PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- Donovan McNabb received a baptism by fire in his NFL debut last season against the vaunted defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Today, the talented second-year quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles meets the same Bucs in his first NFL playoff game.
The Eagles will host their first wild card game since 1995 while the Bucs are in the postseason for the second time in three years under coach Tony Dungy.
But the Bucs will have to prove they can finally win in cold weather conditions if they hope to reach Super Bowl XXXV in their home stadium. Tampa Bay is 0-19 all-time when the temperature is under 40 degrees, with the latest loss coming last week in Green Bay.
It should be noted that the Bucs would have won last week's game against the Packers if the normally reliable Martin Gramatica had not hooked a 40-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
McNabb and Bucs quarterback Shaun King are both members of the Class of '99. The second overall pick, McNabb has flourished in coach Andy Reid's system. A second-round pick, King has efficiently run Tampa Bay's conservative offense since the midway point of his rookie season.
Both have remained close since they worked out in New Orleans for NFL scouts before their rookie seasons.
But McNabb does not have warm memories of tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety John Lynch. In his NFL debut, McNabb started the second half and was sacked six times in Tampa Bay's 19-5 win here in September 1999.
Under pressure throughout the final 30 minutes, McNabb completed 4-of-11 passes for just 26 yards.
But McNabb has matured quickly. In his second season, McNabb can state a strong case for NFL MVP honors. He passed for 3,365 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the team in rushing with 629 yards and six scores.
"I'm biased, but no one's been better than him this season," said Reid. "I feel the same with him as I did with Brett (Favre) when he was winning his MVP's."
Many left the Eagles for dead after they lost star running back Duce Staley to a season-ending foot injury in Week Five, but McNabb and a defense which ranked fifth in the NFL carried the Eagles to their first playoff berth in four years.
"Hugh Douglas gives them a lot of pressure up front, Trotter is a physical linebacker and their secondary is strong with Vincent and (safety Brian) Dawkins," Dungy said. "They've just a good combination of things working for them."
Corey Simon is probably the league's top defensive rookie. He collapsed the pocket effectively at defensive tackle, recording 15 sacks.
King completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,769 yards and 18 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Last season, he rallied the Bucs to a 14-13 win over Washington in the divisional playoff, but struggled mightily in the NFC championship game loss at St. Louis.
However, two weeks ago, King shined in a pivotal 38-35 victory over the Rams, passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
Bucs receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green will match up against Eagles cornerbacks Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Acquired from the New York Jets for a pair of first-round picks in the offseason, Johnson led the Bucs with 71 receptions for 874 yards and eight touchdowns.
Warrick Dunn led Tampa Bay's ground attack with 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns. Fullback Mike Alstott added 465 yards and five scores.
The Eagles are shaky in their backfield. Newly acquired Chris Warren rushed for 42 yards on 15 carries and fumbled twice in last week's win over Cincinnati. Darnell Autry, who was the starter before Warren was signed this month, suffered a high ankle sprain and may not be available today.
The winner of this game will face the New York Giants (12-4) in the divisional playoffs.
The Bucs lead the series, 4-3.