JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 6 -- On the first offensive play of the game, quarterback Donovan McNabb moved around in the pocket to buy time before throwing out of bounds toward Terrell Owens. Although the pass wasn't successful, it indicated Philadelphia's star wide receiver wouldn't be a decoy in Super Bowl XXXIX. On the next play, Owens produced a seven-yard reception after going in motion and rolling to his right before being pushed out of bounds -- an early sign the 6-foot-3, 226-pound wideout was healthy enough from a severe ankle injury that required surgery less than seven weeks ago and made his status for the game tenuous.
Throughout the game, Owens made several acrobatic catches. Although Owens didn't quite possess the explosiveness that has made him a perennial Pro Bowl player, he was the best Eagles' performer during their 24-21 loss to the Patriots at Alltel Stadium.
"I thought he played really, really well," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said of Terrell Owens, above. Owens finished with nine catches for 122 yards.
(Brian Bahr - Getty Images)
Owens finished with nine catches for 122 yards with a long of 36 yards. The numbers would have been gratifying for any healthy receiver -- Deion Branch, the game's MVP had 11 receptions for 133 yards and a long of 27 yards -- and were particularly impressive given Owens's situations. The performance confirmed Owens's declaration soon after the Eagles won the NFC championship that he would play despite not being cleared by his surgeon.
God "allowed me to come back and play this game when nobody in the world gave me a chance," Owens said Sunday. "God is good. God is great. I tried to tell people that from Day One that I was going to come back. We played a great team.
"My hat goes off to the New England Patriots. We're a good team. It was a hard-fought ball game. . . . Anybody knows you can't win with turnovers. We just didn't take care of the ball. We made too many mistakes."
Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid had held Owens out of Saturday's final workout -- a light, 25-minute walk-through -- as a precautionary measure. Despite improving incrementally throughout the week, Owens participated in roughly half of Philadelphia's practices, causing speculation the Eagles would use him to set up plays elsewhere. That wasn't the case early or late.
With 3 minutes 42 seconds left, the Eagles were down 24-14 and had the ball on their 36-yard line on third and eight. Owens gave the Eagles hope by diving to his left for a nifty 10-yard snatch despite being blanketed by defensive back Asante Samuel.
"I thought he played really, really well," McNabb said of Owens.
In Philadelphia's Dec. 19 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Owens broke his right fibula and tore a ligament in his ankle after being tackled by safety Roy Williams. Three days later, Owens had surgery that required two screws and a plate to be inserted in his ankle by Mark Myerson. At the time, Owens was considered to have a slim chance to make the postseason if Philadelphia made its first Super Bowl appearance in 24 years. But Myerson declined to clear Owens to play because of the risk of further damage.
The only thing missing from Owens's individual performance was a touchdown. McNabb threw for three touchdowns but also was intercepted three times. He completed 30 of 51 passes for 357 yards.
But Owens's presence was still felt on scores -- by the Patriots players. Wideout David Givens's four-yard score tied the game at 7. Afterward, Givens stepped on the ball with his left foot and flapped his arms, mimicking Owens's familiar touchdown celebration, before flexing his muscles.
Owens said after the game: "The media made it a situation to where they thought I was grandstanding. But like I told a lot of people, in this situation other people like Brett Favre, they would have called him a warrior. For me, they said I was selfish. If I'm selfish, I'm selfish because I want to help my team win."
During the week, Owens seemed to relish the attention regarding his availability -- the Eagles' main story line on the Eagles -- with headlines for every slight change. But Owens showed that he was worthy of the spotlight.
"I tried to go up there and jam him," said Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. "He's over there having a good time, smiling. He's just a talented guy."