By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002
CHICAGO -- The Bears almost had Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. So did the Bucs and 11 other teams.
Their seasons are all finished, while McNabb and the Eagles still are scrambling, daring anybody to catch them before they scurry all the way to New Orleans.
McNabb dodged the rush countless times Saturday, each time staying on his feet just long enough to pick apart the Bears 33-19 in an NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field.
The win, played in subfreezing temperatures and in front of a mostly-packed house of 65,028, improved the Eagles to 8-1 on the road this season and sent them to their first NFC Championship Game since the 1980 season when they went to the Super Bowl.
They'll take on the winner of today's Packers-Rams game for a spot in the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
The Bears ended a remarkable season filled with magical plays and fantastic finishes. Saturday their luck didn't run out. They were simply McNabbed. Not to mention pulverized by an Eagles defense that knocked starting quarterback Jim Miller out of the game early and limited the Bears offense to 184 total yards and one touchdown.
McNabb's numbers weren't dazzling. He was 26-for-40 for 262 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But much of what he did came when the Bears probably thought they had him hemmed in.
Making his first start in his hometown, McNabb repeatedly broke containment, scrambled from rushers and made drive-sustaining plays by running and throwing, which had to frustrate the Bears, who sacked him twice. If he didn't run for a first down, he dipped and danced long enough to find an open receiver.
"We knew coming into this game it was going to be a special game for him. He was coming home," Eagles running back Duce Staley said. "He has been making plays all season. He's our leader. We're going to ride his coattails to the end of this thing."
The Bears knew McNabb was going to be elusive, but could do nothing about it.
"This is what he does. He moves around in the pocket and finds guys that are not open initially," Chicago coach Dick Jauron said. "He can buy time with his legs and his athletic ability."
On third and 9 from the Eagles 33 midway through first quarter, McNabb scurried right, then back to his left before hitting an open James Thrash along the left sideline for a 43-yard gain that led to Philadelphia's second field goal and a 6-0 lead.
In the final seconds of the first half, McNabb did it to the Bears again, dancing in the pocket, then stepping up as if to run before zipping a 13-yard pass to fullback Cecil Martin for a 13-7 Eagles lead.
And late in the third quarter, facing third and 14 from the Bears 40, McNabb's scrambling freed tight end Jeff Thomason for a 30-yard reception that led to another Eagles touchdown and a 20-14 advantage.
That score also was orchestrated by McNabb, who called a quick snap after seeing Staley lined up wide at the Bears 6 without a defender on him, then hit him for the score.
"I was so excited," Staley said. "I didn't know what to do. I almost jumped offsides."
McNabb got into the end zone himself with 3:21 left, taking off on a quarterback draw from the 5-yard line. By then he and the Eagles pretty much had put the Bears to rest, ahead 33-17.
"I was just excited about coming back home, seeing friends and family (on Friday) and I knew (Saturday) I had to just focus on my job," McNabb said. "I was going out trying to play well and lead this team."
What McNabb didn't do, the Eagles defense took care of, roughing up several Bears and knocking Miller out with a separated throwing shoulder at 12:47 of the second quarter.
Former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews took over, but couldn't conjure much offense, going 8-for-17 for 66 yards and two interceptions.
"We just got beat in all areas of the football game," Matthews said.