PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- For the second straight season, the Philadelphia Eagles rode big performances from Donovan McNabb and their defense Saturday to eliminate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-9, in the opening game of the NFL playoffs.
Labeled as perennial underachievers, the Buccaneers were in the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years under coach Tony Dungy, who has come under criticism for his club's playoff failures.
Dungy reportedly needed his team to advance deep into the playoffs to keep his job. According to reports that surfaced Friday, Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer already has a five-year deal for Bill Parcells to take over for Dungy.
"I'm not going to speculate," Dungy said. "We don't need a funeral here. To get into speculation is not the reason to be here."
With the loss, the Bucs fell to 2-4 under Dungy in the playoffs, including 0-4 on the road. They have not scored a touchdown in their last three postseason games.
On Saturday, Dungy and his coaching staff had no answer for McNabb and the Eagles, who also eliminated the Bucs from the playoffs last season, 21-3.
McNabb completed 16 of 25 passes for 194 yards with two first-half touchdown passes that helped the Eagles open a 17-9 lead. He also broke off a 39-yard run in the opening quarter that set up a short field goal by David Akers.
"We did an excellent job today," McNabb said. "I was able to get get out of the pocket a little bit and open things up for us."
"We gave (McNabb) time to throw the ball and we had breakdowns downfield," Tampa Bay Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber said. "He is pretty tough. He made the plays to knock us out of the playoffs two years in a row."
The Eagles' defense intercepted Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson four times in the second half, including a 59-yard return for a touchdown by safety Damon Moore with just over two minutes remaining.
Rookie Correll Buckhalter scored on a 25-yard run in the third quarter for the NFC East champion Eagles (12-5), who travel to Chicago to meet the NFC Central champion Bears in the divisional round next Saturday.
Johnson, who was suppossed to be the missing piece to the Bucs' playoff puzzle after signing a five-year, $28 million contract as a free agent, completed 22 of 36 passes for 202 yards.
"It's tough when you end a season like this," Johnson said. "Today, we didn't get it done."
"We knew that they were a very good run team and I thought our defense stepped up," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "With the gang tackling the ball carriers, it didn't matter which one it was. We had four interceptions and it seemed like we had good pressure on the quarterback."
In seven second-half possessions, the Bucs had four turnovers and went three-and-out twice. Time expired the last time they had the ball.
"We made some adjustments. We got the lead and put them in passing situations," Eagles Pro Bowl linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said.
Martin Gramatica kicked three field goals to account for the offense for Tampa Bay (9-8), which gained 101 of its 258 yards in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, with both teams having clinched playoff berths, the Eagles closed the regular season with a 17-13 victory at Tampa Bay.
Things appeared to be breaking right for the Bucs, who headed into the contest with an 0-20 record when the game-time temperature is 40 degrees or colder. Game-time temperature on Saturday was 45 degrees.
And on the Eagles' opening possession, McNabb made a mistake on third and nine. After calling a timeout, McNabb was intercepted by safety Dexter Jackson, who returned it nine yards to the Philadelphia 36.
Johnson kept the short drive alive with a 13-yard completion to tight end Dave Moore on third and four to the 20. But the drive stalled and Gramatica kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Bucs the early lead.
McNabb used his legs on the ensuing drive to make a huge play. On third and five from his own 39, McNabb bought time in the pocket, ran up the middle and cut to his right before being caught 39 yards later. A late hit by Jackson moved the ball to the 11.
But the Eagles gained just three yards on three plays before Akers, another Pro Bowler, converted from 26 yards.
McNabb's arm led the Eagles down field in the second quarter. He found speedster Todd Pinkston for 41 yards over the middle to the Tampa Bay 19.
Two plays later, McNabb scrambled right and used a pump fake before finding tight end Chad Lewis in the end zone in front of Jackson for a 16-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead with 12:17 left in the half. McNabb was four of four for 70 yards on the five-play, 73-yard drive.
Boasting a defense with four Pro Bowlers, Tampa Bay allowed 190 of 334 total yards in the first half.
The Bucs answered that score with 10-play, 65-yard drive. But again, it stalled inside the 20 and Gramatica kicked a 32-yard field goal with 6:13 left before halftime.
Special teams helped the Eagles extend the lead later in the half. After a punt by Sean Landeta pinned the Bucs inside their own five, Tampa Bay went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
A 28-yard punt by Mark Royals put the Eagles at the Tampa Bay 31. McNabb kept alive the drive with a six-yard run on third and five to the 20.
Two plays later from the 23, McNabb found Duce Staley in the right flat with a screen pass. Staley used a convoy of blockers to make his way down the sideline before bouncing off Jackson inside the five and finding his way into the end zone, making it 17-6 with 35 seconds left in the half.