them in the playoffs.
While the Eagles moved within one victory of their fifth trip to the NFC championship game in six years, the Giants face an uncertain offseason. Coach Tom Coughlin might not be back, Barber is retiring and the embattled Manning probably will hear more criticism after failing to win a playoff game for the second straight year.
Manning was 16-of-27 for 161 yards, two TDs and one interception. Garcia was 17-of-31.
The Eagles went ahead 17-10 late in the second quarter on Garcia's 28-yard TD pass to Donte' Stallworth. Garcia completed 6-of-7 passes on the drive, capping it with a perfect strike to Stallworth, who beat cornerback R.W. McQuarters.
Akers kicked a 48-yard field goal — the longest in the playoffs in team history — to give Philadelphia a 20-10 lead with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
Jay Feely's 24-yarder cut it to 20-13 early in the fourth.
After going three-and-out on their first three drives, the Eagles finally got it going on their fourth possession. Garcia scrambled seven yards up the middle on third-and-6 for a first down. Two plays later, Westbrook electrified the frenzied crowd at Lincoln Financial Field with a run for the highlight reels.
Westbrook burst through the line, bounced outside, kept his balance after getting tripped, cut back inside at the 20, reversed direction at the 15 and sprinted toward the end zone pylon to tie it at 7. It was reminiscent of Wilbert Montgomery's 42-yard TD run in Philadelphia's 20-7 victory over Dallas in the 1980 NFC championship game.
On the ensuing possession, Sheldon Brown intercepted Manning's pass for Burress and the offense started at the Giants 37. The Eagles had a first down at the 4, but settled for Akers' 19-yard field that made it 10-7.
Barber's 41-yard run to the Eagles 3 put New York in position to go ahead. But Philadelphia's defense tightened and Feely kicked a 20-yard field goal to make it 10-10.
Patriots Beat Jets
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots showed why they scare the rest of the AFC during the playoffs.
Brady capped long scoring drives with short touchdown passes to Daniel Graham and Kevin Faulk, and Asante Samuel sealed it with a 36-yard interception return for a score with 4:54 left in the game as the three-time Super Bowl champions beat the New York Jets 37-16 on Sunday.
New England (13-4), the only team to win a playoff game in each of the last four seasons, will play at top-seeded San Diego (14-2) next Sunday. The Patriots are going for their fourth Super Bowl title in six seasons.
Brady improved to 10-2 against the Jets (10-7), and played much better than in the teams' last meeting, when New York frustrated the quarterback and won 17-14. This time, Brady was in control right from the start.
New England, which has won seven of eight since that loss to New York, improved to 9-1 at home in the playoffs, and hasn't lost in the postseason since a 31-14 defeat against the Houston Oilers on Dec. 31, 1978. The Jets made things interesting early, taking a 10-7 lead in the second quarter on a 77-yard touchdown catch and run by Jerricho Cotchery.
But it was all New England from that point in the teams' second-ever meeting in the playoffs, the last also a victory by the Patriots in 1985.
The loss ended a surprising run by the Jets, who won their last three regular-season games to get into the playoffs in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season under rookie coach Eric Mangini. The former student of Patriots coach Bill Belichick showed he learned a lot in his six years as a New England assistant, but the teacher still showed he has the upper hand.
After the game, the two coaches, whose relationship has cooled since Mangini left to become coach of the Jets, met at midfield and Belichick hugged Mangini.
With the Patriots leading 23-16, Brady engineered the type of drive that has made him so deadly in big games. New England took over at its 37 and with a series of short passes and runs got to the Jets 7.
Brady then found Kevin Faulk with a short pass and the running back zipped into the end zone with 5:16 left as the Patriots quarterback put up both hands and pointed skyward.
Brady finished 22-of-34 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while Jabbar Gaffney had eight catches for 104 yards. The Patriots also outrushed the Jets 148-70.
New England also took advantage of a big mistake by the Jets late in the third quarter.
Chad Pennington's pass was knocked down by Rosevelt Colvin and picked up by Vince Wilfork, who rumbled 31 yards to the Jets 15 before being tackled by Cotchery. The play was ruled a backward pass and a fumble, and the ruling was upheld after a challenge by Mangini.
Four plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal to give New England a 23-13 lead.
Mike Nugent's 37-yard field goal 3:21 into the fourth quarter made it 23-16.
The Patriots got things started early on Corey Dillon's 11-yard touchdown run 3:07 in.
It was an efficient drive conducted without a huddle by Brady, who completed three of his four passes to Gaffney. On third-and-12 from the Jets 27, Brady hit Troy Brown with a 16-yard pass. Dillon then took a handoff, ran into a crowd in the middle before bouncing to the right side and high-stepping into the end zone.
The Jets took advantage of a turnover when Dewayne Robertson knocked the ball out of Dillon's hands and Hank Poteat recovered. Nugent kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Cotchery put the Jets ahead 10-7 with his 77-yard touchdown score, the longest in team postseason history.
Pennington found Cotchery open with James Sanders, in for the injured Rodney Harrison, back in zone coverage. Sanders took a bad angle on the receiver before Cotchery blew past him and down the right sideline untouched with a trail of Patriots behind him.
Gostkowski kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie it at 10.
The Patriots again had a long drive late in the first half, capped by Graham's 1-yard TD catch. New England started at its 20 with 7:05 remaining in the half. After Laurence Maroney's 5-yard run put the ball at the 1, the Jets stopped Heath Evans and Maroney for no gain. On third-and-goal, Brady found Graham in the back of the end zone just out of the reach of linebacker Brad Kassell for a 17-10 lead, capping a 15-play, 80-play drive that took 6:54.