PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 19 -- The Super Bowl trip that looked like a virtual lock for the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago suddenly seemed less than certain Sunday. They were pushed to the limit by a far-from-imposing NFC East opponent for a second game in a row, a 12-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on a chilly, rainy afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. And they were left crossing their fingers and hoping for the best after wide receiver Terrell Owens limped off the field with an injured right ankle in the third quarter.
Eagles Coach Andy Reid called Owens's injury a sprain. He said that X-rays of Owens's ankle showed no break and the four-time Pro Bowl wideout is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Monday morning. Owens grabbed the back of his right leg after being dragged down by Cowboys safety Roy Williams at the end of a 20-yard catch and run. But Reid said it did not appear that Owens had hurt his knee, and indicated the early prognosis was that Owens had not suffered the sort of severe, "high'' ankle sprain that could linger for a month or two.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens limps off the field in the third quarter. He is expected to miss the Eagles' next game in St. Louis on Dec. 27.
(Bradley C. Bower -- Reuters)
"I'll know a little bit more after the MRI,'' Reid said.
After losses in the last three NFC title games, this season is supposed to be different, and Owens is a big reason why. He has been one of the league's most valuable players since being obtained in an offseason trade with the San Francisco 49ers. He has given the Eagles some swagger and made their offense more dynamic, and they struggled Sunday when he contributed only two catches for 24 yards.
He managed to hobble to the sideline and then to the tunnel leading to the locker room after getting hurt, but he stopped and needed to be helped the rest of the way to the locker room. The ankle soon swelled, Reid said, adding that he expects Owens to miss at least Monday night's game against the Rams in St. Louis.
"You don't want guys hurt,'' Reid said. "That's the bottom line. But things happen. Guys get hurt, and you move on. . . . The good news is, there's no break. The bad news is, it did swell up. There's a pretty good chance he won't be there for sure this week, and we'll see about the following week.''
Owens was not in the locker room when the doors were opened to media members after the game and was not available to comment. The Eagles (13-1) clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with the win, and there is little reason for Owens to try to play again during the regular season. The Eagles have a first-round playoff bye, then will host an NFC semifinal Jan. 15 or 16. That would give Owens four weeks to heal before the next meaningful game, and quarterback Donovan McNabb said there's "no doubt in my mind he'll be back'' for the playoffs.
"It's a wakeup call, obviously,'' McNabb said. "When someone goes down, someone else has to step up. . . . We've been to three NFC championship games without T.O. Guys have to understand their numbers are going to be called and we just have to be able to execute.''
But the Eagles haven't been able to overcome misfortune at this time of the year the last few seasons, as when they lost tailback Brian Westbrook last year to an injury in the regular season finale. They have good complementary players on offense to go with McNabb, Owens and Westbrook, but Owens has made those players better. Their running game doesn't scare defenses, and an Owens-less wide receiver corps consisting of Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell and Greg Lewis would put an immense burden on McNabb to make things happen.
That's what he did Sunday, scrambling for 12 and 19 yards on consecutive plays to set up reserve tailback Dorsey Levens's two-yard touchdown plunge that gave the Eagles the lead with 1 minute 57 seconds to play.
"I can't say enough good things about him,'' Reid said. "He put us right on his back and said, 'Let's go.' And we went.''
The Eagles missed a two-point conversion, giving the Cowboys (5-9) a final chance to win. Dallas began its final drive with a 13-yard completion from quarterback Vinny Testaverde to wide receiver Quincy Morgan for a first down at its 38. But Morgan dropped a pass around midfield, and then Testaverde sailed a throw way over the head of wideout Terrance Copper and into the hands of cornerback Lito Sheppard for an interception.
"It's not a 57-minute game or a 55-minute game,'' Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells said. "You have to play the whole game.''
The Eagles got the one first down they needed and ran out the clock. They remained unbeaten against NFC foes this season and completed their first undefeated season in division play. But after needing a late interception by safety Brian Dawkins to preserve a tight win over the Washington Redskins last week, their aura of invincibility was punctured again.
Kicker David Akers had an extra point attempt blocked after McNabb's two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chad Lewis in the second quarter. Eagles receivers dropped a half-dozen passes. McNabb threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a second-quarter sack to set up Testaverde's seven-yard touchdown pass to wideout Keyshawn Johnson.
But a Testaverde interception squelched a third-quarter scoring opportunity. Dallas kicker Billy Cundiff yanked a 46-yard field goal attempt wide left with just more than six minutes remaining, and the Eagles were rescued by their defense and McNabb's running.
"Those types of games, we might have lost in the past,'' Dawkins said. "We're not losing them now.''