NEW YORK – Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles eliminated the Super Bowl champion New York Giants 23-11 Sunday to reach the National Football Conference title game for the fifth time in eight seasons.
In the American Football Conference, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the San Diego Chargers 35-24 to earn home-field advantage for their divisional championship game.
McNabb lunged for one touchdown, threw for another and converted several key third downs to move the sixth-seeded Eagles (11-6-1) into next Sunday's title game at Arizona (11-7). Philadelphia beat the Cardinals 48-20 on Thanksgiving.
"It feels like it was years ago," McNabb said.
A year after road success fueled the Giants' route, the Eagles are taking the same path. They opened the postseason by winning at Minnesota and, after their sixth victory in seven tries, look nothing like a team that needed several breaks on the final day simply to make the playoffs.
David Akers added three field goals — extending his NFL record to 18 straight in the postseason — to fend off the top-seeded Giants (12-5).
Eli Manning never looked like the quarterback who won last year's Super Bowl with that one perfect spiral to Plaxico Burress. MVP of that huge upset over New England, Manning was in trouble from the start. His first pass wobbled out of his hand, got caught in the wind and missed a wide-open receiver.
Manning ended up 15-for-29 with two interceptions, often overthrowing his targets as the Giants lost for the fourth time in five games.
"It all comes down to what you do in the playoffs. That makes your season a good one or a disappointment," Manning said. "This is a disappointment.
"We felt this was a special team that could go far. The defense played outstanding today and gave us opportunities. Offensively, we didn't do our job. We didn't score enough points."
By the final two minutes, more than half the crowd had left; Big Blue hasn't won a playoff game at Giants Stadium since 2000. Philly fans, meanwhile, headed down the New Jersey Turnpike after another big win for their city — the Phillies won the World Series in October.
"In the locker room, there was so much energy in there. We were ready to play early in the week," McNabb said. "The city of Philadelphia is buzzing; this team is buzzing."
Playing in freezing temperatures with a swirling wind, it was the kind of game many people expected from teams meeting for the eighth time in three seasons. Several skirmishes broke out early and the bruising hits lasted all afternoon.
McNabb converted a third-and-20 set up Akers' 34-yard kick for a 13-11 lead in the third quarter. Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, he made a perfect play-action fake for a 1-yard TD toss to Brent Celek.
Later Sunday, Pittsburgh — the team with the NFL's best home-field record since the 1970 NFL merger — shook off a 7-0 deficit barely two minutes into the game, shut down San Diego's pint-sized playmaker Darren Sproles and returned some normalcy to the NFL postseason by beating the Chargers.
With a now-healthy Willie Parker running for 146 yards and two touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger shaking off his late-season concussion to throw for a score and lead an efficient offense, the Steelers did what the favored Titans, Panthers and Giants couldn't do by winning at home. It was the first time since 1971 that three road teams won during a single playoff weekend, and the Steelers made certain that road teams didn't go 4-for-4.
The Steelers had the worst offense of any playoff team coming in, only to put up 35 points to support the NFL's top-ranked defense. Now, it's time for Ravens vs. Steelers Part III next Sunday — the third and most intriguing matchup this season between the can't-stand-each other AFC North rivals.
The Steelers have never beaten the Ravens three times in a season although they've never had the chance, but they did beat Baltimore's forerunners, the old Cleveland Browns, three times during the 1994 season. Pittsburgh won the earlier two games, 23-20 in overtime in Pittsburgh — when the Ravens supposedly put bounties on several Steelers players — and by 13-9 during the Dec. 14 rematch in Baltimore that secured the divisional title for Pittsburgh.
The games were two of the NFL's most physical this season, with injuries all around, and playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl will only ratchet up the intensity, physicality and, no doubt, the dislike.