Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Eagles have attitude to go with talent

By Rob Maaddi
The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles had talent. Now they have swagger and personality, too.

No, these aren't the same old Eagles, who lost the last three NFC championship games. And it isn't just because they added Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse and brought back Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb (5) threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score in the Eagles' 30-13 win Sunday.
(AP photo/Paul Sancya)
Sure, Owens and Kearse have proved to be the missing pieces on offense and defense, helping the Eagles start 3-0 for the first time since they won four in a row to open the 1993 season.

But they've also helped provide another missing ingredient: attitude.

These Eagles are cocky and confident. They strut their stuff on the field, in the end zone and in the locker room.

When they're not connecting on long passes, Owens and quarterback Donovan McNabb are sharing laughs on the sidelines, or critiquing each other's dance moves.

McNabb prefers old-school Michael Jackson routines, seemingly oblivious to the fact the moonwalk went out in the '80s.

Owens likes the hip-hop style, though he has stuck to flexing and posing after scoring touchdowns this season. He hammed it up at a Monday night game by giving the national TV audience a close look at his golden mouthpiece, grinning into the camera.

McNabb and Owens are also rubbing off on teammates. In Philadelphia's latest rout, a 30-13 victory at Detroit on Sunday, Mike Bartrum - yes, a third-string tight end who usually gets in just to snap on punts and kicks - became the first Eagles player penalized for excessive celebration this season.

The 11-year veteran caught a 1-yard TD pass from McNabb- four of Bartrum's six career catches are TDs - and celebrated by snapping the ball nearly 20 yards between his and tight end L.J. Smith's legs. The innovative move cost the Eagles 15 yards they could afford against the overmatched Lions, and assured Bartrum a spot on highlight shows.

And, of course, there's wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who gestures and prances after every catch he makes, including 8-yard receptions on third-and-10.

Even stoic coach Andy Reid has joined in, occasionally mixing a self-deprecating fat joke into his bland news conferences.

The Eagles are enjoying themselves for good reason. They're not just winning, they're dominating opponents, outscoring teams by an average of two touchdowns.

First, the Eagles steamrolled the New York Giants 31-17, with Owens catching three TDs in his Philadelphia debut. Then came a 27-16 Monday night victory over Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and the Minnesota Vikings that wasn't as close as the final indicates. The previously unbeaten Lions were the easiest victim, falling behind 21-0 in the second quarter.

Five other teams remain undefeated. None has won each of its games by double digits.

"The guys can really challenge themselves this year," McNabb said. "Everything that happened last year has made us hungry."

A third consecutive loss in the NFC title game - underdog Carolina won 13-3 at the Linc last season - didn't sit well with fans, players, coaches or management. The Eagles needed a drastic change to help them get to the Super Bowl.

On the first day of the NFL's free agency period, they signed Kearse to a $66 million, eight-year deal. A three-time Pro Bowl defensive end with Tennessee, Kearse has returned to his old form, becoming a disruptive force.

Though he doesn't have an oversized ego like Owens, Kearse brings tenacity and intensity to a defense that hasn't had a player cause this many problems for quarterbacks since Reggie White wore silver and green.

"This is a beautiful thing," said Kearse, who had all three of his sacks against Detroit. "I'm lining up wherever they want me to and I'm having fun doing it. They just put me in the open and let me line up with someone that is not really that good at blocking."

Meanwhile, Owens is thriving on offense. He has 18 catches for 254 yards and five TDs. His presence has made other players better, too, helping McNabb to the best start of his six-year career.

Now that James Thrash is no longer his first option on pass plays, McNabb has excelled. He has completed 69.8 percent of his passes (74 of 106) for 931 yards, eight TDs, no interceptions, and has run for two scores.

This time last year, McNabb was playing poorly, hearing boos and dealing with the racially charged critique of then-ESPN commentator Rush Limbaugh, who said the Pro Bowl quarterback was overrated because the media wants to see a black quarterback succeed.

Wonder what Limbaugh thinks now.

McNabb's only problem is figuring out whether to throw to Owens, Mitchell, Smith, Chad Lewis, Todd Pinkston or Brian Westbrook.

"Donovan has his hands full trying to disperse all the rocks to everybody," Owens said. "Everybody has a chance and opportunity to make plays."

Owens' arrival in Philadelphia raised eyebrows, especially among those who closely followed the Eagles under Reid. Considered a me-first player with a penchant for disrupting team chemistry, Owens wasn't the type of player Reid sought.

But Reid insisted Owens would fit into his system, and the star receiver has proved him right. Owens hasn't lashed out at Reid or any assistant coaches on the sidelines, and he hasn't questioned the playcalling or criticized McNabb.

Then again, it's easy to be happy when you're winning.

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