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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Manning Fares Well in Mop-Up Role

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2004; 3:33 PM

PHILADELPHIA -- Welcome to the NFL, Eli Manning.

The top overall draft choice's real introduction to the league came not in training camp or preseason, or even when he handed the ball to Tiki Barber on Sunday and watched the tailback sprint to a 72-yard touchdown on Manning's first NFL play.

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No, Manning, who came in on mop-up duty in a 31-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, truly arrived when he was wiped out by Eagles defensive tackle Darwin Walker on a bone-crunching hit as he scrambled on the game's final play, then pulled himself off the turf and calmly talked about it later, shrugging it off even while knowing how sore he would be this morning.

"It was a good shot,'' Manning said. "He got a good lick on me, but I'm fine now. . . . As a quarterback, you're going to get hit. You're looking downfield, and guys are coming after you. That's part of the deal. It's part of football.''

Manning actually fared well in his debut, replacing an ineffective Kurt Warner with 2 minutes 37 seconds left and helping the Giants move down the field twice. His first drive resulted in Barber's touchdown, and he got the Giants to the Eagles 14-yard line on his second possession before being pushed back by an illegal-formation penalty and then separated from the ball by Walker. Giants tailback Ron Dayne picked up the fumble and was shoved out of bounds to end the game.

"I never saw him,'' Manning said. "I was going to my right, and I thought everybody was behind me. He hit me pretty square.''

For now, Manning's learning experiences will come in short doses. Coach Tom Coughlin put the starting job up for grabs during preseason but isn't ready to have a revolving door at the position, saying Sunday night that Warner remains his starter for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins at Giants Stadium.

"We had an opportunity to play Eli, and I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity,'' Coughlin said. "Whenever we can, we'll play him.''

The Giants, predictably, were overmatched Sunday by the three-time defending NFC East champions. And the Eagles didn't just beat the Giants, they beat them up. Before Walker's hit on Manning, Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter knocked Giants punter Jeff Feagles temporarily unconscious with a vicious blow on a second-quarter punt play. Feagles ran downfield to be involved in coverage but got a bit too close and wasn't paying close enough attention, and Trotter leveled him.

Some members of the Giants organization were upset that Trotter went after the punter and believed that Trotter would be fined by the league for a helmet-to-helmet hit. There was no penalty on the play. "Usually the kicker, unless he's wide out in the open, doesn't get blasted,'' Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.

The Giants initially feared that Feagles might have broke his jaw or sustained a concussion, but he remained in the game and said he was not seriously hurt.

"I feel fine,'' Feagles said. "It just kind of knocked me out for a second. I didn't see the hit. All I did was feel it. I felt a crash. If it's a clean hit, I have no problem with it. If it's helmet to helmet, I have a problem with it. You can hit me. Even though I'm the punter, I'm the last guy on our coverage, the safety. Just don't try to kill me.''

Trotter said he'd done nothing wrong.

"That was clean,'' he said. "I wouldn't have hit him, but he was going to try to make a tackle. I was coming around the side and at first, he was just standing there. Once [returner Reno] Mahe broke it, he started to make the tackle and I said, 'If you're going to make the tackle, then I'm going to get you.' '' . . .

The Eagles suffered another costly injury when guard Shawn Andrews caught his right leg beneath the pile on a second-quarter running play and broke his fibula. The first-round draft choice will have to undergo surgery and will be lost for the season, Coach Andy Reid said.

Reid always has built his teams around his offensive and defensive lines, and the loss of Andrews is significant. The Eagles traded up in the first-round draft order in April and got Andrews with the 16th overall selection. He played tackle in college at Arkansas but was placed at right guard by the Eagles for his rookie season. He'd gotten his weight under control after ballooning to 401 pounds early in the offseason, thanks in part to a problem with nasal polyps that affected his breathing and ability to train but was corrected by surgery. The Eagles thought he could be a dominant run-blocker at guard and had been excited about his progress.

"I thought he was doing a heck of a job,'' Reid said. "He sure is talented and has a good attitude.''

The Eagles traded a former starter at guard, John Welbourn, to Kansas City on the second day of the draft in April but still have experienced depth at the position. They moved Jermane Mayberry from left guard to right guard after Andrews got hurt and inserted Artis Hicks at left guard, where he made three starts last season when Welbourn was hurt.

"I feel very comfortable with Artis,'' Reid said. "Artis played quite a bit for us last year and did a nice job for us.''

The Eagles already had lost starting defensive end N.D. Kalu and tailback Correll Buckhalter, who was to split playing time with Brian Westbrook, to season-ending knee injuries. Lito Sheppard, one of the club's two new starting cornerbacks, suffered a broken thumb Sunday but returned to the game. . . .

The Eagles offense clicked on all cylinders Sunday. Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Terrell Owens and another to tight end L.J. Smith.

The second of the McNabb-to-Owens touchdowns covered only three yards but was remarkable nonetheless. McNabb sprinted out of the pocket to his right and was chased to the sideline by Strahan. Just before being shoved out of bounds, McNabb threw the ball back toward the middle of the field. Owens had found an open space and had given his scrambling quarterback a target -- perhaps a testament to the time that McNabb and Owens spent together in Arizona during the offseason after the four-time Pro Bowl wideout was obtained in a March trade with the San Francisco 49ers.

"I was looking at his feet and I almost thought he stepped out of bounds,'' Owens said. "He made a great play.''

Said Eagles linebacker Ike Reese: "It's only a select few that can do that. Donovan is one of those guys. Maybe in the past, he might have gotten rid of that ball [earlier]. He stayed alive. The receiver stayed alive. It's a little bit of a dangerous throw -- throwing back across your body, especially in a crowded area like that -- but it worked out for him.''

Owens had eight catches for 68 yards in his Eagles debut.

"Terrell played a good part," Westbrook said. "He scored three touchdowns. He blocked downfield great. He made key catches on third down, and he's a big part of our offense. We are going to give him the ball, and he made big plays when he had the ball in his hands."

Perhaps the most promising sign for the Eagles was Westbrook running for 119 yards, his first 100-yard rushing game in the NFL.

"I feel as though I can carry the load,'' Westbrook said. "I never really doubted myself. I think, more so, the media doubted me. Other people doubted me, not including my team. . . . I always felt I could do it. People have doubted me because of my size, because I had injuries in the past, because I went to Villanova, everything. But at the same time, I always had confidence in myself and confidence in the things that I could do. [Sunday] I had the opportunity to show what I can do.'' . . .

Owens already was looking forward to his wide-receiver showdown next Monday night with Randy Moss when the Eagles host the Minnesota Vikings.

"It's going to be a great challenge,'' Owens said. "It's like when it used to be Michael [Jordan] versus Magic [Johnson]. It's going to be two great receivers going head to head.''

Lions Win, Lions Win

The Detroit Lions' 20-16 triumph at Chicago was their first on the road since a 10-7 victory over the New York Jets on Dec. 17, 2000. The Lions ended their NFL-record road losing streak at 24 games and gave some credence to preseason prognostications that they'd be one of the league's surprises this season. Wide receiver Roy Williams, the seventh overall pick in the draft, made a one-handed, juggling catch that will be one of the season's best. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron received a game ball after the win over the team that fired him as its head coach after last season.

But the victory was costly to the Lions. Wideout Charles Rogers, one of the club's gifted youngsters on offense, suffered a broken collarbone and will miss the remainder of the season. Coach Steve Mariucci said today that Rogers will undergo surgery and will require a recovery period of 12 to 14 weeks, and the club will place him on the injured reserve list. Rogers missed all but five games of his rookie season last year because of a broken collarbone. The Lions, though, actually have the depth at wide receiver to compensate for the loss, with Tai Streets and Az-Zahir Hakim capable of taking on expanded roles to complement Williams.

Detroit can't afford to lose cornerback Dre' Bly, however. Bly was a Pro Bowl starter last season after signing with the Lions as a free agent. He hurt a knee ligament Sunday and is scheduled to undergo an MRI today.

Portis-Bailey Trade Works for Both

The offseason trade of tailback Clinton Portis for cornerback Champ Bailey worked out well for both teams. Portis rumbled 64 yards for a touchdown on his first carry with the Redskins and rushed for 148 yards in a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bailey had an interception for Denver in the Broncos' 34-24 win Sunday night over Kansas City. He also played offense and had one catch. Meantime, Portis's replacement at tailback, Quentin Griffin, rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. It was the highest rushing total for a Broncos runner in a season-opener. But it comes with a disclaimer: It came against the Chiefs, against whom Portis had 218 rushing yards Dec. 7. Maybe the Chiefs are improving on defense, after all.

Dolphins Switch

Miami Dolphins Coach Dave Wannstedt is pressing the panic button early. He made a halftime quarterback switch from Jay Fiedler to A.J. Feeley during Saturday's opening loss to Tennessee, and has named Feeley to start Sunday night at Cincinnati. . . .

Titans guard Zach Piller's season probably ended Saturday when he ruptured his left biceps. Rookie Jacob Bell takes over as Tennessee's starting left guard Sunday against Indianapolis. . . . The Titans still plan to sign kicker Gary Anderson this week but might keep kicker Aaron Elling as well if punter Craig Hentrich continues to be bothered by a sore back. Elling filled in as Tennessee's punter on Saturday. . . .

No one around the league is questioning Tennessee's decision to release Eddie George and go with Chris Brown at tailback. While George looks old and slow in Dallas, Brown had 100 rushing yards in the first half before hurting his left ankle and leaving the game. It was the first 100-yard rushing performance by a running back against the Dolphins since December 2002. Brown's 52-yard run in the second quarter was the longest by a Titan since George had a 76-yarder as a rookie in 1996. . . .

Moss had two touchdown catches Sunday and has 10 in five career games against the Cowboys. . . . The Colts expect safety Mike Doss to miss at least three weeks because of the hamstring injury he suffered during Thursday night's loss at New England. . . .

Things don't get much easier from here for the 0-1 Colts. They play the Titans on the road Sunday, then host Green Bay in their home opener on Sept. 26. . . . Holdout wide receiver Keenan McCardell upped the ante Sunday in his contract stare-down with the Buccaneers. McCardell said during an appearance on the CBS pregame show that Coach Jon Gruden had reneged on a promise to have McCardell's contract reworked. He said he just wanted out of Tampa and would refund a portion of his signing bonus if the Buccaneers grant his request to be released. He would be interested in signing with Baltimore, Kansas City or Chicago if he's cut, he said. . . .

A few players received contract extensions just before the season began. Green Bay signed cornerback Al Harris to a $4-million-a-year extension to keep him off the free-agent market next spring. Minnesota did likewise with offensive tackle Mike Rosenthal, signing him to a six-year, $15-million deal that runs through the 2010 season.

The Gallery Shuffle

Second overall draft pick Robert Gallery began his Oakland Raiders career on the bench but replaced right tackle Langston Walker late in the first half of Sunday's loss at Pittsburgh. Gallery only began practicing at right tackle last week after spending his preseason splitting time at left tackle, the position he was drafted to play, and left guard, but he fared well Sunday. He also got some playing time at left guard. . . . Seattle likely will be without tailback Shaun Alexander for at least a couple weeks after he hurt his right knee near the end of Sunday's win at New Orleans. Alexander, who ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns, was to undergo an MRI today. Seahawks officials said Alexander may have damaged a ligament but that it was not his anterior cruciate ligament.

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