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Life without T.O. begins for Eagles

| Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004

PHILADELPHIA -- Terrell Owens invigorated the Philadelphia Eagles with his attitude, enthusiasm and MVP-type performance.

Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook will do their best to prove this wasn't a one-man offense.

A badly sprained ankle and broken leg will sideline Owens for the rest of the regular season and possibly the entire postseason -- a devastating blow for a team that dominated the NFC and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with two games left.

But take heart, Philly fans: losing the brash-talking, playmaking wide receiver doesn't end the Eagles' chances of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years.

Owens isn't the only reason Philadelphia is 13-1.

The Eagles still have McNabb and Westbrook on offense, and Jevon Kearse leads the stingiest defense in the NFL. No team has allowed fewer points (202).

"They will be fine," said Owens, who has an outside chance of playing in the Super Bowl if the Eagles make it. "It doesn't stop with me."

While Owens was catching passes, criticizing coaches and teammates and inventing innovative touchdown celebrations in San Francisco, the Eagles reached the last three NFC Championship games.

A lackluster receiving corps was a major reason they didn't win one, but these Eagles are in better position to finally get to the NFL title game -- even without Owens, who had 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and a team-record 14 TD catches.

McNabb is having the best season of his six-year career, and Westbrook has emerged as one of the most dangerous running backs in the league. The revamped defense is championship-caliber.

Sure, receivers Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, Greg Lewis and seldom-used Billy McMullen are ordinary. But tight ends Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith are go-to targets for McNabb, while opponents still haven't found a way to stop Westbrook, who has 812 yards rushing and 73 catches for 703 yards.

"I don't think it is any step back too much with T.O. not being in there," McNabb said. "With those guys in there, we are still running our offense and those guys will have opportunities to make plays for us."

With Owens, the Eagles won their first nine games against conference opponents by double-digit margins, including five games by more than 20 points each.

Without him, they have to win two playoffs games against inferior teams in a weak conference to reach the Super Bowl. Philadelphia's first playoff game on Jan. 15 or 16 could be against a team that finishes with a losing record.

Owens' presence on the field and personality in the locker room will be missed. But the Eagles are used to overcoming significant injuries.

In 2002, McNabb missed the last six games with a broken ankle. Backup quarterback Koy Detmer and third-string A.J. Feeley led the Eagles to a 5-1 record down the stretch, before McNabb returned for the playoffs.

Last season, free safety Brian Dawkins, the defense's best player, missed nine games with a foot injury, and Westbrook sat out the playoffs with torn triceps. Still, if McNabb hadn't injured his ribs in the NFC title game against Carolina, the Eagles might have beaten the Panthers.

"We'll make do without him, obviously, and the guys will step up and play," coach Andy Reid said.

The Eagles' offense now must rely on the arm and legs of McNabb and the hands and feet of Westbrook. McNabb proved this season he is a precision pocket passer, throwing for 3,839 yards, 30 TDs and only eight interceptions, while completing 63.7 percent of his passes and compiling a 103.8 rating.

Known for his scrambling ability, McNabb hasn't had to run much, mainly because Owens always seemed open. But with Owens out Sunday, McNabb ran for gains of 12 and 19 yards in Philadelphia's winning drive against Dallas.

McNabb will have to resort to scrambling now to prevent defenses from focusing on Westbrook. None of the wide receivers warrants being double-teamed, so the Eagles have to hope for mismatches when Westbrook comes out of the backfield. They'll also need Westbrook to continue gaining plenty of yards on the ground.

There was a sense at times during the season that some players were tired of hearing Owens get most of the credit for the team's success, and some receivers complained they should get more passes. Now it's their turn to prove themselves.

Mitchell, a first-round bust in his fourth season in Philadelphia, finally has a chance to put up or shut up. He has too many nicknames and too much attitude for a player with only 14 catches, but he's never been in a starting role.

Lewis, who made the team as a rookie free agent last season, won't intimidate cornerbacks, but he can get open downfield. McMullen, who has one catch in two seasons, showed enough promise to get selected in the third round last year.

That leaves Pinkston, vilified by fans for shying away from hits the last two games. If Pinkston toughens up, he stretches the field. Six of his 36 receptions have been longer than 46 yards and he gains 18.8 yards per catch.

While Owens prepared for surgery Wednesday, he also had to deal with some legal issues. Formulated Sciences, Inc. filed a $35 million breach of contract suit against Owens and his agent, David Joseph, in California.

The company is a manufacturer and distributor of nutritional supplements. The complaint alleges breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and a common counts cause of action.

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