The return to health of Donovan McNabb--and the banishment of his nemesis--will
restore this once-feared team to prominence, even though Philadelphia doesn't
have a marquee receiver to catch McNabb's passes.
The circus--as defensive end Jevon Kearse describes it--has folded its tent and
headed west, and the Freak and his teammates couldn't be happier. With the
off-season move of Terrell Owens to the Cowboys, the Eagles believe they're
past the nightmare of 2005. "There's no more War of the Roses,"
linebacker Dhani Jones says, referring to the messy feud between T.O. and
McNabb that set an ominous tone for what turned out to be a 6--10 fall from
grace. "One person can make or break a team, and last year you saw the
difference between when a team is superunified or disassociated."
The truth is that
Philly was done in by more than Owens's petulance and the resulting
distractions. Coming off four consecutive NFC title games and a Super Bowl loss
to the Patriots, coach Andy Reid's team, some players say, had become
complacent. Then there was the seasonlong barrage of injuries, McNabb's sports
hernia being the most devastating.
brilliant and heroic efforts by McNabb early on, the five-time Pro Bowl
quarterback went down for good in mid-November. He has come back strong and is
as breezy and upbeat as ever, resolute in his belief that the lack of a
receiving option that even comes close to approaching Owens's skill level won't
keep him from regaining his mojo.
joined the Eagles in 2004, McNabb, bereft of big-time playmakers, tended to
play unevenly in big games--as though he believed he had to do it all himself.
How much help he'll have this year depends in part on the development of the
team's young pass catchers, with '05 second-round draft pick Reggie Brown, who
led all NFL rookies with 571 receiving yards, the most logical to emerge.
McNabb is also intrigued by the potential of Hank Baskett, a 6'4",
220-pound rookie free agent from New Mexico who has excellent hands. The
wideout corps will be strengthened by the addition of veteran Dont� Stallworth,
acquired on Monday in a trade with the Saints.
fifth-year halfback Brian Westbrook is McNabb's most explosive option. The
quarterback puts the 5'8", 203-pound Westbrook in a class with "the old
Marshall Faulk. He has a bigger heart than his size would indicate."
Problem is, the diminutive rushing-receiving threat gets hurt a lot, missing
the last four games of last season with a right-foot sprain and most of the
preseason this year with a sprained left foot.
The NFC East is a
different division from the one the Eagles ruled from 2001 through
'04--stronger top to bottom. It will take a spirited and focused effort for
Philly to compete with the defending division champion Giants, the resurgent
Redskins and T.O.'s new teammates in Dallas.
"Last year is
buried in a casket, and the casket doesn't need to be opened up for any DNA
tests," safety Brian Dawkins says. "You'll see a very emotional group
this year. I promise you that."
10 at Houston
17 N.Y. GIANTS
24 at San Francisco