AROUND THE NFL
After stumbling, Eagles take bows
If the NFL season were a beauty pageant, the Philadelphia Eagles would have been fitted for a blindfold instead of a tiara weeks ago. Their hideous 0-2 start was like tripping over your own evening gown on the runway. They definitely weren't going to win a swimsuit competition with Andy Reid's midriff. But their talent could blow any plate-spinner away: the ability to win football game after football game without the slightest hint of domination.
For all their repugnance, these Eagles have reemerged as a contender. After yesterday's 28-10 triumph over the Giants, their first with any conviction at new Lincoln Financial Field, fans are now smitten with the hometown team. The early-season deficiencies have been air-brushed by a five-game winning streak. Those warts covering Donovan McNabb's season have magically disappeared. All in all, a makeover worthy of Ricki Lake.
"From where we were after two games, everybody burning us up and trying to get us out of town, to where we are now is pretty exciting," said McNabb, who has fueled the about-face. His September quarterback rating resembled the price of a postage stamp. In November he's produced two of his five career 300-yard passing games. "Donovan did a nice job," said Reid. "He spread the ball around, hit nine different receivers, and seemed very productive."
He usually is against the Giants -- McNabb has won his last five starts against his NFC East nemesis. His 24-for-30 effort yesterday, with two touchdown tosses and no interceptions, was a clinic in mobile quarterbacking. Actually, there was no need for McNabb to run (zero yards on four carries) with receivers roaming so freely.
McNabb's 10-of-10 second half was highlighted by an eight-play, 95-yard quest that resulted in Westbrook's second score, a 4-yard run. So confident was Reid in his quarterback that, even with a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead, the Eagles passed on five of six plays on their penultimate possession, sealed by McNabb's 5-yard touchdown toss to Westbrook with 5:26 left.
"It's great that we finally came together offensively," said James Thrash, McNabb's top target yesterday with six catches for 48 yards. "We've had one good quarter, two good quarters. This time we did it the whole game."
That had to be a relief to the Philadelphia defense, which has carried the load during the winning streak, holding opponents to just 13.4 points. That number would be higher if not for a goal-line stand late in the second quarter, when the Giants were poised at the 1. Four plays later the Eagles had the ball back at their 3 and a 14-3 halftime lead secure. It was Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, out since the opener with a bum foot, who took down Tiki Barber for a 2-yard loss on fourth down.
"What you've seen is a determined bunch," said McNabb, after his team climbed into a tie for the lead in the NFC East. "We've erased the negativity in the minds of some of the Philadelphia fans and some of the people across the country and expressed some of the positive things we can do."
Congeniality should count for something, right?A pointless exercise The Buffalo offense not only can't find the end zone, it's having a hard time getting to the game without incident.
The Bills got the bad news rolling way before kickoff of their 14-12 loss to the Texans, when it was learned offensive tackle Mike Williams was involved in a one-car accident en route to Ralph Wilson Stadium. According to police, Williams lost control of his pickup when he reached down for something he dropped (it's never too early for a Buffalo turnover). Williams was sent home after X-rays revealed no serious injuries.
Fast-forward to late in the first half, when running back Travis Henry was rolled up from behind by Houston's Jay Foreman, cracking Henry's right fibula. The guy stayed in to finish with 23 carries and 149 yards, but he still couldn't help the Bills reach paydirt. "I'm so mad. I don't know what to do," said struggling quarterback Drew Bledsoe. "There have been times when offenses I have been on have struggled . . . but I can't recall a time when we went three games without a touchdown."
No Williams, no Henry, no receiver Eric Moulds (groin). Two missed field goals by Rian Lindell. To put it all in perspective, the Bills have rung up a paltry 21 points in their last three games, and 6 have come on safeties. "It shouldn't be happening, but it's where we are," said team president Tom Donahoe. "We have to come up with some answers. Right now we don't seem to have any answers."
There certainly is no shortage of questions.
Davis spurred on Stephen Davis's first carry against his former team resulted in a fumble. His last resulted in Carolina's 20-17 win over the Redskins. Davis, the spark behind the surprising Panthers' 8-2 start, had a statement to make to his ex-coach, Steve Spurrier, who chose not to re-sign the former Pro Bowler in the offseason. "It was personal, very personal," said Davis. "I spent seven years of my career there." Davis didn't have his best game (92 yards, eclipsing 1,000 for the season), but it had to be his most rewarding, especially after plowing into the end zone from the 1 with 1:09 left. Spurrier was predictably vague when prodded afterward. "What do you want me to say?" Spurrier said. "He's having a wonderful year, we all know that. He's an excellent back, we know that." No use in keeping that kind of player around . . . In making his 200th straight start (playoffs included), Brett Favre managed to end a few streaks as well. The Packers' 20-13 victory gave Favre his first win at Raymond James Stadium, where he was 0-5. He also endedthe Bucs' league-record run of 69 consecutive games with at least one sack.
Material from wire services was used in this report.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.