In the green corner, thanks to their 23-11 Divisional Playoff win Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, we have the Philadelphia Eagles.
At one point this season, they were 5-5-1. Franchise hood ornament Donovan McNabb had been benched (deservedly) and he and coach Andy Reid were being ridden out of Philly on a very wide rail.
When everyone turned their back on them (including those who picked them to win the Super Bowl, ahem), they went 3-1, took the back stairs into the playoffs with their 9-6-1 record, won a pair of games and are now 60 minutes from a Super Bowl berth.
“Y’all didn’t believe in us!” reminded Eagles rookie wideout DeSean Jackson as he paraded toward the visitor’s locker room at Giants Stadium.
Yeah, right, stupid us. You guys were so formidable in that tie with the Bengals, how’d we ever let our faith waver?
In the red corner, we have the champions of the Triple A NFC West, Arizona Cardinals. This is a 9-7 team that, at one point was 7-3, before banging in disinterested beginning November 23. Arizona allowed 56 points to the Jets in September, and 37, 48, 35 and 47 in games against non-division opponents in November and December.
“Not a lot of people have had very nice things to say about us, or (have) given us much of a chance, and we're working hard to try to earn some respect,” said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt after his team walloped the Panthers 33-13.
Now, ignoring the indignation of these teams, it’s worth noting once again that — in the NFL — it ain’t how long your team is hot, it’s when.
The top-seeded Giants, second-seeded Panthers, third-seeded Falcons and fifth-seeded Vikings are all playing golf while the NFC Championship comes down to the fourth seeded Cards and sixth-seeded Eagles, both of whom had to bottom out before finding themselves in the nick of time.
The Giants got cold at the wrong time, staggering through December with a 1-3 record. Now they find themselves wondering what exactly happened.
“I’m in disbelief right now,” said Giants tight end Kevin Boss. “I thought we were playing well enough to make another run. I know we prepared well for this game. We just didn’t play well offensively.”
No, they didn’t. The Giants blew chance after offensive chance on Sunday. Eli Manning’s first quarter pick thrown to Asante Samuel set up the game’s first touchdown. They went 3 for 13 on third down. They went 0 for 2 on fourth down in the fourth quarter including a puzzling fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak by Eli Manning that got stuffed when Brandon Jacobs, the 265-pound human locomotive, was in the backfield. They missed two field goals, they went 0 for 3 in the red zone and they failed to score a touchdown.
It took a team that was turning into a punchline less than two months ago to usher New York out of the playoffs.
Eagles owner Jeff Lurie was asked how heavily he doubted his team when they were 5-5-1.
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