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Throws of frustration for return man Owens

Eagles 38, Cowboys 24
PHILADELPHIA -- With Terrell Owens watching from the sideline, Donovan McNabb turned ordinary receivers into big-time playmakers.

As for T.O., the most overhyped homecoming in recent memory was totally ordinary: 3 catches, 45 yards, 0 drama.

McNabb threw touchdown passes of 40 yards to Reggie Brown and 87 yards to Hank Baskett, and Lito Sheppard returned an interception 102 yards in the final minute to seal the Eagles' 38-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday.

Owens's return to Philadelphia dominated the headlines last week, with Philly fans planning a hostile welcome. But Owens was merely a decoy for most of the game, and those fans were too dazzled by McNabb to fixate much on the erstwhile Eagles receiver who helped them reach the Super Bowl in 2004 before last year's bitter departure.

``It's frustrating," Owens said. ``Opportunities were there and we didn't make them. I'm a competitor. I do not like to lose. Maybe I need to work harder."

Not only did Owens not score, he didn't catch a pass until the third quarter -- then dropped the next one thrown to him, much to the delight of a frenzied crowd that showered Owens with derisive chants, insults, and boos.

``I was surprised Terrell didn't have more catches. That was not our plan," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after chatting with Owens in the locker room.

The Eagles (4-1) took the lead for good when McNabb connected with Brown on a flea-flicker pass with 9:13 left that made it 31-24. Brown, a second-year pro who replaced a suspended Owens in the starting lineup last year, beat rookie safety Patrick Watkins and caught the ball deep in the end zone.

The Cowboys (2-2) drove to the Eagles 33 on the ensuing drive. But Sheppard intercepted Drew Bledsoe's badly underthrown pass -- intended for an open Owens.

Owens angrily snapped at his chin strap, walked off the field, and took his usual spot at the end of the bench.

The Cowboys had one more chance after a pass interference penalty on Michael Lewis allowed them to convert a fourth-and-18 from their 37.

But from the Eagles 6, Sheppard stepped in front of Bledsoe's pass and raced the other way to put the game away. Bledsoe threw three interceptions and was sacked seven times.

For a while, the Cowboys were doing just fine without getting Owens involved. DeMarcus Ware scored on a 69-yard fumble return and Bledsoe ran in from the 7 to give Dallas a 21-17 halftime lead.

But Philadelphia's struggling offense turned it around with one big play.

McNabb took a deep drop, eluded a sack, stepped up and heaved a pass downfield. Baskett ran past Watkins, caught the ball in stride, broke a tackle near the 30 and streaked into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

Baskett, acquired in a trade after he was signed by Minnesota as a rookie free agent, was starting for the injured Donte' Stallworth. He finished with three catches for 112 yards.

Dallas tied it at 24 on a 39-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt early in the fourth quarter. Then McNabb took over.

``This is a total team game," said McNabb, who was 18 of 33 for 354 yards and two TDs. ``It's not T.O. vs. Donovan. All of us play together."

Owens was a non-factor in the first half as the Cowboys relied on their running game. Bledsoe finally looked Owens's way on the Cowboys' 17th offensive play, but he was hit on the throw and Brian Dawkins intercepted.

Owens's first catch -- on Dallas's 41st play -- was a short pass that he turned into a 9-yard gain. He then looked toward the Eagles' sideline and spun the ball on the ground in their direction while gesturing.

Perhaps distracted by the Owens hoopla, both teams were sloppy at the start.

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who didn't practice all week because of a knee injury, looked fine on a 24-yard screen pass on the first play from scrimmage. But he fumbled on the next play, giving Dallas the ball at its 38.

Cowboys punter Mat McBriar later fumbled a snap and Shawn Barber recovered at the 12. Westbrook ran in from the 5.

Darwin Walker sacked Bledsoe on Dallas's first play on the ensuing possession, forcing a fumble Trent Cole recovered at the Cowboys 14. But the Eagles settled for David Akers's 27-yard field goal that made it 10-0.

Marion Barber's 2-yard TD run made it 10-7.

In the second quarter, Greg Ellis hit McNabb and the ball popped loose. Ware caught it and, with no one in front of him, raced 69 yards for a touchdown.

The Eagles answered quickly, taking a 17-14 lead on McNabb's sneak from the 1. McNabb connected with L.J. Smith on a 60-yard pass to set up the score.

Bledsoe, not known for his scrambling, scored on a 7-yard run to give Dallas a 21-17 lead.

``We came out in the second half, showed a lot of character," said Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. ``I think we really took a great step forward."


A complete-game victory
CHICAGO -- Calling the Chicago Bears an offensive juggernaut might seem to defy logic, tradition, and the lineage of gritty defenders from Butkus to Singletary to Urlacher.

Believe it.

Getting a huge boost from their trademark defense, the Bears scored the first five times they had the ball yesterday and ruined the homecoming of former coach Dick Jauron with a 40-7 drubbing of Jauron's Buffalo Bills to improve to 5-0 for the first time in 20 years.

Rex Grossman threw two touchdown passes, Cedric Benson scored his first two NFL touchdowns, and the Bears capitalized on five Buffalo turnovers as they piled up their biggest points total since 1993.

Suddenly, the team that always counted on its defense to make up for an anemic offense in recent seasons is averaging 31 points a game, outscoring even the high-flying Indianapolis Colts through five games.

``That was a fun game," said Grossman, who sat out the fourth quarter after going 15 of 27 for 182 yards and the two touchdowns.

Tough defense was the Bears' hallmark during Jauron's tenure from 1999-2003, but a shaky offense kept Chicago out of the playoffs every season but 2001. His teams managed 30 points just four times in five years, and never more than 37.

The ``D" remains as stingy as ever, or more so. Chicago yielded just 145 total yards to the Bills (2-3), and the last-minute touchdown it gave up was only the second TD the defense has allowed all season.

But an injury-free Grossman and the high-powered passing game have made the NFC's only unbeaten team more dangerous on offense than it has been in years. The Bills compounded that by giving the ball away frequently after going three of their first four games without any turnovers.

The outmanned Bills found themselves in trouble early and often against a speedy, aggressive defense. They dug themselves a hole on the opening drive when Brian Moorman fumbled the snap on a fake punt and Brendon Ayanbadejo recovered at the Buffalo 40. Six plays later, Robbie Gould kicked a 42-yard field goal to open the scoring.

Following a 43-yard field goal, the Bears blew open the game with three TDs in a nine-minute span of the second quarter.


Fast start stops 'em cold
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, quickly rebounding from consecutive losses and beating the New York Jets, 41-0, yesterday.

Maurice Drew ran for two touchdowns, Fred Taylor added another, and Byron Leftwich capped the fast start with a 1-yard TD pass to George Wrighster.

The Jets (2-3) provided plenty of help along the way. Chad Pennington (10 of 17, 71 yards, three INTs) threw two interceptions that Jacksonville (3-2) turned into touchdowns, and Ben Graham had a punt blocked that resulted in a score.


Rivers throws changeup
SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers performed a trick that might have amazed Houdini. He made ``Martyball" disappear in a flurry of passes.

Rivers threw two touchdown passes, including a 22-yarder to All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates midway through the third quarter that lifted the San Diego Chargers to a 23-13 victory last night over the slumping Super Bowl champion Steelers, who dropped to 1-3.

Gates's catch capped a remarkable 91-yard drive during which Rivers, in his first year as a starter, threw nine passes in the span of 10 plays, completing six.

San Diego (3-1) got its coach, Marty Schottenheimer, off the hot seat. Schottenheimer, whose conservative approach has long been known as ``Martyball," was heavily criticized after sitting on a 13-7 halftime lead a week earlier at Baltimore. The Ravens rallied to win, 16-13.


Manning delivers -- again
INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning has mastered the great escape. Now the Indianapolis Colts want to make things a little easier for their quarterback.

For the third straight week, the two-time MVP led Indianapolis on a late touchdown drive, this time throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 5:10 left to give the Colts a 14-13 victory -- and avoid Tennessee's improbable upset bid yesterday.

Against winless Tennessee (0-5), Manning connected with Marvin Harrison and Wayne for second-half scores that rallied the Colts from a 10-point deficit. The win kept the Colts (5-0) unbeaten and in control of the AFC South, even if it was far from perfect. Manning finished 20 of 31 for 166 yards with one interception.

By grinding out 214 yards rushing, the Titans kept Manning and Co. on the sideline much of the game. Rookie quarterback Vince Young threw only two passes in the first quarter when the Titans piled up 100 yards rushing, and Travis Henry carried 19 times for 123 yards. Young even gave fans a glimpse of his mobility on a nifty 19-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.


At last, defense doesn't rest
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Don't write off the New York Giants' defense just yet. For that matter, don't write off the defending division champions, either.

Michael Strahan and the much-maligned defense limited Washington (2-3) to 164 total yards, and Eli Manning threw a touchdown pass and set up three of Jay Feely's four field goals with long passes to lead the Giants over the Redskins, 19-3, yesterday.

The big surprise of the day was the play of New York's defense, which was allowing an average of almost 31 points. It limited Mark Brunell to 109 yards on 12-of-22 passing. Strahan got his first sack of the season and Fred Robbins and Osi Umenyiora added sacks against a Redskins offense that averaged nearly 500 yards in winning its last two games.

Manning, who was 23 of 33 for 256 yards, drove New York (2-2) into Washington territory on each of its first six possessions using a balanced attack that got 123 yards rushing from Tiki Barber.


Return gets Bush started
NEW ORLEANS -- With a few waves, Reggie Bush beckoned the crowd to its feet as he awaited a critical punt. Soon, he had everyone in ecstasy.

Shut out of the end zone in his first four games as a pro, Bush took the punt 65 yards with less than five minutes to play to lift the New Orleans Saints to a 24-21 victory over Tampa Bay yesterday.

Bush escaped the Buccaneers' initial pursuit by scampering across the field to his right, then accelerating quickly as he cut upfield, leaving several defenders grasping for air as bedlam erupted in the Louisiana Superdome. He pointed at the fans in the end-zone seats as he scored.

``Once I turned that corner, I was just trying to turn on the jets," Bush said. ``It was so wide open, the slowest guy in the world probably could have scored that touchdown. The monkey's off my back now."

Peppered with questions recently about whether he was frustrated or pressing, Bush responded he did not care about scoring as long as the surprising Saints, now 4-1 and atop the NFC South, kept winning. They may not have beaten Tampa Bay if not for him.

The runback spoiled a valiant effort by winless Tampa Bay (0-4), which rallied from a 10-point deficit to take the lead in the second half.

Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, pressed into service because of Chris Simms's ruptured spleen, made only one costly mistake, fumbling while being sacked near his 20-yard line -- a turnover that led to a New Orleans touchdown. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns.


Ram-tough -- on defense
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The St. Louis Rams staved off a fourth-quarter comeback attempt by Brett Favre yesterday, walking away with a 23-20 victory at Lambeau Field after a big defensive play in the final minute.

What used to be the ``Greatest Show on Turf" under former coach Mike Martz isn't much of a show at all under new coach Scott Linehan. But so far, Linehan's more conservative offensive approach is a hit, and has resulted in a 4-1 start.

The Rams made plenty of mistakes yesterday, including a few rare slipups by quarterback Marc Bulger. But the Packers (1-4) couldn't make them pay until it was too late.

Favre (22 of 39, 220 yards) was relatively quiet for three quarters before rallying the Packers with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to rookie Greg Jennings that cut the Rams lead to 3 with 6:42 remaining. Favre then got the ball back with 2:46 remaining, and drove the Packers to the Rams' 11-yard line with 44 seconds left. But Leonard Little poked the ball away from Favre, and defensive back Jerametrius Butler recovered to end it.

49ERS 34, RAIDERS 20

Bay battle: S.F. stays afloat
SAN FRANCISCO -- For the last three miserable seasons, the Bay Area has been home to two bad NFL teams. At least the San Francisco 49ers can prove they're getting better.

Arnaz Battle caught two touchdown passes from Alex Smith, and the 49ers overcame Randy Moss's 100th career TD reception with a strong second half in a 34-20 victory over the winless Oakland Raiders yesterday.

Frank Gore rushed for a career-high 134 yards and third-string running back Maurice Hicks scored on a 33-yard screen pass for the rebuilding 49ers (2-3) as they rebounded emphatically from last week's 41-0 loss at Kansas City. They also overcame a halftime deficit against the Raiders (0-4), who added another discouraging loss to their streak of 10 straight.

Walt Harris made three of San Francisco's four interceptions, and the Niners scored 24 straight points after halftime to roll past their cross-water rivals in just the franchises' 11th regular-season meeting.


Leinart can't finish the job
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Leinart's first NFL game as a starter had a great beginning, a so-so middle, and a nearly fantastic finish. The Kansas City Chiefs have Larry Johnson, though, and his big play made the difference.

Johnson rumbled 78 yards on a pass play from Damon Huard to set up Lawrence Tyne's 19-yard field goal with 1:36 to play and the Chiefs (2-2) rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Arizona Cardinals, 23-20, yesterday.

Leinart (22 of 35, 253 yards) completed his first six passes, two for touchdowns. On his second pass play, he lofted a 49-yard TD pass to Anquan Boldin. And with the clock winding down, Leinart drove the Cardinals (1-4) into field goal range. But Neil Rackers missed a 51-yard kick that would have tied the game with two seconds to play.


Resurrecting Purple reign
MINNEAPOLIS -- Trailing by 14 points to start the fourth quarter against hapless Detroit, somebody on the Minnesota Vikings had to put the ball in the end zone.

The offense sure wasn't having much luck, so the defense took over, delivering an effort that would make the old Purple People Eaters proud. The Vikings (3-2) scored two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rescue the struggling offense yesterday, turning a 17-3 deficit into a 26-17 victory.

Ben Leber returned Jon Kitna's fumble 1 yard for a touchdown to cut Detroit's lead to 17-16 and Ryan Longwell made a 20-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 19-17 lead with three minutes left.

Kitna, trying to bring Detroit back, was flushed out of the pocket and corralled by Ray Edwards before desperately shoveling the ball toward the line of scrimmage. The pass landed right in E.J. Henderson's hands, and the linebacker raced 45 yards to seal the win and drop the Lions to 0-5.


Peppers seasons this win
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Julius Peppers and the Carolina defense bailed out the Panthers' offense.

Peppers had a sack, forced a fumble, and hit quarterback Charlie Frye five other times, and Richard Marshall returned an interception for a touchdown as the Panthers beat Cleveland, 20-12, yesterday, even though receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith failed to have big games against the Browns' banged-up secondary.

Carolina (3-2) held the Browns to 98 yards rushing in winning its third straight despite numerous dropped passes on offense and going 0 for 10 on third down. The Browns (1-4) played without their starting cornerbacks. Gary Baxter missed his third straight game with an injured chest muscle, while Leigh Bodden (sprained ankle) was scratched. Brodney Pool and Daven Holly held their own as Johnson had five catches for 67 yards and a TD and Smith was held to six catches for 62 yards.

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