Eagles start slow, rout Pack, then look forward to T.O.
PHILADELPHIA -- On Monday night, long before the Philadelphia Eagles warmed up versus the Packers for their much-anticipated matchup with the Dallas Cowboys here Sunday, a typically rowdy and resourceful Lincoln Financial Field congregation began to heatedly prepare for the return of wide receiver Terrell Owens.
In the parking lot across the street from the stadium before Monday's game, a screaming fan torched an old Eagles jersey bearing Owens' name and number, tossed it into a blazing charcoal fire and then exhorted his buddies as the uniform slowly smoldered and they gleefully danced around the flaming grill.
And the Eagles hope the momentum created in Monday's second half, when they outscored the overmatched Packers 24-0, will carry over to Sunday, when Owens and the Cowboys visit this raucous, madhouse crucible that anxiously awaits their arrival.
"That second half was definitely something to build on," said wide receiver Greg Lewis, whose two touchdown catches in an eye-blink flurry of the third quarter rendered Monday's game lopsided. "There were some stretches where we just weren't making any plays. Give credit to the Packers, because they had a good game plan, and they knew exactly how they wanted to play this game. But once we got going, we were really smokin' there, weren't we? It felt good to get on track."
Not surprisingly, the man who ignited the Eagles was McNabb, whose last Monday night appearance ended with his throwing a late-game interception that was returned for a touchdown by Dallas strong safety Roy Williams, a play that turned out to be the quarterback's final snap of the 2005 season. McNabb aggravated a sports hernia injury on that interception last Nov. 14 and underwent surgery a few days later.
"But once we got going, we were really smokin' there, weren't we?"
On Monday night, McNabb wasn't exactly surgically precise, especially early in the contest, but he came out in the third quarter and made big plays with his arm and also his legs. Overshadowed in the two touchdown passes to Lewis just 77 seconds apart -- a 45-yarder on which the wide receiver toasted Green Bay cornerback Ahmad Carroll, and then a 30-yard pass in space when the Packers appeared to blow a zone look -- was that McNabb actually began the second-half explosion by scrambling for a pair of first downs on the first series of the third quarter.
Both those runs, of 14 and 12 yards, came on third-and-10 situations. The 57-yard drive culminated in a 40-yard field goal by David Akers that nudged Philadelphia into a 10-9 lead. As tenuous as that advantage seemed at the time, grabbing any kind of lead against a Packers team that proved tenacious through the first 30 minutes gave the too-tight Eagles an excuse to exhale. And once they loosened up and reduced the silly mistakes that cost them points in the first half, the flood gates opened.
McNabb finished the evening 16-of-30 for 288 yards, two touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 108.8 passer rating. He also ran for 47 yards on five carries, including touchdown runs of six yards in the second quarter (on a well-executed quarterback draw where he got terrific blocks from center Jamaal Jackson and right guard Shawn Andrews) and a 15-yard scramble in the final stanza.
"We're excited enough to play them right now."
"I think, for whatever reason, we were pressing," McNabb said. "Then we got things in rhythm."
Philadelphia scored on its first four possessions of the second half and, by early in the fourth quarter, much of the partisan crowd had departed, likely to plot nefarious strategies for The Return of T.O.
Rumor is that the always-sensitive Philadelphia crowd plans to greet Owens next Sunday with a shower of prescription bottles. One fan who did stay until the end of Monday night's game held up a homemade placard which read: "T.O. -- Get Well Soon So We Can Hurt You."
The only people the Eagles hurt in the first half Monday were themselves. Part of the offensive malaise could be attributed to the absence of tailback Brian Westbrook, the team's primary catalyst, who was a late-game scratch. Some suspected that coach Andy Reid held out his mighty-mite playmaker so he will be healthy for next week. Westbrook's replacement, Correll Buckhalter, lost two fumbles inside the 4-yard line. And on the last play of the first half, the Eagles eschewed a long field-goal attempt for a fake placement, with the gambit blowing up in their faces.
Of course, by game's end, the fans had largely forgotten those pratfalls. Even if Eagles players hadn't.
"There's no way, against Dallas, we can make those kinds of [bad] plays or get off to such a sloppy start," tight end L.J. Smith said. "We have to come out sharp, right off the bat."
Fortunately for the Eagles, the Packers weren't a whole lot better, with quarterback Brett Favre anything but sharp and getting little support from his receivers. Favre finished 22-of-44 for 205 yards, with no touchdown passes and two interceptions, and he forced a lot of passes in the second half before he was mercifully replaced by Aaron Rodgers.
His performance aside, the Philadelphia players spoke of Favre with admiration and lauded the toughness with which he still plays the game. There were no such plaudits for the Cowboys or for Owens. Savvy young cornerback Sheldon Brown, regarded for his diligence in film study, insisted he has yet to break out the video of Owens, because he wanted to focus on Packers wideout Donald Driver last week. Knowing Brown, though, he probably exited here Monday night and headed straight for a video machine.
"As soon as this game was over," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said, "we were in the locker room talking about the Dallas Cowboys coming to town. We're excited enough to play them right now."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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