To Philadelphia Goes the Spoiler Role

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 29, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 28 -- The notion of trying to win a game to ruin someone else's playoff chances instead of enhancing their own is foreign to the Philadelphia Eagles, who are accustomed to gearing up for the NFL's postseason at this time of the year. But with their season in shambles and the Washington Redskins coming to town to attempt to secure a playoff spot with a victory Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles did their best Wednesday to embrace the concept.

"Nothing against them," defensive end N.D. Kalu said, "but misery loves company. We're not going to the playoffs, so we'd like to knock someone else out."

The Eagles won the previous four NFC East titles and reached the Super Bowl last season but, at 6-9, don't even have a .500 record to play for any longer. They lost at Arizona last weekend, and their depleted lineup leaves them barely resembling the team that began this season as the favorite to repeat as the NFC champion.

"We're used to getting ready for the playoffs," said Kalu, recalling that being a spoiler of other teams' playoff possibilities was a regular late-December theme when he spent three seasons with the Redskins from 1998 through 2000. "We're not used to this feeling around here. . . . What else can we talk about? We can't talk about the playoffs. We have nothing else to talk about, so we talk about being the spoiler."

The world looks upside down to the Eagles, who won the NFC East by seven games last season but are winless in the division this season. Their offense is without deactivated wide receiver Terrell Owens and injured quarterback Donovan McNabb, tailback Brian Westbrook and left tackle Tra Thomas. Their defense has remained basically healthy, with the only significant loss being cornerback Lito Sheppard, but it has failed to pick up the slack.

Two more key players sat out Wednesday's practice. Defensive end Jevon Kearse suffered a bruised knee and a sprained medial collateral ligament during the loss to the Cardinals, and right tackle Jon Runyan (who has started 159 straight games, including the postseason) has a bruised knee and quadriceps muscle. But they and other players vowed Wednesday that they wouldn't bail out on the club's miserable season a week early. Kearse even spent a few hours at the team's south Philadelphia training facility on Christmas day, receiving treatment on his knee in hopes of being able to play against the Redskins.

"I'm better," Kearse said. "Sunday is a long time from now. As of right now, I wouldn't be able to go [but] I'm going to do whatever it lets me do. Every game is important to me. It's a division game. It's a chance not to get swept in our whole division. Knowing that if you win, someone else is not going to the playoffs, that's an incentive. But there's no bigger incentive than trying to finish out strong at home and get a win and maybe get a glimpse at next year."

The Eagles' previous two games came against teams -- the St. Louis Rams and the Cardinals -- also headed home after this weekend. But before that, they took the NFC East-leading New York Giants into overtime here before losing, 26-23. Coach Andy Reid said he thinks the Redskins are playing as well as any team in the NFC at this point but he expects his players to give all they have Sunday.

"The guys understand," Reid said. "They know what's coming in here. They know they're a good football team, and they'll be excited to play."

Veteran tight end Chad Lewis recalled that the last time the Eagles had a losing season, going 5-11 in Reid's first season in 1999, they closed with a triumph at home over the Rams that created some good feelings heading into the 2000 season, when they went 11-5 and reached the playoffs.

"There was a lot of carryover there," Lewis said. "You had the feeling that things were moving up. I definitely had that feeling."

Said quarterback Mike McMahon: "I think the most important thing is not trying to spoil someone else's season, but end your season on a high note. I think it does carry over. It carries over for a more positive attitude in the offseason when you come back for minicamps and training camp. . . . I really don't care who's in the playoffs. I just want to win."

Safety Brian Dawkins, one of the club's locker-room leaders, said he didn't care if other Eagles players used knocking the Redskins out of the playoffs as motivation, but he simply wants to have a decent feeling about the season finale as he enters the offseason.

"There are so many things that have happened this year to this team," Dawkins said. "It's a wonder we're even able to play in this last game with how many injuries we have. . . . You can always look back on a situation and say, 'If only I'd have done this differently, maybe this would have happened.' [But] all you can deal with is what the facts are right now. The facts are this is our last game of the season. The facts are there are a lot of injuries. The facts are this is nowhere close to the season that we wanted to have. That's all you can deal with."

Dawkins called the amount of misfortune that the Eagles endured during the season "ridiculous" and said he hopes players are motivated by how embarrassing the experience has been. But once Sunday's game is over, he said, he won't spend much more time reflecting on what happened to the team this season.

"That page will be turned real quick for me. . . . I'm definitely not going to dwell on this year," Dawkins said. "This was a horrible year in every aspect of the word horrible."

Said Kalu: "You want to play. You get paid to play. But part of you will be like, 'I'm glad we got this nightmare over and we can move on to next year.' "

Asked to describe the Eagles' season in one word, Kalu chuckled and said as he walked away from a small group of reporters, "I'm not a cursing man, so I can't answer that one."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company