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For the Eagles, It's All About Accountability

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H10

Out of character for the normally thrifty franchise, the Philadelphia Eagles went on a shopping bender. First came defensive end Jevon Kearse at a cost of $66 million over eight seasons. Soon after came linebacker Dhani Jones, another free agent, who signed a five-year contract for an undisclosed amount. Then the Eagles made their splashiest move by acquiring wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was set to become a free agent but through a series of peculiar events wound up coming to Philadelphia in what essentially was a three-way deal with the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

All the fuss in free agency comes on the heels of three straight NFC championship game losses, including the past two at home. Such ignominy has left the Eagles all the more determined to right themselves in the big game, and the first step is giving quarterback Donovan McNabb an option other than himself who can make a difference at the most important times.

_____ Philadelphia Eagles _____
Eagles Section

_____NFL '04_____
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_____Team Previews_____
In predicted order of finish

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
New York Giants

NFC South
New Orleans Saints
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

"I think they're very close," Owens said of his new team. "I think the way they started the season off [last] year [0-2], a lot of guys had written them off. It just shows you the character of the coaching staff and the team for those guys to regroup, pull the reins together and get back on track. I feel that I'm one of the guys that they feel can help them get over the hump. You can't question a team that has gotten to the NFC championship game three times in a row. They've been through the valley. They've been through the ups and downs. They can overcome the obstacles to get there."

Owens, who had 80 receptions for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns in 2003, not only helps McNabb but also the offense as a whole. Instead of spying McNabb all game, defenses this season must account for Owens at all times. Such central focus on McNabb and Owens figures to open running lanes, draw single coverage for secondary wide receivers and in general create space for the Eagles' West Coast offense, which leans on the short passing game. "He's been one of the top players in the league for how many years here? We've all been very aware of that," Coach Andy Reid said of Owens. "It's great to have him on board."

Ditto for Kearse, who has 47 1/2 sacks in five seasons, all with the Tennessee Titans. Known as "The Freak," he fills the pass-rushing void and helps soften the blow of the Eagles losing both their starting cornerbacks -- Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent -- from last season.

"Personally, I felt like they were one pass rusher away from winning the big game [Super Bowl], not one play away from winning the NFC championship game," Kearse said, "but I felt like they were one player away from winning the Super Bowl. They were in the NFC championship game three years in a row.

"The situation that I am in in my life, I want an opportunity to play, and then again I want an opportunity to win. There is no better place."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company