The Phoenix Saga: Cardinals Hold Off Eagles, Win First-Ever NFC Crown

Vincent JacksonCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2009

Criticized for their play against mediocre teams in a weak division, the Arizona Cardinals weren't given much of a chance in this year's playoffs.

Historically, they had been one of the NFL's worst, one of the league's first teams, and branded as a doormat.

Well the doormat is now a darling and Kurt Warner made sure his third trip to the Super Bowl was the best of them all.

Tim Hightower scored on an eight-yard pass from Kurt Warner with 2:53 left and after blowing a 24-6 halftime lead, the Cardinals made the plays when it counted and advanced to their first ever Super Bowl in a 32-25 NFC Championship shootout over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Warner, who threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns, connected with All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald on three first half scores including a sensational 62-yard score off of a flea flicker.

Fitzgerald finished with 153 yards and three touchdowns.  He has 419 yards receiving in three postseason games which is a new NFL record for one playoff stretch previously held by Jerry Rice in 1988.

The home crowd could not have been more louder as the two teams headed into the locker room with Arizona holding a commanding 24-6 lead.

Donovan McNabb led a furious comeback and used tight end Brent Celek to spark Philadelphia's revival.  McNabb found Celek twice, from 6 and 31 yards respectively, and the defense shut down the Cardinals offense.

David Akers missed the extra point after Celek's second touchdown, he also missed a 47-yard kick in the second quarter.

In the fourth quarter, DeSean Jackson caught a 62-yard pass to give the Eagles a brief 25-24 lead but the two-point conversion was no good.

Warner then took command, driving Arizona on a 14-play, 72-yard drive that took 7:52 off the clock and was capped off by Hightower's score. 

The Arizona defense then held on and made sure McNabb's passes did not reach their targets.  McNabb's final pass went through the hands of Kevin Curtis but TV replays showed that he might have been interfered with.

McNabb finished with 375 yards and three scores.  Celek caught 10 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns.  DeSean Jackson caught the other touchdown to go with 92 yards receiving.

Arizona now awaits the winner of Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game for Super Bowl XLIII.